27 / 04 / 22 - 4 minute read
Stretching over the Rhine like three powerful alien beings ready to steal a march on the city, this triple ensemble of spectacular steel construction stands in a row in the northern section of the Rheinauhafen harbour on the west bank of the Rhine.
Rheinauhafen was formerly a busy port for transport and goods, whose importance slowly diminished over decades. Subsequently, the old harbour area was converted into a residential and commercial quarter from the 1980s onwards. As the area’s pièce de résistance, the three crane houses were designed by the Aachen architect Alfons Linster and the Hamburg architectural firm Bothe, Richter, Teherani (BRT) and built between 2006 and 2010. The Rhine promenade runs under the buildings.
With their cantilevered arms extending at right angles to the Rhine, the trio is reminiscent of the harbour cranes used to load cargo from and onto ships. “The wide cantilevers form a striking silhouette that also creates a symbolic reference to the location – it picks up on the forms of the historic cranes, whose preservation was significantly promoted by the monument preservation authorities,” says BRT. “With their dynamic forms and associations with the historic loading cranes, the ‘crane houses’ are a striking signal of departure for the architectural commitment of the city on the river and at the same time form a gateway to the water.”
The buildings’ unique inverted L-shape is based on the construction and architecture of bridges and bridge-building techniques. The two-part cantilevers may be seemingly only supported by glass stair towers but, in reality, are reinforced by a prestressed concrete structure inside the buildings.
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The buildings’ striking architecture in the form of a horizontal skyscraper is loosely based on El Lissitzky’s utopian Wolkenbügel, or ‘Cloud hangers,’ dating back to 1924. Lissitzky was an important member of the Russian avant-garde, designing various propaganda works for the Soviet Union. In addition, he was one of the key protagonists of the Bauhaus and constructivist movements.
Lissitzky designed a series of eight Wolkenbügel as horizontal skyscrapers to mark major intersections in Moscow. He claimed that as humans can’t fly, it’s more natural to move horizontally rather than vertically.
In this way, Lissitzky planned to undermine the popularity of the vertical American-style skyscraper. “This type (of architecture) has developed completely anarchically, with no consideration for overall urban planning. Its only concern was to upstage its neighbour in height and splendour,” he wrote in 1916 in the Izvestiya Asnova journal, published by the creative association of Soviet rationalist architects.
Over the years, the glass, steel and concrete constructions of the crane houses have become familiar landmarks in Cologne’s cityscape, and beacons of international modern architecture. In 2009, the first crane building, Kranhaus 1, won the ‘Business Centre’ category of the MIPIM Awards, a real estate competition honouring the most outstanding projects worldwide.
Each crane house is about 62 metres high, 70 metres long, and 34 metres wide. Kranhaus 1, the middle crane building, was the first of the three built, with construction taking place between 2006 and 2008. The 15-storey building offers around 17,200 sq m of usable office space in its upper realm, or two separately accessible office spaces of 800 sq m each. These can be subdivided and used as individual offices or as open-plan offices.
The building boasts top tenants. Ox & Klee, which holds two Michelin stars, occupies a ground-floor restaurant, while law firm CMS Hasche Sigle and tax consultant Rödl & Partner have been tenants since the building opened its doors.
Construction of Kranhaus Süd, also housing offices, started in 2007. Meanwhile, Kranhaus Nord was built in 2010 as a purely residential building. Harbouring 133 luxury apartments on 18 levels, this has proven to be one of the most sought after residential addresses in Cologne. Unlike its office neighbours, Kranhaus Nord has balconies protruding from its façade.
In March 2022, PATRIZIA realised the value from Kranhaus 1 by disposing of the trophy office asset. In this way, it succeeded in delivering strong returns for investors after 14 years of active management of the property. The sale to Deka Immobilien Investment GmbH took place on behalf of German institutional clients.
Daniel Dreyer, Head of Transactions DACH at PATRIZIA, commented: “This was the perfect time to crystallise the value we have generated since the acquisition of the asset in 2008. We have thereby successfully executed our active asset management plan and delivered outstanding performance and value again for our clients.”
PATRIZIA remains committed to the German office market, Dreyer added. “We recognise the potential in the German office sector and will continue to seek new investment opportunities.”
1. "Kranhaus" by Damian Witkowski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.; 2. "Aerial: First Kranhaus of Rheinauhafen in Golden Hour" by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.; 3. "Aerial of ship in front of Kranhaus buildings on rhine river" by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.