New Dimensions – Design for the city of the future

polisMOBILITY in conversation with Dieter Brell, Creative Head at 3deluxe

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COLOGNE. GERMANY –  Editorial Director Csilla Letay on the global challenges of cities – published in polisMOBILITY Data magazine – Digitisation for tomorrow's mobility, April 2023 issue.

All the challenges that are currently 
piling up globally 
are reflected in the cities.

polisMOBILITY: Mr Brell, it is clear from today's challenges in the field of urban development that we have to think and act holistically, inter- and transdisciplinarily. 3deluxe was founded in 1992 as an interdisciplinary design office and was thus ahead of its time - what can one imagine by this description?


Dieter Brell: The first group consisted of interior designers and graphic and communication designers. We were always interested in: What is modern and what does the future look like? What is cool? What are art, fashion and music doing right now? When we founded our office, pop culture, for example, was more important and had a greater input into society than it does today. That was the beginning. When we later added the field of architecture, we realised that a graphic designer can definitely also think about the façade of a building. After all, this is also an image for people strolling through the city. Because of our background, the effect of things is very important to us. The classical architect is primarily concerned with the fact that something has to function and last. For us, it was an important point what images buildings radiate: What does a building represent - the owner, the company in it, or does it have a meaning for the surroundings, for the city? In the area we came from, aesthetics played a big role, also the word "beauty". Of course, we now know how many constraints there are in building. building. Nevertheless, it was from this perspective and with this aspiration that we came to architecture. What is relevant for society? That is shifting, of course. What used to be modern 20 years ago is no longer so now, that's in the nature of the term. The impetus of 3deluxe is to see in which direction society is developing and what we can contribute to it.

In addition to certain general conditions in the construction industry, there are also the major developments such as climate change, digitalisation and increasing urbanisation and, as a result, the question of how we actually want to and can live in the future. As architects, as designers, as designers - what role can, must and do you want to play in this?


In recent years, the role of the architect has changed a lot - and it should. Today, it's no longer just about materials and statics. Because all the challenges that are currently piling up globally are reflected in cities - whether it's the climate problem, the traffic problem, bad air, people's health or even social issues like migration. Whereas in the past the focus was on the function of the building and its integration into the environment, today it is a plethora of tasks that reach into all socially relevant issues. This starts with biodiversity, i.e. bringing nature into the city; through recycling issues, minimising the carbon footprint, to social components. As a developer or builder, you should no longer just build for yourself and your tenants, but also assume a certain responsibility for the neighbourhood, for the district, for the city, for nature and - if you think about it further - for the development of the planet. This overall picture must be seen in every building project. Our task as architects is therefore also to assemble the right experts and to moderate them. 

The role of the architect suddenly takes on a relevance it never had before. Architecture is taking on a completely different dimension - which is precisely what makes it so exciting for me at the moment. Has the attitude of the public sector also changed along with this? Many regulations still stand in the way of necessary pragmatic solutions. In my opinion, this is also being recognised. But it is a long way in Germany until something actually changes. Many regulations have a background that is actually correct. It is about creating a balance or ensuring that private investors refrain from doing certain things because they are not in the general interest. 

But we notice that we are not really getting anywhere at the moment. The issue is quite clear: the construction industry is responsible for 30 to 40% of global CO2 emissions. So we really need to act quickly here.

You said earlier that the function and integration of a building into its surroundings used to be the main thrust of planning. But the surroundings, in turn, actually only consisted of other buildings - but not the space. When we talk about the transformation of cities, it can really only be about the open space, of which there is not so much. In this context, with your design studies, e.g. on the transformation of New York's Times Square or Berlin's Friedrichstraße, you have highlighted changes that - as we are currently experiencing again with the example of Friedrichstraße - can certainly trigger heated discussions. How do you assess this?


