Incompleted: Frankfurt at a glance
by Peter Cachola Schmal
Dec 11, 2013

What a mixture! Berlin-based DOM Publishers, which advertises its products with the slogan “Books made by architects”, has now brought out its “Architectural Guide to Frankfurt/Main”, the 19th volume in the series. On the back of three Berlin guides ("The Wall", "Mitte", "Museum Island") and "Hamburg", it’s now Frankfurt’s turn for Germany, ahead of Munich and Leipzig. While it is an honor for our city, it’s a bit surprising, especially if one considers the places covered to date. East and Central European locations were a matter of course, in keeping with the preferences of publisher Philipp Meuser: Budapest, Moscow and Uzbekistan. Havana and Pyongyang can likewise be classified among the former Communist bastions that are increasingly becoming travel destinations. In Asia, it was hitherto dynamic centers such as Delhi, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. In Europe, it was Helsinki and Copenhagen in the North and Lisbon in the South. The program does not readily reveal a logic, is presumably the product of chance, and informed by the subjective circumstances of the various authors. The latest development is a guide to Brazil, which we started selling over the counter in the DAM parallel to Brazil being the Book Fair Guest of Honor 2013.

So what is it that makes this colorful architectural guide, with the big A on the cover, so special? Well, it lies sweetly in the hand, at 23 cm high and 13 cm wide, complete with a map and a local transport plan in the cover flaps. The individual buildings are grouped by neighborhood and a series of new aerial photos gives you a sense of orientation. Pleasantly small QR codes for each project take you to the exact location on Google Maps. And there are classic indexes by project and architect. It’s all very handy as a guide for architecture tourists to take along with them, simply by architects, for architects.

The author is Sandra Pappe, a graduate architect and online editor. And her choice of a total of some 200 projects is very subjective. It strikes the eye that she wanted to carefully document the great age of “New Frankfurt” in the 1920s, to make certain they did not run the risk of being forgotten. And in the process herself neglected those contemporary buildings that she did not feel were so important. Which is a quite precarious undertaking that can easily go wrong. Not mentioned is the entire Campus Westend, with the exception of the outstanding lecture hall center designed by Ferdinand Heide and the less successful ecumenical students’ residence masterminded by Karl + Probst.

She likewise ignores the largest urban planning development of recent decades, the Europaviertel. While the majority of the individual projects there are comparatively banal, the quarter as a whole should certainly have been included as it is definitely too important to go unmentioned. The Rebstockviertel next door is also omitted, although it would have offered a prime opportunity to elaborate on the fact that Peter Eisenmann failed here as a planner, a role where his work is rated too highly. By contrast, Pappe’s inclusion of famous buildings that have been torn down, such as the AEG and Hochtief offices and Zürichhaus is commendable.

It is of course doubtful whether tourists really benefit from this information but it at least attests to Pappe’s wish to offer meaningful insights, something also borne out by her informative texts. She doesn’t so much describe what you can see anyway, but focuses more on the often exciting trends in architectural history. All the buildings have been newly photographed by Ekkehard Mantel, from the perspective of a pedestrian, and traffic and people do not get left out the picture. It’s a refreshing idea and very practical, as is the book as a whole. And that’s the reason why we so like selling this guide at the DAM – as a service to our visitors. It’s a service they welcome – as can be seen from the fact that the book sells well.

Architekturführer Frankfurt am Main
Von Sandra Pappe, with photos by Ekkehard Mantel
Dom Publishers, Berlin, 2013
256 pages, 300 images, Softcover
Euro 28

The author Peter Cachola Schmal is the Director of Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt/Main since 2006: