Germany embarks on a new era of high-rise living

 —  Article by Natalie Holmes
Marco Polo tower in Hamburg, Germany
Image credit: Shutterstock

From its timber-clad townhouses to its concrete, post-war residential blocks, Germany has traditionally been a country of low-rise buildings.

Now, all that is changing. Across the country, urban growth and increasing demand for housing – along with rising house prices and rents – are leading local governments, developers and investors to turn their attention to residential high-rises.

“One reason for the increased construction of tall residential towers is the revival of inner cities as places where people not only want to work but also want to socialise and live,” says Dr Konstantin Kortmann, Head of Residential Investment, JLL Germany.

Yet supply is not keeping up with demand. Since 2011, German cities with over 500,000 inhabitants have grown between 1 percent and 6 percent – equating to around 270,000 households. At the same time, only 150,000 new homes were built, and the residential vacancy rate has fallen to under two percent, signifying a huge shortage.

It led the government to rethink long-standing zoning laws in 2016 although exact details on strict zoning laws are yet to be defined.

“Development land in the inner city is extremely scarce, so building upwards is logical,” says Jirka Stachen, Associate Director for JLL Research, Germany and author of a recent report on residential towers in the country. “High-rise residential developments, which previously were built in specially designated areas on the outskirts of the city, are being built on inner city brownfields, such as former industrial or harbor areas, which are then integrated into the urban space.”

Cities growing upwards

Most of the development activity is currently happening in Germany’s big seven cities: Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Hamburg. By the end of 2016, at least 17 new residential towers were built or renovated. Another 50 other projects are under construction or in the planning phase.

At 172 meters, Frankfurt’s Grand Tower will be Germany’s tallest residential building, featuring a roof garden and sun deck. In Berlin, two new residential towers are planned for Alexanderplatz—the 150-meter Capital Tower and Grandair, at a more modest 65 meters.

Yet despite its rising city skylines, Germany still lags behind countries such as the UK, which has over 500 high-rise buildings in the pipeline; around 70 percent are for residential use.

Living the high-rise lifestyle

Building design is also changing significantly from previous years. The new wave of residential high-rises have become models for sustainability – in line with the country’s strict energy efficiency standards for new buildings – and draw on innovative technology. “Marco Polo Tower in Hamburg’s HafenCity is relatively small at 65 meters, but is unique because of its modern organic design and innovative climate technology,” says Thomas Zabel, Head of Residential Development Germany at JLL.

Transport connections and infrastructure are key considerations. High density housing can cause severe traffic, so sites require a suite of solutions that include all modes of transport, such as car sharing, bicycle access, and public transport.

Amenities are another big focus area; many of the high-rise developments are mixed use, incorporating features such as food outlets or grocery stores while others have social uses such as kindergartens or gyms.

“The ideal of modern residential buildings is the expression of a new way of urban living,” says Kortmann. “Rather than being isolated on the outskirts of town, the buildings are integrated neighborhoods and they become a focal point of the area.”

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