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Visionary. Christoph Ingenhoven anticipates the future with his ecological approach to building design. Photo: Max Brunnert

Green construction. Top German architect Christoph Ingenhoven combines sustainability with comfort and aesthetics like nobody else. Thanks to a partnership with BKW, he is now able to perform this mission with even greater efficiency.

Christoph Ingenhoven is one of the leading lights of European architecture, setting global benchmarks for ecological and sustainable construction. Ingenhoven, 60, from Germany, pushes boundaries. His company – ingenhoven architects, which employs 100 people in Düsseldorf – was acquired by BKW one year ago. However, Ingenhoven will continue to play a leading role as Chairman, CEO and Design Principal – and he continues to scale new heights with his designs for high-rise buildings.

Mr Ingenhoven, is there a typically Swiss style of architecture?
Definitely. There are some excellent contemporary Swiss architects, many of whom have developed under the radar. The lack of pressure and media attention creates a sense of calm, in which people and things are able to mature. I’m thinking, for example, of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron from Basel – now both global superstars of architecture. Basel is hardly the centre of the world, of course. Or Mario Botta from Ticino, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. There’s also Peter Zumthor from Chur. Some real geniuses are suddenly starting to emerge.

Historical structures and architecture are much more visible in Switzerland than in your home country, Germany. How does this impact architecture today?
This is the reason why Switzerland has an unbroken relationship with modern architecture. It suffered virtually no destruction during the war. There have been some examples of what I call “post-war destruction”. This happened on a much wider scale in Germany, however. On the one hand, the destruction during the war was much more extensive, and on the other hand, a further 50% of what remained was torn down, because there was a general feeling that people had to break away and distance themselves from something. Because the 19th century was seen as a kind of “pre-Nazi” era, all of that had to be demolished too.

What other links do you have with Switzerland?
I have a great affinity with Switzerland, and particularly with the canton of Graubünden. I have spent time in Engadin on a regular basis for more than 30 years, and I will soon be building a house there for my family. I will also be spending a significant part of my life here in the future. My brother lives in Soglio in the Bregaglia valley for part of the year.

Some of your best-known works are high-rise buildings. Do such enormous structures make ecological sense?
Fundamentally, I would have to say no! Certainly not always, or in all locations. That would be complete nonsense. A high-rise always costs more in terms of design, construction, logistics, operation, heating and water supply. The higher the building, the more difficult it is to justify from an ecological point of view. But we must not forget that there are situations in which accommodating large numbers of people presents a genuine problem. And the global population is still growing rapidly. We have to scale things back and adapt. Nevertheless, we have to provide people with places to live. We cannot simply say that we are going to leave the next billion people out in the cold.

So if I’ve understood correctly, a high-rise is an efficient building…
The good thing about a high-rise building is that it has a small footprint, and utilises infrastructure effectively. Fundamentally, however, I would say that the first priority should be high-density buildings. This can, of course, also mean high-rise buildings. If a new city were to be built today, it should have a high density of mixed-use buildings. In other words: the world needs high-rise buildings – in fact, it needs much better high-rise buildings.

Kö-Bogen II Düsseldorf: © ingenhoven architects/HGEsch

How do these ideas flow into your new projects – for example the Kö-Bogen II office block in Düsseldorf?
This is more or less a prototype project. The city centre was constructed, for the most part, in the 1950s and ’60s. The initial situation was dreadful. In Düsseldorf, parts of the city centre had not been properly linked together, and the streetscape was no longer easy to read, so that it was difficult to navigate your way around. Lots of things had gone wrong. For example, we had to demolish an elevated roadway, the whole concept of which was a disaster for the city. This elevated road cut through the city centre and ran straight across Schadowstrasse – it would be like a motorway running right through Bahnhofstrasse, the shopping avenue in the heart of Zurich. After this road had been demolished, we had two large spaces. We had permission to build on one of these plots – this was the Kö-Bogen II project. We wanted to create something new, which connected the Dreischeibenhochhaus office block and the municipal theatre with the city.

How did you combine this with sustainable, “green” architecture in the truest sense of the word?

Europe’s largest green façade: over 30,000 hornbeam trees create quite an impact in Düsseldorf town centre. Photo: Max Brunnert

We created an 8 km-long hornbeam hedge, with a total of over 30,000 plants – 1.5 m high and 60 cm deep – covering the entire façade and roof. The whole project constitutes a paradigm shift from an urban perspective, marking the turn away from the age of the automobile, and a return to design on a human scale. The expansive green façade represents a potential way for cities to respond to climate change. Our aim with this project was to give as much green as possible back to the city.

You are taking out a patent on the supergreen sustainability concept. What is the vision behind this project?
We have had a great many discussions with experts, consultants and engineers over the years, in fact over the past few decades. This has enabled us to develop a mindset and a philosophy which incorporate a radical take on eco-responsibility, conservation of resources and energy-saving in all of our projects. As a result, customers recognise that these are the qualities that we stand for. We take local standards into account in all countries. In Switzerland, our building work is carried out according to Minergie standards. The supergreen concept also reflects the growing demand for health factors to be taken into account in people’s everyday environments.

Twelve months ago, Ingenhoven architects became part of BKW Engineering. What are the main advantages of this acquisition?
This collaboration represents a huge opportunity. As always with huge opportunities, however, everything doesn’t come true right from the start. You can’t just press a button and expect everything to happen automatically. It always starts with an idea, which you have to build on; this always involves intensive collaboration. There are lots of engineers in this world. They are around now, and we’ll need them in the future, to address the issues we have been talking about, and find solutions to them. BKW is working on Solutions for a future worth living in the fields of infrastructure, buildings and energy.

Do you have a dream? What would you still like to build?
I dream about some pretty ordinary things: I would like to build a large clinic. And I would like to build a large airport. Personally, I would really like to build a church. I had a very Catholic upbringing, and I am still searching. A church should be a place where people are searching. I would really like to build a bridge too. Bridges are really great – and there’s something metaphorical about them. I would also like to create a cultural building, like a theatre or a concert hall.

Our contribution to sustainability

With our actions, products and services, we are contributing to the sustainable development of society, the economy and the environment. BKW develops solutions for the design of sustainable infrastructures and living spaces. In doing so, it is committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. To find out more about our approach to sustainability management, click here.