There’s little that approaches certainty in any human endeavor, but a good case can be made for the idea that what supports us in our youth — family, home, community, city — nurtures feelings of connection and affection that remain throughout life and determine the way we interact with the larger world. In the rare case of those gifted with creativity and ingenuity in architecture, the nature of the discipline has a way of extending that interaction on an international scale.In fall of 2022 this magazine published To build so as to heal: Christoph Ingenhoven looks forward, which surveyed the work of the architect and studio behind the Business and Residential Towers of Tokyo’s Toranomon Hills, a new community locus from the Mori Building Co. that seeks to vitalize and restore integrity to adjacent neighborhoods divided postwar by imposing roadways and construction that might once have signified progress for the city, but eventually served to diminish and degrade its sense of place.This is the first in a series of articles that took us to Düsseldorf, where the architect grew up and continues to practice. We spoke with him about his childhood, family, his view of community, and the motivation that informs his architecture there and across the world today.
PHOTO BY DANIEL SCHUMANN
TEXT BY DAVID G. IMBER
EDIT BY KAZUMI YAMAMOTO
illustration by Adrian Johnson
The taxi driver had no idea what we were looking for, but the GPS landed us at the slightly lonely but exquisitely refined Plange Mühle Campus.
The office there that is home to ingenhoven associates is situated adjacent to an inlet of the Rhine, the river enfolding downtown Düsseldorf that long served as a primary means of transporting goods to and from its residents. The building housing it is at the tip of the third of four fingers of land stretching out toward its historically busy harbor. Today that harbor is known as the Media Harbor, for the enterprises presently most identified with the area. Within eyeshot of the office are structures by other internationally recognized architects; Gehry, Piano, Holl, Maki, Alsop, Chipperfield, and others.
What isn’t visible, except in renderings and the minds of these reporters, as well as the hundred or so architects and staff that occupy this spare and airy office, is the firm’s Pier One Complex. In the future it will bind three of the four fingers to the Media Harbor via four new bridges that will carry the rush of next-wave activity that marks the vibrant life of today’s Düsseldorf — design and technology startups, fine dining, cultural centers, retail venues — to the formerly industrial Plange Mühle campus, leaving it lonely no more.
Christoph Ingenhoven founded the practice in 1985. The office may be best known for its far-reaching innovations in sustainability and its technological mastery, but three things strike the visitor on first blush: the torrent of light from its large, simply-framed, unobstructed windows; its openness and non-hierarchical setup, with staff architects, engineers, researchers, and administrators all sitting side-by-side at adjacent tables extending the length of the very long building; and the awe-inspiring, towering street-view transparencies of ordinary New Yorkers by Swiss artist Beat Streuli.
Though the office tone rings with technology and precision in a way that cliché caricatures German society, it is a blaring paean to humanism in its assertion of purpose.
Harboring Infinite Potential
We descended to the building’s ground level, met once again by large transparencies, this time by the firm’s photographer of record, Hans Georg Esch, for a tour of the campus by ingenhoven associates curator and communications specialist, Benjamin Widholm. He described the original steam-driven mühle (mill) built by Georg Plange as an impressively tall and modern structure that defined its forerunning commercial status in 1906, when it was built. It stands at the head of the peninsula that, along with its adjacent land rises, was once fully dotted with industrial manufactories, some of which remain active. This port, like much of the city, was decimated in World War II, and as Widholm explained, rebuilt perfunctorily in the 50s, refurbished poorly in the 70s, and left to languish until the 90s, when Christoph Ingenhoven purchased the properties for redevelopment. Currently it’s home to fashion, media, architecture, and consulting interests; as well as, to date, one of the crowning achievements of the firm’s revitalization project, the Betonsilo.
Despite its use as an industrial facility, the original ensemble of buildings exemplified the best architectural practices of their time, both technically and aesthetically. The Betonsilo in particular, the construction of which involved free formwork, unusual for a building of its height, is listed as a historical preservation site. This meant that the structure in place could not be demolished or its façade torn open. Instead, ingenhoven associates’ interventions were lapidary in nature. Incisions were made along the roof line, through which all interior revitalization elements, including stairwells, room divisions, and new windows on all seven floors, were installed. The building today contains a radiology practice, an orthopaedic clinic, reception rooms and office spaces, surgical and bed floors, with further medical uses to follow.
