An extraordinary large-scale demonstration occurred in Stuttgart in October 2010 when 100,000 protesters—one sixth of that city’s population—took to the streets to protest the $8.75 billion transformation of Paul Bonatz and Friedrich Eugen Scholer’s Central Station of 1911–1928 into a hub of a new trans-European high-speed rail network. That controversial project, Stuttgart 21, planned by the Düsseldorf-based Ingenhoven Architects, required the demolition of the monumental terminal’s north wing in 2010 and south wing this past January, leaving the building’s 183- foot-high flat-roofed clock tower and its Romanesque-basilica-like main concourse, the latter of which will become redundant when travelers will board trains below ground.
Bonatz and Scholer’s imposing elevations of unornamented rough-hewn beige limestone established a distinctive (if somewhat conservative) local variant of Modernism that set the tone for Stuttgart’s exceptionally cohesive architecture of the 1920s and 1930s. That consistent urban vision inspired James Stirling and Michael Wilford to follow the main precepts of the so-called Stuttgart School in their sandstone-and-travertine-clad Neue Staatsgalerie of 1977–1984, the city’s most distinguished postwar urbanistic achievement and the finest example anywhere of Postmodern architecture, i.e., design that didn’t accept the Bauhaus rules against ornament or historical pastiche.
To be sure, opposition to Stuttgart 21 has not been wholly, or perhaps not even primarily, architectural, even though critical opinion reckons the station among the finest transportation facilities of the twentieth century. The new scheme also involves felling two hundred trees in the adjacent Schlossgarten, one of the city’s best-loved parks, which along with the project’s enormous cost—opponents have warned that it could exceed $23 billion—may well be the main sources of public anger. Yet even the partial destruction of Bonatz and Scholer’s masterful work (which they dubbed umbilicus sueviae, the navel of Swabia) has been rightly perceived as an irrevocable act of cultural vandalism.
How big a political issue can be made of despoiling architectural landmarks? In fact, voter disgust with both Stuttgart 21 and mainstream politicians’ evident indifference to the numerous demonstrations against it helped the Green Party to win a majority on the Stuttgart city council in 2009 and two years later to lead a coalition government in Baden-Württemberg’s legislature, a first for a German state. What has made the story of the Stuttgart Central Station especially shocking is that the historic preservation movement arose a half-century ago in direct response to the equally misguided demolition of another great railway depot: McKim, Mead & White’s majestic Pennsylvania Station of 1908–1913 in New York City.
Today we take for granted the imperative to protect architectural treasures for the edification and enjoyment of our descendants. But in 1963 an outcry from architectural historians, picket lines of outraged citizens, and a fiery New York Times editorial were not enough to save Penn Station…
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