Beautiful squares and boulevards are crucial for this vibrant city
Regula Lüscher walks purposefully towards the small group. On this October day, she meets with some of Europacity’s investors on Washington
platz, beside the central railway station, for our magazine. It is already autumn, but the sun is still shining in a relatively cloudless sky, so much so that several tourists can be seen relaxing on the terraces of the numerous cafés. This is how the gateway to the federal capital is meant to look when travellers alight from trains and catch their first glimpse of the city while gazing towards the government district.
In her previous role as Senate Building Director and State Secretary in the Urban Development Administration, Regula Lüscher was responsible for Europacity. However, on 1st August, she opted to retire from service after 14 successful years. But she just cannot let go yet. When she talks to investors about glass sculptures like CA Immo's cube berlin on Washingtonplatz, her hands recreate façades and outline imaginary buildings to accentuate her narrative. Once an architect, always an architect. Her intense passion is almost tangible.
“But it's also nice to wake up in Berlin and just take a holiday here,” Regula Lüscher explains. Perhaps like the visitors who drag their wheeled suitcases across Washingtonplatz? “The square is an extremely open space that takes a back seat to the central railway station and cube berlin. With its granite slabs, it is typical for Berlin. I think the outdoor terraces of the restaurants and cafés are important and create a place of well-being.”
Regula Lüscher walks through the central railway station which was opened for the 2006 Football World Cup barely a year before she took office as Senate Building Director. At that time, the station still stood lonely and lost in Europacity, surrounded by no-man's land over which the wind swept the sand. It was a legacy of the separation of East and West and, at the same time, a wound that had yet to heal. Lüscher then moderated the international competition for Europacity, which was won in 2008 by the Cologne-based ASTOC architectural practice with their master plan. Block by block, the complex has since been joined together, but Europacity is far from finished.
Regula Lüscher leads her small group to Heidestrasse. Past the Tour Total and 50Hertz tower, whose eye-catching architectural design, with its diagonal steel supports symbolically representing a sine wave, is a perfect fit for the network operator and, like the Tour Total, delights Lüscher.
As for Heidestrasse, the city’s former top planner had a vision of a lively urban boulevard with tourists and residents strolling along the extra-wide pavements and browsing in the shops. “This will not succeed everywhere. Heidestrasse remains a thoroughfare and so people will either be on one side of the road or the other,” she explains. But she is convinced that lower speed limits and electric mobility would have a positive effect on Heidestrasse. “A boulevard will only emerge when all the buildings are completed, shops open on the ground floors and the crowns of the three lines of trees form a green canopy. The QH Core building is a successful example of this and is already turning the street into a boulevard.”
Regula Lüscher glances down the length of Heidestrasse. She takes a closer look at the new buildings and discusses the steady rise in building heights along the side of the canal and towards the railway line. At this point, it is as if Regula Lüscher has resumed her role as Senate Building Director. She evaluates the architecture, praises this or that building, underlines the importance of an intelligent mix and criticises the pseudo-parcelling in some places which never existed on the former railway site. Nonetheless, it is not possible to win every argument with investors, she tells the small group.
For Regula Lüscher, it is not just good urban planning and metropolitan architectural design that are indispensable in Europacity, but also the design of paths, squares and green space for people. One senses that this is a matter close to her heart. “Public space is the foundation and critical to the functioning and vibrancy of the city,” she emphasises. That's why she turns the corner at the QH Core building into Quartier Heidestrasse and stands there on the central triangular plaza. Water from the fountain system shoots up from the ground. “It's beautiful,” says Lüscher, despite some neighbouring buildings still being surrounded by construction fences. “The fountain alone makes a great deal of difference and the splashing masks the street noises. This will be a beautiful urban space with lots of seating, shops and cafés. Professionals and employees in the surrounding offices will meet here, and not just at lunchtime.”
One example is the QH Track building, a 550 m long building in Quartier Heidestrasse built by Taurecon Real Estate Consulting GmbH which stretches along the railway line towards the central railway station. The world's third-largest listed software company SAP has already leased around 37,000 sqm of office space here. Lüscher tries to look at the long building from the best possible perspective and says: “This is the metropolitan side of Europacity and shields the residential buildings from railway traffic. The higher and lower buildings alternate well and punctuate this elongated spine. I think it's good that no skyscrapers have been built here. However, the buildings could have been one or two storeys higher at some points in Heidestrasse, for example, but that was not politically feasible ten years ago”, she says self-critically.
Eastern side of Europacity: This is predominantly a residential area, as demonstrated in Wasserstadt, constructed by the Adler Group in a beautiful and peaceful location on the Berlin-Spandau canal. As a passionate sailor who has also taken part in international championships, Regula Lüscher is drawn immediately to the water. She is delighted with the wide waterfront promenade that will in future connect Invalidenstrasse with the park at Nordhafen, many sections of which have already been completed according to the plans drawn up by Relais Landschaftsarchitekten. Lüscher walks a little further and finally stands on Otto-Weidt-Platz. She looks at the shiny gold-coloured bridge leading to the opposite bank in Mitte, but which is not yet open. “I am really looking forward to the bridge. It has become very beautiful and something quite unique. Just look at how the gold colour reflects the light.”
Otto-Weidt-Platz is still at the planning stage. With alengthof100mandadepthof40m, it is one of the largest squares in Europacity. This will create a high-quality urban space for residents and tourists alike with many shops, cafés and restaurants. It will be a place where people like to meet and come together.
Arriving at the Kunst-Campus behind the Hamburger Bahnhof railway station, Lüscher greets restaurateur Reinhard Bär in his eponymous restaurant. They still know each other from the time when Lüscher worked at Köllnischer Park and Reinhard ran his “Chefetage” restaurant on Inselstrasse. Lüscher remembers it fondly, as she does her time as Senate Building Director.
That was a few months ago now. During this time she has received a few approaches to re-join building authorities. Regula Lüscher has declined these offers with thanks. “I have worked long enough in public administrations and authorities. Younger people are supposed to do that now; they also have younger networks,” she says, symbolically passing the baton to the next generation. Despite her dual citizenship, she also had to make arrangements to move from Berlin back to Switzerland and Zurich. After intensive years in Berlin, a “working trip” will soon take Regula Lüscher to Denmark. “I'm going to visit an art professor and get back into painting,” she reveals. And Berlin? “Berlin will always be my second home.” Perhaps we can welcome her soon to an exhibition in Europacity.