Now that the new President of the Max Planck Society (MPG) has taken office on June 23, 2023, he and and the responsible Vice President will focus in the coming months on carefully analyzing the new building project for the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and obtaining a comprehensive overview. To this end, they will discuss the project with the responsible and authoritative institutions at various levels as well as constructively continue existing talks. Further decisions on the new building of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics will be made on this basis.
We will inform about the results of these discussions here in due course.
As the future user of the site, the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) supports the eviction of the former Dondorf printing plant, which has been occupied by a group of activists since June 24, 2023, initiated today by the Goethe University Frankfurt as the owner of the building. Together with the Max Planck Society (MPG) as the building owner, we will now focus on the realization of the new building project and at the same time continue the constructive dialogue with those who are voicing their concerns in a democratic and legal manner.
As an institute that conducts research on art and culture, we see it as our responsibility not only to maintain the memory of the industrial site of Bockenheim, the changing history of the printing plant and the fate of the Jewish Dondorf family, but also to make it accessible to a broad public at the site itself. We will invite interested groups and individuals from Frankfurt to participate in the development of a memorial concept. We hope that a constructive dialog with the groups and organizations that have ample historical knowledge about the Dondorf Druckerei and its former owners will lead to a concept that is convincing for all sides.
Even though we regret the demolition of the old building, we are at the same time convinced that a new building with facades reconstructed according to historical models, in conjunction with a successful, publicly accessible memorial and documentation concept, will more than guarantee the memory of the Dondorf printing plant and the history associated with it. Precisely because we are aware of the sentimental value of the building, we have decided to sensitively orient the design of the new building to the cubature and appearance of the original building.
With regard to the repeatedly expressed wish for a building project that takes particular account of climate protection concerns, we would like to emphasize that the MPG has already been committed to sustainable construction for many years and regularly achieves the “Silver Standard” for its institute buildings according to the criteria of the Assessment System for Sustainable Building (BNB). It goes without saying that all measures aimed at climate protection, resource conservation, and health protection will also be implemented as extensively as possible in the new MPIEA building. However, as a public building owner, the MPG is bound by all applicable legal requirements with regard to statics, accessibility, fire protection, sound insulation, and freedom from pollutants, and is committed to the principle of economy and cost-effectiveness.
We are convinced that we fit nowhere as well as on the Kulturcampus. We perform research in art and culture, especially the performing arts, and will be open to the public with a cafeteria, library, free performances, exhibitions, and outreach formats. We will also be able to offer event space and rooms for external artists and performers.
We also associate this with the wish that our settlement at this location will be the decisive impulse for the long-discussed (and longed-for) realization of the Kulturcampus. And, of course, we very much hope that the Frankfurt public will give us the chance to convince them, through our activities, of the great benefit that the new MPIEA building will represent for Bockenheim and the Kulturcampus.
Our thanks go to the State of Hesse and the Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts, which, like us, remains firmly convinced that the MPIEA will have an ideal location on the site of the former Dondorf Druckerei.
Since Saturday, June 24, 2023, the former Dondorf Druckerei has been squatted by an initiative which, among other things, is campaigning against demolition and for the preservation of the old factory building, linking this with the demand for a self-managed cultural center to be set up in the building. Today, Thursday, June 29, 2023, representatives of the Goethe University Frankfurt as the current possessor of the building, the State of Hesse as the owner of the property and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) as the future user of the new building exchanged views with the squatters. From the point of view of the MPIEA, the reasons were once again explained to the squatters why, contrary to our original intentions, the demolition of the old building and it replacement with a new building with a reconstructed facade are unavoidable for the Max Planck Society (MPG).
In this context, the initial conditions for the planned construction project of the MPIEA were once again explained to the occupants. The MPIEA is characterized by a globally unique interdisciplinary, art- and culture-oriented research profile and is at the same time a cultural player in its own right in the city of Frankfurt. Founded in 2013, it has since been housed on an interim basis in rented premises in Frankfurt’s West End. This interim was originally intended to last only 5 to 6 years, and there is too little space available there for an entire institute.
