The extensive square of Germany’s oldest Gothic Cathedral is faced on two sides by the reconstructed baroque Parliament and Chancellery of Sachsen-Anhalt. The two new Nord LB (bank) blocks complete the enclosure of the square. The wider urban context is noble but somewhat battered and heterogeneous in the extreme. Only occasional fragments of the medieval or 19th century Prussian administrative city remain, marooned between socialist system-built housing slabs. The two Domplatz blocks represent a considered, qualitative and long-term investment in city culture.
A comparison of the pre-war city figure with the socialist reconstruction plan graphically illustrates not just the 80% destruction of the historic city but also a subsequent ideological shift in relation to space, utility, urbanity and representation. The morphological texture of historic accretion produced, in the case of Magdeburg, a plan diagram of great clarity. Pressed against the meandering Elbe escarpment, the densely packed medieval core framed a limited number of open representative public spaces. Domplatz was the southernmost and largest of these. Nineteenth-century blocks testify to a rapid expansion beyond the city walls, as does the outer defensive bastion to the military importance of Magdeburg in the Napoleonic and Prussian years – a defence breached by the trajectory of the railway, a vector of a new industrial landscape and catalyst for a de-focused peripheral field. Planned peripheral extension did occur in the 1930’s housing (Siedlungen) instigated by city architect Bruno Taut.
In contrast to this accumulated multiplicity the radically decreased density of the post-war figure testifies not just to the onslaught by mechanised warfare but also to an intentional and strategic legitimisation of emptiness, both between and within new systematised superblocks. The postwar Domplatz no longer represents an exceptional moment in the city plan. It becomes just one of countless wide, partly framed, partly reconstructed open spaces. It nevertheless maintained its place in the collective memory and as the focus of political protest in the events that lead up to the 1989 collapse of the socialist state.
Larger interior spaces are carved out of the building mass, they constitute, like the English Landscape Garden, a programmed sequence of event, stoppage or perspective tableau. Rajastan Green Stone sliding from floor to wall slices an abstract plaster whiteness to demarcate lift lobbies, stairscapes and stoppages. The Nord LB banking hall with its stepped-ceiling sits below the atrium with its stepped floor, the focus of this interior world. At night, when the bank is locked and secure, the illuminated 24-hour ATM Salon offers a sample of this carved-out interior as a seductive lantern within a wider urban panorama.
The two blocks face the Cathedral Square; to the outer street they divide into three. On all facades continuous bands of paired windows give dignity, scale and unity; a volumetric stringency ameliorated by localised interruptions and by the thematicised materiality of the facade surface. The intended effect is one of mass (the solidity of a bank, the gravity of the context). Unlike the carved stone of the Cathedral (literal mass) a load-bearing concreteconstruction with thermal wrapping and a reduction of the stone surface to a 30 cm skin necessitates a contemporary linguistic interpretation of mass; a phenomenological mass. Appropriately the four stone clad floors do not rest on the ground. They hover suspended by a bronze base and light-emitting columns to the Cathedral Square. The stone is Brazilian Azul Macaubas whose random mix of colour variations produces a patchwork texture not unlike the variegated weathering of the 800-year-old Cathedral stones.