Design for the city of the future
In conversation with Dieter Brell, Creative Director at 3deluxe
Creative Director at 3deluxe
Mr. Brell, it is clear from today's challenges in the field of urban development that we have to think and act holistically, inter- and transdisciplinarily. 3deluxe founded itself in 1992 as an interdisciplinary design office and was thus ahead of its time - what can one imagine by this description?
© Norbert Tukaj
The first group consisted of interior designers and graphic and communication designers. We were always interested in: What is modern and what does the future look like? What is cool? What is art, fashion, music doing right now? When we founded our office, pop culture, for example, had a greater significance and input for society than it does today. That's how the beginning presented itself. Later, when we added the field of architecture, we realized that a graphic designer can definitely think about the facade of a building. After all, this is also an image for people strolling through the city.
Because of our background, the effect of things is very important to us. The classic architect is primarily concerned with the fact that something has to function and last. For us, it was an important point what images buildings radiate: What does a building represent - the owner, the company inside, or does it have a meaning for the environment, for the city? In the area we came from, aesthetics played a big role, including the word "beauty."
Of course, by now we know how many constraints there are in building. Nevertheless, it was from this perspective and with this aspiration that we came to architecture. What is relevant for society? That is shifting, of course. What used to be modern 20 years ago is no longer so now; that's in the nature of the term. The impetus of 3deluxe is to see in which direction society is developing and what we can contribute to it.
The V-Plaza in Kaunas: open plaza design with interwoven zones for relaxing, playing and micromobile fun | © 3deluxe
In addition to certain general conditions in the construction industry, there are also the major developments such as climate change, digitalization and increasing urbanization and, as a result, the question of how we actually want to and can live in the future. As architects, as designers, as designers - what role can, must and do you want to play in this?
The V-Plaza in Kaunas: open plaza design with interwoven zones for relaxing, playing and micromobile fun | © Norbert Tukaj
In recent years, the role of the architect has changed a lot - and it should. Today, it's no longer just about materials and structural engineering. Because all the challenges that are currently piling up globally are being reflected in cities - whether it's climate issues, traffic problems, poor air quality, people's health or even social issues such as migration. While the focus used to be on the function of the building and its integration into its surroundings, today it is a plethora of tasks that reach into all socially relevant issues. This starts with biodiversity, i.e. bringing nature into the city; through recycling issues, minimizing the carbon footprint, to social components. As a developer or builder, you should no longer just build for yourself and your tenants, but also assume a certain responsibility for the neighborhood, for the city, for nature and - if you think about it further - for the development of the planet. This overall picture must be seen in every building project. Our task as architects is therefore also to assemble the right experts and to moderate them. The role of the architect suddenly takes on a relevance that it never had before. Architecture is taking on a completely different dimension - which is precisely what makes it so exciting for me at the moment.
Has the attitude of the public sector also changed along with this?
The V-Plaza in Kaunas: open plaza design with interwoven zones for relaxing, playing and micromobile fun | © Norbert Tukaj
Many regulations still stand in the way of necessary pragmatic solutions. In my opinion, this is also recognized. But it will be a long time before anything actually changes in Germany. Many regulations have a background that is actually correct. It's about creating a balance or ensuring that private investors refrain from doing certain things because they are not in the general interest. The only thing we notice is that we're not really getting anywhere at the moment. The issue is quite clear: the construction industry is responsible for 30 to 40% of global CO2 emissions. So action really needs to be taken quickly here.
The iconographic Times Square as it appears in reality, and a counter-design of how it could look, in 3deluxe's design study: the challenge was to preserve its vibrancy. | © 3deluxe
You said earlier that the function and integration of a building into its surroundings used to be the main thrust of planning. But the surroundings, in turn, actually consisted only of other buildings - but not the space. When we talk about the transformation of cities, it can really only go to the open space, of which there is not that much. In this context, with your design studies, for example on the transformation of New York's Times Square or Berlin's Friedrichstrasse, you have highlighted changes that - as we are currently experiencing again with the example of Friedrichstrasse - can certainly trigger heated discussions. How do you assess this?
As you rightly say, the transformation of cities, which is much talked about at the moment, is to a certain extent contradictory. At best, these cities and buildings should last for more than 100 years if they are done properly. A rapid transformation cannot take place at all. That's why we wanted to look at the issue of streets, i.e. public space, because this is the area that can be shaped the most. This is where the most significant changes will be seen in 30 years. That's why we did these studies.
