DC Tower 1
By Ulf Meyer
French superstar architect Dominique Perrault is the man behind Vienna’s new landmark showcasing Perrault’s trademark use of big shapes and simple geometry. Named DC Tower 1 due to it’s location in Danube City and its status as one of a pair (the twin building remains on the drawing board) the building reaches a height of 250 meters and 60 floors making it the tallest skyscraper in Austria and a sign of Vienna’s increasingly desperate ambition to re-shape Danube City
In the 1960’s Vienna chose the former ‘Brett’ldorf’ (wooden village) on the eastern side of the Danube river for conversion into a ‘Little Houston’. The office towers that originated here are today showing their age and their mono-functionality was never overcome. Thus, only a great gesture could help: An extremely high tower that draws new attention to the ‘Donau City’, creating an unmistakable logo. No one is more appropriate for such a task then French architect Dominique Perrault. Perrault is known for his big gestures, actively seeking urban grandeur: His Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, first created Perrault’s world-wide fame in 1995, characterizing his typical oeuvre. From the Velodrome and Olympic Swimming Pool in Berlin to the Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea and the extension of the European Courthouse in Luxembourg, Perrault’s most famous works use big shapes and simple geometries , to create urban super signs. Through many eyes Perraults buildings burst with power, clarity and abstraction, but through others, his less successful buildings are seen to stand in the city like isolated tombstones.
The new building pushes the Millenium Tower (designed by Peichl and Podrecca) from its throne as the highest tower in the country. Despite its height, the new black tower is only 28 meters wide and situated perpendicularly to the river. On the south side Perrault gave his tower a folded facade, the other three sides are simple flat surfaces of black glass. Ten longitudinal stripes, which each buckle twice, form as a plastic folding wall – in contrast to the austerity of the other three facades. The Fukoku Tower in Osaka, Japan that Perrault designed recently has a very similar facade.
Perrault was commissioned for the construction of the skyscraper because twelve years ago he had won an urban design competition to enhance the unloved ‘Danube City’ office district. His idea was to juxtapose two high-rise buildings acting as if Titan himself has cut and pulled apart a large Kaaba. The two towers were regarded as ‘half a block’, acting like two unequal halves of a broken monolith that form a gateway. (For a look at the face to face towers have a look at Perraults sketches) It is a shame however that Perrault’s vision will not come to light until his second tower is given the go ahead.. So for the time being Tower 1 remains lonely without its counterpart, surrounded only by road ramps. Not planned as a solitaire, the solitaire instead forms a gate with the white Hochhaus Neue Donau designed by Harry Seidler in 2002 across the street.
Vienna was traditioanlly situated upon the Wein River, never opening itself up to the Danube – because of the risk of flooding. This only changed with the regulation of the mighty Danube in the 1870s when the Alte Donau became standing water. The initial impetus for the development of the Danube floodplain was then set at a Gardening Show held in 1964, which resulted in the area, that was formerly used as a rubbish dump and for allotment gardens to become Vienna’s skyscraper district. In 1979, the United Nations City was built here. The huge convention centers that resulted introduced an uneasy and giant urban scale, a feature that further development in the Danube City is struggling with to this day.
When the planned World Expo 1995 was cancelled the client of Perrault’s new tower, the Vienna Development Company for the Danube Region AG (WED) wanted to attract interest and investment to its drafty pedestrian-plate. The architects Krischanitz and Neumann had designed a new master plan in 1992 to revitalize the area, which ten years later Perrault re-wrote. But investors did not stand in line. Instead, the developers now built a speculative tower themselves. It is still waiting for tenants. The only anchor tenant so far is a Spanish four-star hotel, which occupies the lower 15 floors and with its fitness center, pool and spa brings at least some special uses to the monotonous tower. The hotel chain also operates a restaurant and bar in the 57th and 58th floor.
Perrault likes to talk of the idea of the ’vertical city’ and wants to help overcome the one-sided office use of the Donau City with his tower. But the different uses in his building are not architecturally articulated, but disappear in the black, abstract, scale-less mass of the tower bar. The 16 expensive duplex apartments in the tower bring little residential population to the Danube City. In short, the problems of the 60s urban plan can not be solved by this new building. How could they?
But it was the urban thinking that brought Perrault the commission, thus it is disappointing to see how clumsily the tower acts urbanistically: It prolongs the pedestrian platform over underground garages and dark access roads to the Danube “as a terrace,” as Perrault calls it. Indeed, this terrace is a littering, drafty, unfinished plate covered with cheap concrete block pavers.
People enter the DC Building from below since it does not have a proper walk-in address. The transition to the banks of the Danube remain unformed – Perrault’s urban expertise that made him the designer of the banks of the Garonne in Bordeaux and the shore in Ile-de-Nantes, are not yet shown in Vienna.
The Viennese building site has its qualities only at the high level: Overlooking downtown Vienna on one side and views towards Bratislava on the other, it allows a great redefinition of the skyline of the Danube City. “The horizontality of the city must face vertical deflections”, says Perrault. The “anchoring of the DC Tower 1” in its environment was therefore of central importance for him. In front of the tower therefore, he placed black metal screens that “soften the eruption of the tower” and mitigate downdrafts at the foot of the tower. At the back, wooden stairs lead up from the street level to the entrance plateau. This artificial topography is intended to create a space “which makes the appearance of a large object acceptable” says Perrault. The un-urban exempting solitary building is thus engrained in the design.
The choice of the name DC Tower suggests the Danube City (DC) as much as the District of Columbia, where the American capital Washington is located. But just as the “D. C.” is not a regular member state of the United States, the “DC” in Vienna is also not a functioning district, but an elephant graveyard of modern architecture. A rive gauche will not flourish in the Donau City without a resident population, a mix of uses and the facilitation of coincidences.
|ARCHITECT||Dominique Perrault Architecture