You say it right, this transformation of the cities that is much talked about at the moment - that contradicts itself to a certain extent. In the best case, these cities and buildings should last for over 100 years if they are done properly. A quick transformation is not possible at all. That's why we wanted to look at the street, the public space, because this is the area that can be shaped the most. This is where the most significant changes will be seen in 30 years. That's why we did these studies. With the reduction of car traffic, a nice way to approach and rethink public space has been paved. As an automobile-producing country, this is a different issue than in countries without this economic factor. So we realise that it won't be that easy - but probably rather two steps forward, one step back. In Berlin, this is currently the normal procedure. But if you do such transformations half-heartedly - in other words, just put in a few flower tubs, repaint all the markings and simply replace the cars with bicycles - which in Berlin are just as dangerous as the cars - then of course it won't go down so well. You have to see the development of the space between buildings, which is extremely valuable in the city, as analogous to the construction of buildings. Every street ultimately has its own requirements. Friedrichstraße has never become the magnet it was supposed to become. Therefore, you have to create added value beyond the decorative. In the study, we created a relatively extreme and also colourful design, e.g. as a tourist attraction. That's a bit exaggerated, but you have to think of Friedrichstraße in the category of a special place. If there is no architectural significance, you have to try to create exactly that instead of just meeting standards.

To what extent do the two design studies Friedrichstraße and Times Square differ? What insights did you gain in this process?


To start with Times Square: We chose an iconographic place to represent what the place currently looks like and what it could look like. Yellow Cabs and lots of people: that's the epitome of how you imagine a city. The empty pedestrian zone is not. In order to maintain this liveliness, you have to include mobility in the design of the square, so that there are not only pedestrians there, but also something additional on offer, which, by the way, is even more true for Friedrichstraße than for Times Square. The question of how micromobility and pedestrians come together well is very central. Here, speeds have to be adapted to the pedestrian - and more so than previously assumed. There will therefore be infrastructure that is only intended for transfers where people drive fast. Because there will also be a lot of driving in the future: Cars, or everything that comes after cars, will ensure supply in cities. But: there will be more and more areas without this fast traffic. Here, micromobility must be slowed down in speed. So I think the secret is to balance this newly freed urban space in such a way that it is primarily oriented towards the pedestrian as the weakest link. The stronger components are secondary and to be managed in such a way that everything can function like a kind of biotope. I hope that such parameters will be included in tenders in the future.

When people can see the positive effects of appropriate transformation measures, then it often "clicks". What support can architecture and design provide here?


This was one of the motivators for our design studies. As designers, it is our task to communicate the benefits of designing our environment accordingly. There is now a great deal of scepticism about such changes. Therefore, one must also visually illustrate that things can be better - and that the change does not mean restriction or loss, but rather gain.

In the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, you realised the V-Plaza project with 3deluxe, which proves exactly this. The area of the newly designed square should/can promote micromobility by being wheel-friendly. 


The building complex we did was partly made up of new construction projects and partly of existing older buildings that we refurbished. The city had sold the real estate and the space to the investor with the stipulation that the public square would be prepared at its own expense. So at first the square was only an additional task in the project - but it became the most exciting thing for us. Because it paid exactly to the current issues in urban space. At some point, only cars were parked at this central square. It is a good example of how a previously car-dominated square is now enlivened by people. We have integrated organic landscapes that function like a kind of skate park. This encourages people to go there with their bicycles or inline skates, etc. If it is fun to move there on wheels, then we have already achieved a lot. For the first time ever, more people are coming to the square to simply sit in the green, by the fountain and in cafés. The opening took place in the middle of the pandemic summer of 2020, when everyone wanted to get out. I didn't realise before how many people were on wheels in this city. Completely unprompted, they arrived and immediately recognised this opportunity. That was great.

To what extent do the two design studies Friedrichstraße and Times Square differ? What insights did you gain in this process?

In my opinion, there is currently a great danger that a lot of ugly stuff will be built under the extreme price pressure. On the other hand, there is a cultural demand that will not simply disappear. It can't just be a question of bare existence. We really have to be careful that the efficiency drive doesn't give us building sins for which no tenants can be found in 20 years - as is currently the case with many buildings from the 1980s and 1990s that are being demolished today. These buildings had far too short a life cycle. Sustainability also means setting a certain quality in aesthetics so that the buildings are long-lasting from this point of view as well. I hope that in this case the public sector will also provide funding when in doubt and not just leave the issue to the free market. Thank you very much for the enriching conversation.


Read the full article published in polisMobility Data // April 2023

About 3deluxe
  • 3deluxe as a design office with its headquarters in Wiesbaden unites around 40 creative professionals from the areas of architecture, interior design and brand design under one roof. 

    The multifaceted projects receive worldwide attention. The office currently realizes projects in Germany, USA, Dubai, Lithuania, Finland, and Italy. 
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