Due to the cultural orientation of the institute, we had from the outset envisaged a location in the vicinity of the Kulturcampus in Frankfurt-Bockenheim, which had been in planning for years. We were therefore all the more delighted when the MPG was offered the grounds of the former Dondorf Druckerei on a heritable building right basis in 2015 by the then Hessian Science Minister (and current Minister President) Boris Rhein. Although the site is not part of the designated Kulturcampus area (and therefore cannot be planned by the city), it is located in the immediate vicinity of it. This offer was not linked to any conditions imposed by the state with regard to preservation of the existing buildings. There were also no conditions imposed by the city and in particular by the Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, as the old Dondorf printing plant is not a listed building.
Nonetheless, as part of a voluntary commitment, MPG and MPIEA decided to launch an architectural competition to preserve the main building of the Dondorf Druckerei and integrate it into a new building. The winning design by Fritsch+Tschaidse Architekten solved this in a convincing and successful manner, so that the architects were commissioned with further planning. As the building was still being used by the Goethe University at the time, in-depth investigations into the actual condition of the old building and in particular the masonry could not be carried out until well after the conclusion of the architectural competition.
As detailed in our original statement on the discussion about the preservation of the Dondorf Druckerei dated May 10, 2023 (see below), these in-depth investigations revealed the actual condition of the old building and put the situation in a new light. Of particular importance was the fact that the requirements for a workplace and the planned room program in terms of statics, accessibility, fire protection, noise protection, and freedom from pollutants could not be implemented with the old building, which made gutting the building unavoidable. At the same time, further expert reports revealed that the entire masonry is in an extremely poor structural condition, so that there is a considerable risk of collapse if the building is gutted, despite careful safety measures. This assessment is also confirmed by the evaluation of a renowned company in the field of sustainable construction and circular economy in the construction sector: MPG, as the future building owner, offered the bricks to the company for recycling and reuse. However, due to the extremely poor condition of the bricks (fire damage, frost damage), the company refused to purchase them; all other materials are also unsuitable for reuse.
Due to the gutting that is necessary in any case and against the background of the high risk of collapse of the masonry, an ecological argument of “gray energy” is thus not a valid argument. As an institution financed entirely from tax revenues, the MPG is obliged to be economical and to comply with the regulations applicable to the public sector. For this reason, the building project cannot be considered as a pilot project for a model conversion regulation.
As already outlined in the statement of May 10, 2023, MPG has therefore decided—although with a heavy heart—in favor of demolition and, again as a voluntary commitment, reconstruction of three facades of the Dondorf Druckerei according to the historical model. This means that not only is the winning design by Fritsch+Tschaidse, which was selected by the jury, essentially retained and implemented, but MPG and MPIEA are also making a significant contribution to keeping the memory of the eventful history of the Dondorf family and its print shop comprehensible and tangible. In addition to pure reconstruction, this will also involve the marked use of spolia in highly visible places that are frequently visited. In addition, the MPIEA intends to permanently install an artistically designed memorial site, complete with historical documentation, that will provide information about the family and the print shop. We would like to realize this, if possible, in cooperation with the Friends of Bockenheim and other interested residents. We are sure that a new building worth seeing, which will permanently refer to the industrial history of Bockenheim through the reconstructed façade and its other façade appearance, will be an essential anchor point in the overall context of the planned cultural campus.
As MPIEA, we are excited to become part of the Kulturcampus and to be one of the pioneers on the way to its realization. We are convinced that the MPIEA fits wonderfully into the idea of the Kulturcampus, as we not only conduct research on cultural topics, but also create a place of encounter for Bockenheim, Frankfurt, and beyond. This includes a barrier-free first floor that is accessible to the general public and serves as a place to remember the history of the Dondorf family and the print shop, as well as a thematically specialized library that is open to the general public, a cafeteria, free concerts, lecture recitals, exhibitions by artists in residence, science education events, and much more.