The Betonsilo (concrete silo), adjacent Holzsilo (wooden silo), and the Mühle, the facility in which the actual grinding was done and in which the ingenhoven associates office today resides, along with the various smaller buildings that flank these enter into a sort of architectural fellowship. Throughout the world, areas rife with remnants of their industrial past have attempted revival. New York’s Soho district comes to mind. But in that case, like most others, there is little attempt to integrate the legacy structures, or raise standards of utility and density to match the times. Instead they’re left to the mercies of rigid and isolated “preservation” regimes.
The Plange Mühle Campus is a model of sophisticated integration and connection between an august past and a pragmatic future. For all of its architectural interventions, its accession to contemporary needs, its forward-thinking approach to environmental concerns, it doesn’t look like other Ingenhoven projects. Atop the ground level of each building, skinny illuminated characters spelling out the building’s number are the small, sociable sparks that tell visitors that these old buildings pulse with a new architectural heart. These structures aren’t just certified to the highest green standards. From sensitivity to the aquaculture of the harbor to the overall cradle-to-cradle approach to planning, the firm exceeded those benchmarks, guided by its trademarked supergreen building philosophy, the precepts of which, including that of replacing the biocapacity taken away through construction, are outlined here. The structure and functions of several new buildings, yet to join the campus, are now in formulation. And at around the same time they arrive, so will the flow of new traffic from across the Media Harbor, borne upon the bridges of the completed Pier One project.
From the Ground Up, a City Flows Anew
Ten thousand kilometers away, another Ingenhoven project, Tokyo’s Toranomon Hills Business and Residential Towers officially opened this year and simultaneously received the 2023 Green GOOD DESIGN Award from the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and the Chicago Athenaeum. This wasn’t the first time the office was honored with this prize. Their Kö-Bogen II won it in 2021, and Lanserhof Tegernsee in 2015. Though completed in 2022, the global pandemic put a damper on the usual opening ceremonies and general heralding attendant to buildings of this importance in Japan. If unity is the affective touchstone of the ingenhoven associates office and the Plange Mühle Campus that encompasses it, for the Toranomon Hills development that word would be harmony.
The Mori Building Company’s progressive view of urban development had, to this time, been focused on single structures of enormous stature containing a full spectrum of living activities, surrounded by the one amenity that cannot be afforded behind walls, communion with nature. This was the “Vertical Garden City” ideal of the company’s former president, Mori Minoru. With Toranomon Hills Mori expanded the concept in notable ways. Now the focus was on multiple, purpose-built structures, and the entire site set adjacent to traditional Tokyo neighborhoods broken and isolated by huge, postwar “economic miracle” highways. The outward image of modern Tokyo said that it longed for internationalism, but the fabric that comprised the city’s soul had been rent. This was not a new story for Christoph Ingenhoven, whose hometown of Düsseldorf underwent a similar dissection after the war, and as will be further discussed later in this series, reversing this became the driving motivation for the realignment the architect accomplished with the completion of Kö-Bogen II in the heart of Düsseldorf’s downtown.
His studio competed for and won the responsibility of building two “fraternal” towers, one devoted to business, the other to residential dwelling (the latter being, at 220 meters, the tallest residential building in Japan). These would flank the existing Mori Tower, a 52-story mixed-use skyscraper, standing since 2014. With the completion this year of a fourth building, the Station Tower, the entire development will serve as a nodal point, connecting three separate neighborhoods, making them walkable (a condition that hasn’t existed for most of the past century) and aspiring through these means to the harmonization of a formerly discordant pocket of the Tokyo landscape.
“I should explain the fascination that Japan has for me as a citizen of Düsseldorf,” Christoph Ingenhoven told us. “This city has one of the highest populations of Japanese residents in Europe. My kids went to an international school together with mainly Japanese and American kids.” ingenhoven associates was the first German architectural firm to build in Japan’s capital since 1895, but Christoph Ingenhoven had not only built in Japan’s second city of Osaka, but vied for numerous projects in Tokyo in the past. He was familiar with the city’s interior life, and of its built landscape, and called it, “one of the highest forms of civilization-centered construction.”
