Emotions and Infrastructure

A few weeks ago, the Design & Emotion conference adjourned at the IIT in Chicago (http://www.id.iit.edu/de2010/). Without doubt, buildings can evoke emotions. Nevertheless, infrastructure and emotions are two terms commonly not strongly associated with each other. 

Here is an example of emotions coming to a boil over a long running project that just entered its "hot" (construction) phase:

While recently passing through Stuttgart, Germany, I noticed extraordinary activity at the Stuttgart main train station. I had been aware of the Stuttgart 21 train station revamp and the winning design competition entry a decade or so ago by Ingenhoven Architects (http://www.ingenhovenarchitects.com/). Since then I have been waiting to experience this facinating, daylight-filled, under ground train station when visiting Stuttgart, at some points in time wondering whether I had confused locations. The project intended to change the above ground terminus into an under ground pass-through station, thus reducing the surface area occupied by train tracks, opening developing opportunity on rail brownfield sites close to Stuttgart's downtown, and removing the strong boundary train tracks (like rivers) form between neighborhoods or boroughs.

The activities that I observed during my visit to Stuttgart indicated tensions, with demolition of part of the old train station under way under police protection, and protesters gathered around, discussing, occasionally yelling at each other. Obviously, emotions ran high.  Reading up about this project, emotions have been running high ever since the first stones were torn off the old building. The construction site had developed into some well-guarded enclave on the perimeter of Stuttgart's old downtown core.


There are many issues that appear to percolate to the top, even if triggered by the start of the demolition as attention getter. Certainly, the visible, audible impact of demolition brought this construction project to people's attention who before may have missed a decade of opportunities to join the discussion or to voice opposing arguments. This seems to have changed due to obvious evidence.  Now the vocal, active opposition has bubbled up even to German Chancellor Merkel's attention.

The parties on the two opposing sides were not able to talk with each other and now are working through a mediator.  The party on one side appears  to be comprised of those who made and supported the decision over many years.  The project proponents finally see their project in the execution phase, which many infrastructure professionals know is very unresponsive to change. There are many reasons, with the obvious one that parts of a building have been destroyed and something will have to happen here; another reason comprising all the commitments made, contracts signed, that are difficult or impossible to unravel, definitely not without economic damage, in this case potentially even money spent without any return.  The opposing party collects those, who may be opposed to change in general or just to the destruction of (in Stuttgart anyway) rare pre-WW II building substance in particular, and/or those who protest the expenditure of public money that might be better spent elsewhere. 

In terms of demolition, the project will leave intact the main wing of the train station and its landmark tower which is visible along the main pedestrian street, the Königsstraße.  (Explore it on Bing Maps.)  Ironically, the historic value of the Stuttgart train station is ambivalent at best: it later earned its main architect Paul Bonatz approval of his architectural style by the Third Reich, qualifying him to continue to practice and opening his access to public commissions (Wikipedia).  A recent book examines this ambivalence of Paul Bonatz's role in architectural history


Most people will agree with the necessity to improve public (mass) transit to reduce dependency on cars and short-distance air travel.  In the case of this project, there is a compelling architectural design on one side and on the other side plausible economic arguments that the project funds could benefit other parts of the rail system much more effectively (see the Umweltbundesamt study). 

With all parliamentary (democratic) having failed to further delay or prevent the project, it seems not so surprising that commencement of demolition activities elicited such vocal, visible, and determined protests.  It will be interesting to see how this situation gets resolved and whether or how this resolution will impact the project. 


Selected additional information (some only in German):

Stuttgart Baut
German Ministry for Traffic, Construction, and Urban Development
German Rail
Project Website for High Speed Rail Stuttgart - Neu-Ulm

Kopfbahnhof 21 (K21) - Terminus 21
Umweltbundesamt "Schienennetz 2025/2030" - Federal Environmental Agency "Railsystem 2025/2030"

German Press
Südwestdeutscher Rundfunk (SWR)
Süddeutsche Zeitung - 10/10/2010
Spiegel - 10/01/2010

International Observations
UK Guardian
Turkish Forum