1997 - Frankfurt, Germany

Commerzbank Headquarters

This architecture speaks of a better world – on the one hand, highly technical; on the other, ecologically defensible.

At fifty-three storeys, the Commerzbank is the world’s first ecological office tower and on completion it was the tallest building in Europe. The project explores the nature of the office environment, developing new ideas for its ecology and working patterns. Central to this concept is a reliance on natural systems of lighting and ventilation. Every office is daylit and has openable windows, allowing the occupants to control their own environment. The result is energy consumption levels equivalent to half those of conventional office towers – the offices are now naturally ventilated for 85% of the year.

The plan of the building is triangular, comprising three ‘petals’ − the office floors − and a ‘stem’ formed by a full-height central atrium. Winter gardens spiral up around the atrium to become the visual and social focus for four-storey office clusters. From the outside these gardens in the sky give the building a sense of transparency and lightness. Socially, they form focal points for village-like clusters of offices, providing places to meet colleagues or relax during breaks. Environmentally, they bring light and fresh air into the central atrium, which acts as a natural ventilation chimney for the inward-facing offices. Depending on each garden’s orientation, planting is from one of three regions: North America, Asia or the Mediterranean.

The tower has a distinctive presence on the Frankfurt skyline but is also anchored into the lower-scale city fabric, through the restoration and sensitive rebuilding of the perimeter structures to reinforce the original scale of the block. These buildings provide shops, car parking, apartments and a banking hall, and help to forge links between the Commerzbank and the broader community. At the heart of the scheme is a public galleria. With its restaurants, cafés and spaces for social and cultural events, it has become a popular pedestrian thoroughfare. Interestingly, on the day the Commerzbank opened, the Financial Times adopted it as the symbol of Frankfurt, just as it features the Houses of Parliament and the Eiffel Tower as symbols of London and Paris.

Commerzbank Headquarters

Frankfurt Germany

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  • Site and Climate

    The building design responds to prevailing winds and solar orientation, to ensure optimum ventilation and daylight penetration.

  • Form and Massing

    The triangular shape and central atrium assisted in the creation of a zone of negative pressure, that drives natural ventilation through the building.

  • Passive Design The building was designed to be naturally ventilated for 60% of the year, with the sky gardens allowing natural ventilation during shoulder seasons. This approach was expected to reduce energy consumption by up to 50% compared to an equivalent air conditioned office.
  • Environmental Systems Cooling is provided by chilled ceilings, while heating is from perimeter heating. Windows are connected to the BMS to ensure that the mechanical ventilation only works when the windows are closed. Artificial lighting is connected to motion sensors and timers.
  • Renewable Energy From 1st January 2008, the Commerzbank Tower has been supplied exclusively with green energy that is derived from renewable energy sources.
  • Mobility and Connectivity

    The central infill site location of the project, is also key to its connectivity and access as it is close to public transport links.

  • Materials and Waste

    The development reused and restored the existing perimeter buildings which reduced materials consumption. Even before the existence of the Forestry Stewardship Council, all timber used in the building was taken from managed sources. Operational waste segregation facilities are provided and catering waste is composted.

  • Water To reduce potable water consumption, the condensate from the chillers was recycled, and used for WC flushing
  • Land and Ecology

    Large sky gardens with a diverse ecological profile were used to provide informal break out spaces with views of the city. This incorporation of landscaping, and the other sustainable design responses, led to Commerzbank being dubbed as the world’s first ‘ecological office tower’.

  • Culture and Heritage

    The tower, built in the centre of Frankfurt, was designed with respect to existing historical structures and the buildings surround. The project reused and restored the existing perimeter buildings of the site, which helped to maintain the streetscape.

  • Wellbeing Designed with the end user in mind, office areas are naturally ventilated and flooded with daylight. Users can regulate their own environments and sky gardens act as a breakout space.
  • Prosperity The tower has been embraced by the city, and Commerzbank is now regularly shown as an iconic structure of Frankfurt, and the German stock exchange.
  • Planning for Change As the first ‘ecological office tower’, the sustainable approach for the project was ahead of its time. The design planned for a future of increasing resource scarcity and cost, by minimising energy and water consumption, whilst providing solutions for enhanced comfort.
  • Performance in Use Post occupancy studies have shown that the tower actually consumes 20% less energy than predicted, and there has been a year on year reduction in energy consumption since 2000. This is largely because the building users have extended the period of natural ventilation up to 85% of the year, as opposed to the 60% designed for.
  • Appointment 1991
  • Completion 1997
  • Area 120,736m²
  • Height 298m
  • Capacity 2,400
  • Client Commerzbank AG
  • Structural Engineer Arup, Krebs & Kiefer
  • Quantity Surveyor Davis Langdon
  • Environmental Engineer Roger Preston & Partners, RP&K Sozietat GmbH, Petterson & Ahrens
  • Landscape Architect Sommerland & Partners
  • Lighting Engineer Lichtdesign
  • 1997 – British Construction Industry Awards, International Award
  • 2009 - Green Building Award of the City of Frankfurt
  • 1998 – RIBA Architecture Award
  • 1998 – Bund Deutscher Architekten - Martin-Elsaesser-Plakette Award
  • With the Commerzbank we combined an ambitious structural and aesthetic vision with a quest for natural ecological solutions and the well-being of the individual. For me, it is in this synthesis of these themes that the real achievement lies.
    Norman Foster, Founder and Executive Chairman
  • Commerzbank Headquarters

  • The sun streams in, a cool fragrant breeze wafts from one garden to another. It’s an extraordinary reversal of a Modernist aesthetic: the garden in the machine rather than the machine in the garden.
    Architectural Record
  • What Foster has achieved is nothing less than the reinvention of the skyscraper. The result is innovative not just technically (in its structural and servicing solutions) but also socially.
    A+U Magazine