In conversation, he spoke with us about the Mori approach. “It’s a new kind of urbanism,” he suggests. “We’ve had projects [with large developers] in Osaka, and we also had projects in Tokyo that didn’t get to be built. But these kinds of projects were extremely official. [The developers] owned the plot for, I don’t know, 200 years. They knew it all, they controlled it all. … But Mori was a completely different experience. They were the outsiders in a way. They had no land that they’d owned for 200 years and rebuilt every 50 years. …
This was also control, but a very unusual kind of procedure — integrating all of these shareholders into the building development process, and then letting them still be owners.” The community’s new towers straddling the existing one would, like prior Mori developments, now present a broad range of human activity. Temporary accommodation, permanent residence, business, retail, medical, flexible coworking spaces. But most important to Ingenhoven was the matrix drawing these disparate concerns into a humanistic whole.
“That was the main aim. It was very restricted in its flexibility, and we used every centimeter of [the tower’s exterior green walls] to turn the building, a little bit, into a garden. Still, it’s a rectangular building… All that we could do was build buildings that then flow into gardens. And the impression I got was that this, for me, is a very typical Tokyo situation, where you have hills in the middle of the city, but with temples and residential buildings around. From there, the idea was to have a direct pathway through and around the buildings and then over a bridge to the central tower, and then over a bridge to the next one, then to the plaza and into the city. And that works pretty well! I’m proud about this, exactly this.”
Greening Greater Tokyo
The towers themselves are striking in their near symmetry. “You need a little bit of robustness to survive the permission processes, engineering, traveling and working long distance. So a little bit of the very big idea for Toranomon, a more or less rectangular building with gently sloping terraces, is that you need that kind of strength to be adaptable.” But the differences become clear on closer view, and they respond to what Ingenhoven refers to in the firm’s precis on their supergreen principles as “spatial psychology”. Traversing the wide, lushly bordered bases of the towers on paths designed for the sensual inducements they offer, Ingenhoven says that “the emotions and sensations that you can experience have to do with the absence of noise and distraction. … You’ll get it all. You’ll hear the sounds of the city in the back, but you’ll also definitely have trees and birds. You’ll have water, you’ll hear the conversation of other people chatting.” Both towers are marked by the spine-like, horizontal lines of the protruding decks, clad in white aluminum, that serve as sunshades and balconies (each of the 550 dwellings in the residential tower has its own balcony); and which, on the lower floors, contain the greenery that grounds the soaring towers to their surrounding garden stages.
“We were once staying in the hotel there [at the original Mori Tower],” the architect continues, “and it was a Sunday. We had nothing to do, really, and we were working, [Toranomon Hills project architect and the firm’s managing director] Martin Reuter and me. We were sitting in the sun on one side of that building, in that small garden. In a way, that’s all you need. A place with some trees and sun. So the idea was to provide more of that, and I think we were successful in doing it.”
Connection to Home
Later, on the day we visited the ingenhoven associates office, we gathered at the architect’s home for a long conversation. There was a clear throughline between this house, which he built 18 years ago, and the interactive forces we witnessed at work in the office earlier that day. Everything we knew about his means and methods were speaking through this structure as they did through that of the office. We began to sense that the wide windows of both served to filter and focus the reciprocal dynamic that obtains between lavish nature outside and ardent, ranging imagination within, fueled by the support of those close by — transmitting the light by which each day’s agenda is set.
In the next part in this series we’ll present the architect’s home. He’ll speak about both this and his childhood home, about family, his love of literature, poignant insights in photography, and he’ll share reflections on two cherished projects in Düsseldorf. They’d be masterworks of delicacy and civil sense in any case, but made more meaningful by the healing they conferred upon the distressed cityscape of the town he grew up in.
Christoph IngenhovenBorn in Düsseldorf, Germany, 1960. Took time as an undergraduate at RWTH Aachen University, from which he received his degree, to pursue study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Hans Hollein. He has directed Ingenhoven Associates, recipients of numerous international awards, since 1985 and has been focused on ecological and sustainable design from its foundation. © Jim Rakete
Please note that supergreen® is a registered trademark of ingenhoven associates, and that the firm prefers its name be rendered in lower case. It is not a typographical error.