The British (this blog is based in Britain, you see) have a received opinion on German aesthetics, which is that they are solid, rather than flashy. This opinion is based, most probably, on automotive engineering. BMWs, Mercedeses (is that the plural of Mercedes? Should it be Mercedesi? Or Mercedesen?), Audis; they’re all very superior, and desirable, and very well built. But if it’s flashy cars you’re after, you probably look towards Italy, and Ferraris and Lamborghinis. These are cars which will drop jaws thanks to their extravagant flamboyance rather than the understated elegance of their German cousins.
Yet there is more to German aesthetics than that lazy stereotype. Germany was way ahead of the game with much of its architecture. It was an early playground for Zaha Hadid, while the internal aesthetic of Norman Foster’s City Hall in London had already been played out three years earlier in Berlin’s Reichstag.
When it comes to bus shelters (if you’ll excuse the sudden descent into rather more quotidian territory) Germany is one of the choicest locations for finding architecturally significant examples. A few weeks ago, we looked at Hannover’s set of bus and tram shelters. This time, we’re heading south-west to the city of Aachen.
This week’s beauty of transport is a one-off in the city, as so many stylish bus shelters are, rather than being one of a set as in Hannover. But what a one-off.
The work of American architect Peter Eisenman (1932-) the bus shelter takes the form of an angular claw, gripping the pavement. It’s a deconstructivist piece, planes of grey and orange metal gently unfolding in a historic city environment, but somehow complementing it rather than competing with it. While most of the talons of the claw are pointing downwards, one piece of the structure twists upward, hosting a clock and an electronic information screen.
Glass screens and wooden benches project upwards or outwards at unusual angles, as though caught in mid flight from some far more conventional structure. Even the litter bins are multi-faceted works of art.
Eisenman seems to be something of a controversial architect. His company, Eisenman Architects, has designed arts centres and sports stadia, but early on his career Eisenman designed several houses. One of his clients was moved to write a book about the experience of living in “House VI” which Eisenman had designed for her and her husband; an experience which seems to have been challenging, and expensive, to say the least.
The claw is a bit of an opinion splitter too. The residents of Aachen, when asked by the New York Times, had a variety of opinion on its merits. Some think it’s ugly, some have simply got used to it, but my favourite quote from the article is this one: “It’s a lot better than those little metal bus stops. It’s different and more modern. I like that.” It’s ironic that JCDecaux, the street furniture company which commissioned Eisenman to design the bus shelter, is a worldwide supplier of “those little metal bus stops”. It begs the question of why their conventional range of shelters can’t show something of the imagination of their commission in Aachen.
The Mimoa architecture website says the shelter is as much a climbing frame for local children as it is a bus shelter. The difference between this, and the multitudinous bleak and utilitarian bus shelters which blight our streets (and which also get climbed on from time to time), is that the Aachen claw is tough enough to take it. Despite the worries expressed by adults, the local children have obviously taken it to their hearts, and the building seems to be perfectly comfortable with them, too. What better testament could a bus shelter have than that? It’s a building not for us old fogeys, but for the bus passengers of the future. And it’s drawn them in already.
how to find Peter Eisenman’s bus shelter in Aachen
further reading and bibliography
Eisenman Architects’ website has some information on the Aachen shelter. Follow the links to “Past Projects”, here.
JCDecaux’s German website has a very brief piece on the Aachen bus shelter, here.