Skip to content

Misfits’ Guide to MUNICH

Post date:

Let’s begin with the big ones. From the left, this photo shows Frei Otto’s Olympic Hall – one of the 1972 Olympic Park structures – Olympic Tower to the right, farther back on the right is Wolfgang Prix and Coop Himmelb(l)au’s BMW Visitor Centre, immediately to the right are the BMW Museum and BMW Headquarters. That huge white shed is the first BMW factory, and that white shape far away on the horizon is Allianz Stadium.

Olympic Stadium, Gunter Behnisch and Partners (B+P) + Frei Otto, 1972
Munich Olympic Park, Munich

Nothing I’d read or seen about this told me how well this huge thing sits in the landscape that’s the work of Behnisch and Partners (B+P). What I didn’t know was that the landscape is completely artificial – a significant amount of earth has been shifted to make the stadium appear to nestle into the landscape and so avoid an opressive monumentality. The ground is piled up to the west so those higher tier entrances are at ground level.

The stadium seating is therefore asymmetrical east-west, with the larger and western half shaded from afternoon sun. To cover as much of that seating with a large tent is, as ever, the simplest way to shelter people from sun and light rain and this is probably what B+P were thinking when they asked Frei Otto to design something to do that.

The concept is simple and we can be certain all those forces are resolved and with generous safety factors. Herr Otto was displeased at having to use plexiglass sheets that added to the weight and subsequent cost but he did so with aplomb. For such an elegant structure it has a raw materiality that’s difficult to imagine happening today as an understated stadium with an absence of “architectural” expression. In the future, I think I’ll put quotation marks around the word architectural to draw attention to the fact not everybody agrees if it’s even necessary. These days we expect all forces to resolve into curved surfaces with picturesque voids so it’s something of a shock to see the heads of those cigar-shaped cable stays doing the important job of converting multiple tensile forces into a single compressive one. They’re not trying to be beautiful and they’re not trying to be ugly either. It’s us, not them.

Olympic Hall Frei Otto, 1972
Munich Olympic Park, Munich

The roof of this is wonderful but there’s more to a building than a canopy. Olympic Hall is a fully enclosed space with glass walls and an extra layer of roof. It’s now a concert venue.

Everything inside, including the air conditioning ductwork, is part of an independent structure and it’s not surprising it recalls Pompidou Centre because these were the ideas in the air at the time. Frei Otto’s involvement with Olympic Park goes back to 1967. Construction of Piano & Roger’s Pompidou Centre began 1971 and was completed 1977.

Olympic Tower
Olympic Park, Munich

It’s called Olympic Tower but was constructed over 1965–68 well in advance. It’s the usual combination of communications tower, restaurant and observation deck that can’t help but be a landmark. At 291 metres, it used to be one of the world’s bigger ones.

BMW Headquarters, BMW Museum Karl Schwanzer 1972
Petuelring 124-130, 80809 Munich

The exposed rooftop structure of the headquarters allows the floors to be held up by the four suspended “columns” – if that’s the right word. Once the core and suspension structure was in place, the building was built from the top down.

Whether it’s a good or necessary solution I don’t know. With distance, the window detail is lost and the muscular rooftop structure and cylindrical shapes appear monumental on the horizon. Some say cylinders and some say pistons, perhaps because of that gap on the way up that either part could occupy.

BMW Welt Wolf D. Prix & Coop Himmelb(l)au 2007
Am Olympiapark 1, 80809 Munich

A sign misled me into thinking this was the BMW Museum and I went in so I could tell my father about it as at 88 he’d recently decided to get himself a BMW.

There’s no reason for this building to exist apart from provide a place for purchasers to pick up their cars. The “waiting area” with its display turntables and exit ramp are thus the point of the design which takes every opportunity to lean in and swirl around it. There are few verticals and even the few columns are given a horizontal thrust by tapers on one side. Not unrelated to the primary function of the building is the bridge from where onlookers can watch new owners take possession and drive off. New BMW automobiles are on display downstairs (as well as those of Mini and Rolls Royce) where there’s also three large shops and a café. Motorcycles are on the level of the bridge overlooking the handover area and that eventually leads to the 1972 Karl Schwanzer museum. On the upper levels are assorted business centres and reception rooms.

Putting cars and clouds inside buildings creates its own problems but also the opportunity to flaunt the elegance and expense with which they were solved. Making a huge roof appear to hover without visible means of support is one problem. Another is how to maintain air quality when vehicle exhaust is introduced into a space containing people? This I’m sure has been dealt with as nobody seemed to care. It would’ve been simpler to have an external handover area viewed from some glassy gallery but converting envious onlookers into proud purchasers is what it’s all about and the fewer barriers the better.

Realizing a cloud-like building has been a preoccupation of the designers. In 1995 they stated “Clouds are symbols for rapidly changing states. They form and transform themselves through the complex interaction of changing conditions. Viewed in slow motion, the architecture of urban development could be compared with patches of clouds.”

Whether or not the building is a successful symbolic cloud depends upon your expectations of symbolic clouds. Outside, the day I visited, a very real cloud covered all of Bavaria.

Waste Treatment Plant
Münchner Straße 22,85774 Unterföhring, Munich

The North Munich Waste Treatment Plant has a maximum treatment capacity of 2,640 tonnes/day and the very real purpose of treating all municipal solid waste for Munich (pop. approx. 1.5 mil.) and surrounding areas. Munich has no operational landfills. All recovered energy is returned to the city as heat and/or electricity. Impressive.

