Das Hochhaus mit dem „O“ (Bild: MVRDV)

Building an “O” as a high-rise

History is literally being written in Mannheim right now. Or rather it is being built. The spectacular high-rise building “O” designed by MVRDV is just one example: A total of four letters spell out the word “HOME” in the new Franklin Mitte neighbourhood.

Making letters out of coloured building blocks is a favourite activity of many children. More surprisingly, some top architects enjoy building in the form of giant letters, too. And as can be seen in Mannheim right now, this idea has plenty of charm. In the Franklin district, former US army barracks are making way for new housing developments, including Franklin Mitte. Here, four new buildings will spell out the English word “HOME” in the newly planned quarter. Renderings of the “O” high-rise are already available for viewing. And this residential tower designed by Dutch architectural firm MVRDV with a “hole in the middle” is a welcome reminder of the toys we loved as kids.

Living in a playful landmark

Future users really seem to like the “O”. The first of the 120 apartments in the 15-storey building were sold right after the design was unveiled. This is not just because MVRDV’s innovative project will be a landmark for the entire quarter. After all, it contains additional features that promise the best possible quality of life for its residents.

MVRDV has designed a colourful residential tower that is putting the “O” in Mannheim’s new neighbourhood.(Credit: MVRDV)
MVRDV has designed a colourful residential tower that is putting the “O” in Mannheim’s new neighbourhood.

The “O” is in the direct vicinity of the central “Green Hill”, which people can climb to enjoy a view of the area. The new housing development consists of the high-rise itself and adjacent low-rise structures. As one of the tallest buildings in the neighbourhood, the “O” stands out from its surroundings. MVRDV’s design focuses both on the visual effect and on amenities for residents. With its blue brick facade and brightly coloured glass balustrades on the balconies, the vibrant tower always catches the eye. And almost all apartments have direct access to the outside area.

The ‘O’ is an exciting and friendly building in the heart of Franklin Mitte. Together with the H, M and E buildings, it will give the neighbourhood a strong, unique identity.

Winy Maas, architect and MVRDV co-founder

At the centre of the “O” high-rise is a public terrace that can be reached via a public stairway. This acts as a local “living room” looking out over the quarter. And it also allows people to access the bar on the fourth floor of the tower. Together with the “Green Hill”, it will be an ideal event location where spectators can watch shows being performed on the hill.

Axial intersection. (Credit: MVRDV)
Evolution of the “O”: axial intersection and …

Illustration depicting activation of building spaces. (Credit: MVRDV)
… illustration depicting activation of building spaces.

At ground level, the “O” is surrounded on all four sides by plazas, as required by German clearance area regulations. MVRDV takes a whimsically literal approach to applying these rules, projecting the building’s elevations on each side. The “O” shape and the gridded facade visible in the layout of the plazas aim to make people contemplate the laws that shape their city.

A new take on barracks

The low buildings next to the “O” high-rise are based on the long, four-storey residential buildings in the US army barracks that were previously found on this area. MVRDV’s design reconstructs these blocks, “cutting into” their familiar shapes to make them fit with the new concept.

“Cut” for transparency

One block is cut into three parts by the staircase to the fourth-floor terrace and the clearance area regulations. The second block – a little further away – is split in two by the Europa Axis set out in the master plan. Where the buildings have been “cut”, stucco facades give way to transparent glass walls. These intersections give a glimpse inside the buildings, which also contain shops and a library.

MVRDV’s design creates a colourful residential tower with a public terrace that can be accessed via a staircase. (Credit: MVRDV)
MVRDV’s design creates a colourful residential tower …

MVRDV’s design creates a colourful residential tower with a public terrace that can be accessed via a staircase. (Credit: MVRDV)
… with a public terrace that can be accessed via a staircase.

The colourful balconies in the “O” residential tower provide ample natural ventilation and extra space for the apartments. By contrast, the windows are set deep within the facade to avoid excessive heat build-up from strong sunlight.

Green oasis

Along the two former blocks of barracks, there is a wooded area that contrasts with the urban character of the other plazas around the high-rise building. This gives the quarter a green oasis that adds to the biodiversity in the surrounding area.

New life in the “O”

As MVRDV co-founder Winy Maas explains: “By itself, the ‘O’ is an exciting and friendly building at the heart of Franklin Mitte, with terraces and plazas that embrace the liveliness that is coming to this area. But it is even more exciting in how it becomes a part of the city. Working with the H, M, and E buildings, it will give Franklin Mitte a strong, unique identity: Welcome!”

Life in full colour: the “O” residential tower in Franklin Mitte, Mannheim. (Credit: MVRDV)
Life in full colour: the “O” residential tower in Franklin Mitte, Mannheim.

Franklin Mitte is one of several residential areas being built on the grounds of Benjamin Franklin Village, a former US barracks site. The overall plan, which covers an area of 41 hectares, is an attractive mixture of building types and usages. It also takes on board many elements of the master plan that MVRDV proposed for the zone.

Innovative ideas

These include the “Europa Axis”, which cuts a straight path through the quarter. Another feature is the walkable “Green Hill”, which not only offers a wonderful view but also contains a supermarket, doctor’s practice and pharmacy. And of course the four high-rise buildings that can be seen for miles around, spelling out the word “HOME” in block capitals.

The “O” built as a high-rise. (Credit: MVRDV)

MVRDV designed the “O” high-rise for German developer RVI. The Dutch architectural firm, which has won numerous awards, will be designing two further projects in Franklin Mitte: “Timber Houses” and the “M”. They are also working on projects for local housing association GBG Mannheim on the “Green Hill”.

In addition, GBG Mannheim is developing Buildings “H” and “E”, which are designed by haascookzemmrich STUDIO2050 and Albert Speer & Partner. The master plan for Franklin Mitte was conceived by MWSP and its Q Team, which also included MVRDV co-founder Winy Maas from the outset.

The “O” built as a high-rise. (Credit: MVRDV)

“O” and “M” are by no means the only groundbreaking projects currently being undertaken by MVRDV in Germany. The highly successful team is also behind another attractive redevelopment project on a former US military base in Mannheim: Traumhaus Funari.

“O” is for outstanding

As well as this, they are transforming historical buildings belonging to the legendary BUFA film studios in Berlin into a modern creative hotspot. And their penchant for playing with letters can also be seen in WERK 12 in Munich, which won the coveted DAM Award. The “AAHHH” written across that building will very likely be something heard from visitors to the new “O”. Indeed, there’s no doubt that this vibrantly coloured high-rise with the “hole in the middle” has what it takes to astound people all over again.

Text: Elisabeth Schneyder
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Images: MVRDV