The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics is unique in the world with its thematic focus and research infrastructure. We are currently renting a space in a normal office building—a situation that was only meant to last for the first few years of our existence. The spatial constraints here severely limit our scientific work and the expansion of the Institute to its originally planned size.
When Boris Rhein, at that time still the Hessian Minister of Higher Education, Research and the Arts, offered us the prospect of the Dondorf'sche Druckerei site for our Institute in 2015, we were thrilled: on the one hand, because of its location in a lively and diverse Frankfurt neighbourhood, its proximity to other cultural and academic institutions and the prospect of becoming part of the future cultural campus; on the other hand, because of the historic printing firm on the site. The task of integrating it into a new building seemed to be an appealing one and wonderfully suited to the research topic of our Institute. The comparison with the space requirements for the Institute showed that the property was tightly dimensioned yet suitable for this purpose.
Although the building was not under a preservation order, the Max Planck Society (MPG), as the future building owner, made a voluntary commitment to preserve the building as well as possible. The architectural competition in 2018 consequently included the task of incorporating the historic building into the design. The winning design by the firm Fritsch+Tschaidse found a particularly convincing solution for this. To our great regret, however, we could not stick to this design. Expert reports analyzing the actual condition of the old building could only be prepared in the course of the planning process and shed new light on the situation.
The main take away was that the legal requirements for a workplace regarding statics, accessibility, fire protection, sound insulation and freedom from pollutants could not be met with the old building. Gutting became unavoidable. In addition, the expert reports revealed that the façade is in an extremely poor structural condition, posing a significant risk of collapse if the building were gutted. The sum of these facts led to the conclusion that the preservation of the building was not feasible for the MPG as a public building owner committed to economic efficiency.
After careful examination of all options, accompanied by expert opinions, the MPG decided at the end of 2022, with a heavy heart but in consultation with the municipal authorities (City Planning Office, Building Inspectorate and Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments), to opt for a solution in which the old building would be dismantled but its external appearance would be reconstructed. Since then, further planning has continued on this basis. The planning for the reconstruction is being carried out in close consultation with the municipal authorities and has not yet been completed.
The local council (Ortsbeirat) was also informed about the decision to demolish the building and the reasons for this at an early stage. The suggestion by the council to permanently commemorate the Dondorf family and the eventful history of their printing house in the new building in a suitable and artistically attractive way was gladly taken up by the MPG. We hope to be able to realise this place of remembrance together with the local council, the Friends of Bockenheim e.V., and the Initiative Dondorf-Druckerei.
Finally, we would like to make the following comments on the framework conditions on which these decisions are based:
The Max Planck Society is Germany's most successful research organization. It is financed entirely by taxes (50% each by the federal government and the Länder), and is therefore obliged to be frugal and to follow the rules and regulations applicable to the public sector. Our new building is largely financed by the State of Hesse, which also provides us with the Leasehold.
Nevertheless, every MPG building project must be approved by a joint body of the federal government and the Länder, the Joint Science Conference (GWK). The GWK pays strict attention to compliance with the principle of economy and efficiency and adherence to the specified budget framework. Especially in times of rapidly increasing building costs, this is a challenge when implementing building projects.
As a Max Planck Institute, we would have been very pleased to adapt our plans to a historical building. As citizens of our country, we sympathise with the historical as well as ecological arguments put forward by the Dondorf Initiative and many other participants arguing for the preservation of the existing building, and for a general rethinking in the building sector. As a public builder, however, we cannot disregard (currently) valid regulations and specifications.
We very much hope to be able as soon as possible to move into a building that not only meets the requirements for an institution of top-level research, but that will also be an architectural as well as a cultural enrichment for Bockenheim—and a worthy place of remembrance for the Dondorf family and their printing firm.