Karl47 Kuehn Malvezzi, 2014
Karlstrasse 17, 80333 Munich

This little building is an island building and, walking by it as I did most days, was struck by how well it works on all sides and corners. The curves aside, the only other low-key design feature is the curious geometry of the fourth floor. It’s one simple idea that makes each side of this building slightly and differently strange.

The outer layer of glazing is a rainscreen and acoustic baffle for a deep cavity the inner windows open into. [The KPMG building (next up) has a similar treatment at ground level where this outer layer also functions as a security screen.] It only occurred to me later how few buildings in Munich have curved corners, and how welcome these are. It’s worth it because curved glazing isn’t cheap. The cavity space also has operable louvred blinds, and those on the curved windows have curved conical slats. Respect.

Endless Staircase Olafur Eliaason 2018
KPMG Building, Ganghoferstr 29, Munich

Olafur Eliaason’s name is cropping up a lot lately. Last week I mentioned his 2003 Tate Gallery installation The Weather Project in the ART IN SPACE! post. I mentioned his building for the LEGO brothers in The Right Stuff post last month, and I’m about to mention his installation for a particularly gloomy corner of Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation in an upcoming post. He seems to be moving towards the same design pastures as Thomas Heatherwick, Philip Starck and Zaha Hadid (did) but from the direction of art rather than product design/architecture.


In addition to clocks at obvious locations such as stations, Munich also has many towers and steeples and most have at least two clocks.

Wagnisart Cooperative Housing Bogevischs Buero Architekten Stadtplaner + Schindler Hable Arkitekten 2018
Domagkpark, Munich

Domagkpark is a new residential area less than 7 kilometres from the city centre, 1.2 km from a metro station with two lines and 100m from tram stops. The size of the buildings is small enough to give apartments windows on at least two sides but large enough to reduce the surface area and provide efficiencies of construction and heating. I don’t know why humane and generous low-cost housing is so difficult to achieve elsewhere. The three- and four-bedroom apartments are generous.

Both teams of architects know their way around low-cost housing but the Waginsart Housing aims at something higher than an already high standard. At first glance it appears little different apart from some wonky geometry but, in the co-housing blocks, this sensibly converges on the irregularly-shaped shared cooking and living areas.

Elevated bridges are not something you’d expect to find in a housing development like this and it’s not clear what problem they solve. I’m guessing the upper storeys were first set back to give the central areas more daylight. Linking those setbacks with elevated bridges defines the central space as something more than just the space between buildings and at the same time makes the upper storey residents an integral part of it. If so, then its very clever and deserves repeating elsewhere.

Student Housing [2] Bogevischs Buero + Munich ARGE + Professor Werner Wirsing 2010
Olympic Village, Munich

Some of the athletes’ housing for the 1972 Olympics had been used as student housing and this project is a reconstruction since renovation proved unviable. The website says the density was increased but each student still has their own house, their own front door, own bathroom and kitchen. Everyone is allowed to decorate the exterior of their unit as they wish.

Hochbunker München [3] Raumstation Architekten Starnberg [4] 2014
158 Ungererstraße, Munich

I didn’t know what to make of this building when I came across it. It had a strange monumentality from the size and spacing of the quoins being out of sync with the residential floor levels. Things like this were on my mind since, in a draft for another post, I’d been thinking about how architecture could be art independent of function. Overthinking it, I thought the stone might have been reclaimed. It turned out the building was a heritage-protected overground bunker repurposed as an art space and apartments. Not many apartments have two metre thick walls.

The size and spacing of the quoins were always at odds with the floor levels as originally and pointlessly indicated by the ventilation ducts (that must have zig-zagged to dampen blast waves). It’s not often you become aware of a new building typology and, although it’s not like you’ll start seeing them everywhere once you do, the next day I did see this round one not too far from the BMW headquarters. Built in 1941, it could shelter 448. There’s another on the corner of Corneliustrasse and Blumenstrasse.

The Old Technical Town Hall
Blumenstrasse 28b, Munich

I was hoping this building would be of the same vintage as Chicago’s 1892 Monadnock Building but no. A 1919 competition for the design of the building was won by Hermann Leitenstorfer, an architect, engineer and instructor at the Technical University of Munich, and the building was completed in 1929. This competition must have represented a huge and exciting opportunity for architects at the time. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Friedrichstrasse designs were 1921, Gropius, Loos and Hilberseimer’s Skyscraper Chicago Tribune Competition designs were 1922, and Gropius tenure as Director of The Bauhaus was 1919–1928. I’d like to see the other entries.

Nevertheless, The Old Technical Town Hall can be enjoyed for what it is – a serious attempt to define what a high-rise building should look like in Munich when it could be no taller than the 99-metre towers of Munich’s beloved Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Lady). This historic height limit is still respected in the city centre.

• • •

• • •

  4.; more bunker photos here:



    • says:

      Yes, I was also fascinated by the many different approaches there are to reconstruction. There was this courtyard at Residenz München. It was obviously totally destroyed and reconstructing it wasn’t viable but the applied pattern gives a sense of what once was. Outside, it looks like a combination of salvage, reconstruction, re-casting and the same thing with pattern again. Over at Alte Pinakothek there’s much new brick reconstruction and no attempt to conceal the time difference. With cultural buildings the driver is not only to show what once was, but to also be left with a functioning cultural building and I was surprised to see so many ways of finding the right balance somewhere between total restoration that erases all history and time, and the opposite fetish of the ostentatiously new.