"Car-friendly cities are not the future"

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"We should reduce the number of cars in the cities" – Ben van Berkel makes immediately clear how he sees the city of the future. People should walk more and ride more bikes, says the architect, one of the world's most respected and active around the world, at the F.A.Z. Congress in Frankfurt on Thursday. It was the job of city planning to get people out of the car. This makes life more liveable and contributes to their health. The event is entitled "The city of the future: dense, digital, priceless".

Gustave Theile

The Dutchman cites Amsterdam as an example. In the meantime, people would start to leave the city center. This is due to the many tourists: "We are like Venice," says van Berkel first and laughs then. But that is also due to the many cars. Therefore, they would build parking lots on the city ring, from where the motorists would get into the city center. "Car-friendly cities are not the future," he says in a conversation with F.A.Z. editor Judith Lebmke. It would also help to make cities quieter and more liveable.

Houses that generate more energy than they consume

In the debate about the mobility of the future, he clearly positions himself on the side of the car opponents. Almost sheepishly, he admits that he drives his own car, but adds a "still" as if the car would inevitably belong to the past. He proudly reports that he has been growing his own food recently. For this he bought a weekend house in the north of the Netherlands. Now he is doing much better, cooking more, living healthier, spending more time with friends.

It becomes clear: Van Berkel not only wants to build beautiful houses, he also wants to make people's lives better: "enable encounters", "reduce CO2 emissions", "make cities safer".

Architect Ben van Berkel in conversation with Judith Lembke, editor of FAZ, at the F.A.Z Congress in Cape Europa in Frankfurt


Time and again, he uses examples from his projects in his arguments: he talks about a project in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where they have built a settlement that is committed to the idea of ​​the circular economy: "12 houses together produce more energy than they do consume, "he says. They would then sell the rest and thereby increase their income. In addition, the houses are networked via an "Urban Data Platform". The government worries about data security, but they have ensured with cyber security experts that nothing gets out. The project is located near a Tesla factory and a research center of the Dutch technology group Philips, a "small Silicon Valley" van Berkel calls the area in reference to the center of the tech world around San Francisco.

Sustainable buildings

He cites further examples, from China, where one is "really radical in terms of sustainable buildings," from Singapore, where there are strict conditions for residents to plant trees on their balconies. He built a campus there, where the buildings are located closer together so that everything is within walking distance. "And we hid the elevators to make people walk more," he laughs.

In Arnhem in the Netherlands he designed a train station with no corners. "So that the dealers can not hide?" Asks F.A.Z. editor Lembke. "Exactly," replies van Berkel.

Van Berkel knows Frankfurt well. For fifteen years he taught at the Städelschule, a college of fine arts. It took a while for him to make friends with the city. "At first I thought: Frankfurt is a city of expats," he says of people who have moved in from abroad. "Then I discovered the beauty of the city. The Main is almost a beach for many people in the summer. "And it is a city of the underground world, which one must first discover.

"Technology for the good"

He is also involved in a major project in the center of Frankfurt: "The Four". Four new skyscrapers are being built there. There he wants to do a lot better, what he criticizes in big cities, that in the evening, for example, was not safe, because in some quarters only offices are housed and in the evening no one was traveling there. Restaurants, hotels, gyms and clubs are the answer. "Then it's alive at night," he says.

When he talks about the design of the towers, he gets into a rapture almost a bit. The facades were designed to reflect more light. Sometimes it seems as if the facades of the towers merge. "Then the towers dance together," he says. In 2023, the project is to be completed.

Not everyone is convinced in the audience. One questioned critically why in the pictures of his projects only young people are depicted. One finds that one must make the country life again more attractive. He agrees with that, says van Berkel: "Not everything can be condensed." Another criticizes the talk of "smart cities", where it comes to the digital networking of cities. He also agrees with her: "This is an empty expression". Too often, it's about making cities even more efficient through technology. "That's the opposite of sustainability," he complains. "We need technology for the good," he claims instead. And thus puts a fitting conclusion to the event.

(tagToTranslate) Ben van Berkel (t) Judith Lebmke (t) F.A.Z. (t) Congress (t) Car (t) Berkel (t) Frankfurt

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