With the reduction of car traffic, a nice way to do that is to approach and rethink public space. As an automobile-producing country, it's a different issue than in countries without this economic factor. So we realize that it's not going to be that easy - it's more likely to be two steps forward, one step back. In Berlin, this is currently the normal procedure. But if you do such transformations half-heartedly - that is, just put a few flower pots, repaint all the markings and simply replace the cars with bicycles - which in Berlin are just as dangerous as the cars - then of course it won't go down so well. You have to see the development of the space between buildings, which is extremely valuable in the city, as analogous to the creation of buildings. Every street ultimately has its own requirements. Friedrichstrasse never became the magnet it was supposed to become. Therefore, you have to add value beyond decorative. In the study, we created a relatively extreme and also colorful design, e.g., as a tourist attraction. That's a bit exaggerated, but you have to think of Friedrichstrasse in the category of a special place. If there is no architectural significance, you have to try to create exactly that, instead of just meeting standards.
To what extent do the two design studies Friedrichstrasse and Times Square differ? What insights did you gain during this process?
In a design study for Times Square, the architects at 3deluxe present how the spaces between buildings can be redesigned and used. | © 3deluxe
To start with Times Square: We chose an iconographic place to represent what the place currently looks like and what it could look like. Yellow Cabs and lots of people: that's the epitome of what you imagine a city to look like. The empty pedestrian zone is not. In order to maintain this liveliness, you have to include mobility in the design of the square, so that there are not only pedestrians there, but also something additional on offer, which, by the way, is even more true for Friedrichstrasse than for Times Square. Very central is the question of how micromobility and pedestrians come together well. Here, speeds have to be adapted to pedestrians - and more so than previously assumed. There will therefore be infrastructure that is only intended for transfers where people drive fast. Because there will still be a lot of driving in the future: Cars, or anything that comes after cars, will ensure supply in cities. But: There will be more and more areas without this fast traffic. Here, micromobility must be throttled back in speed. So I think the secret is to balance this newly freed urban space so that it is primarily oriented to the pedestrian as the weakest link. The stronger components should be secondary and managed so that everything can function like a kind of biotope. I hope that such parameters will be included in tenders in the future.
After all, if people can see the positive effects of appropriate transformation measures, then it often "clicks". What support can architecture and design provide here?
This was one of the motivators for our design studies. As designers, it is our job to communicate the benefits of designing our environment accordingly. There is now a great deal of skepticism about such changes. That's why you have to visually illustrate that things can be better - and that the change doesn't mean restriction or loss, but rather gain.
Design study | © 3deluxe
In the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, you have realized the V-Plaza project with 3deluxe, which proves exactly this. The area of the newly designed square should/can promote micromobility by being scooter-friendly.
The building complex that we made was composed partly of new construction projects and partly of existing older buildings that we renovated. The city had sold the real estate and the area to the investor with the stipulation that the public square be prepared at its own expense. So the square was initially only attached to the project as an additional task - but it became the most exciting thing for us. This was because the square was exactly in line with the current issues in urban space. At some point, only cars were parked in this central square. It's a good example of how a previously car-dominated square is now animated by people. We've integrated organic landscapes that function like a kind of skate park. That encourages people to go there on their bikes or inline skates, etc. If it's fun to move around there on wheels,
then we have already achieved a lot. So, for the first time ever, more people are coming to the square to just sit in the greenery, by the fountain and in cafes. The opening took place in the middle of the pandemic summer of 2020, when everyone wanted to get out. I didn't realize beforehand how many people were on wheels in this city. Completely unprompted, they arrived and immediately recognized this opportunity. That was great.
When we talk about building, there is currently a conflict between values on the one hand and the pressing need for housing in particular on the other. How can this be resolved?
In my opinion, there is currently a great danger that a lot of ugly stuff will be built under the extreme price pressure. On the other hand, there is a cultural demand that will not simply disappear. It can't just be a matter of survival. We really have to be careful that the efficiency drive doesn't lead us into building sins for which no tenants can be found in 20 years - as is currently the case with many buildings from the 1980s and 1990s that are being torn down today. These buildings had far too short a life cycle. Sustainability also means setting a certain quality in the aesthetics, so that the buildings are long-lasting from this point of view as well. I hope that, when in doubt, the public sector will also provide funding and not just leave the issue to the free market.
Thank you very much for the enriching conversation.
Dieter Brell | © 3deluxe
is a founding member of the interdisciplinary design office 3deluxe, which is one of the most progressive representatives of the German design avant-garde. For more than 15 years, the Wiesbaden-based office with offices in Miami and Dubai has been setting groundbreaking impulses in architecture, interior design and corporate design. As Creative Director, Dieter Brell is responsible for numerous international award-winning projects, such as the D'fly Store in New York, the architecture of the Leonardo Glass Cube, the Butterfly Pavilion in Dubai, the urban development project V-Plaza in Lithuania or the zero-energy building FC-Campus. 3deluxe has been working on transforming cities into more people-friendly, sustainable places for quite some time.