Rob Christensen

Lessons Raleigh can learn from Berlin

Dramatic drone video of the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh

Watch drone video showing progress on the construction of the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral off Western Boulevard in Raleigh. The cathedral will be dedicated in July.
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Watch drone video showing progress on the construction of the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral off Western Boulevard in Raleigh. The cathedral will be dedicated in July.

One of the advantages of travel is to learn how other folks do things, and this summer my eyes grew large at the modern architecture in the German capital.

It also made me think of what lessons it might hold for Raleigh.

Berlin, of course, was heavily damaged during World War II, and then the city was divided by the famous wall until the fall of communism in 1989.

Since reunited Germany’s capital was moved back to Berlin, the city has undergone an incredible building boom with structures designed by some of the world’s most famous architects – Frank Gehry, I.M Pei, Daniel Libeskind, Richard Rogers, Aldo Rossi, Oscar Niemeyer, not to mention the earlier Bauhaus generation of architects such as Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

I am no expert on architecture, but I know heavy hitters when I see them. And my wife and I were constantly dazzled by the head-turning architecture during our week in Berlin.

Which brings us to Raleigh.

Like Berlin – on a much smaller scale – Raleigh is a new, old city. While Raleigh has been around for a long time (founded in 1792) it has only begun to boom in recent years.

So Raleigh is very much a new, modern city that will be shaped as much by the 21st century as it has been by the past. Much of the city’s modern architecture has been pedestrian with little that will recommend itself 100 years from now.

Is there anything built in the past generation that can compare with such architectural jewels as the state Capitol (circa 1840) in beauty and staying power?

But there are a few signs that that is beginning to change, with new buildings under construction or being planned that show some architectural verve.

Here are five projects that, if built, look to be creative and different from anything that we now have.

  • Rising in the Warehouse District of downtown Raleigh is The Dillon, a project of John Kane, the CEO of Kane Realty, one of the city’s largest and most innovative real estate developers. The Dillon, being built from the bones of the old Dillon warehouse, will include an 18-story office tower with retail space and two six-story apartment buildings. The design is unlike anything else in Raleigh, which is certain to make it a landmark.
  • The new Exploris School project, called City Gateway, is planned for south of the Convention Center. The $65 million, 10-story project will be the first energy-positive (producing more energy than it uses) high-rise building in the United States, according to the developers. It will house the K-8 charter school and other offices.
  • Another innovative design is planned for two 20-story buildings on Hillsborough Street, across from the round Holiday Inn and next to the Campbell University law school. The project is being developed by the Lundy Group and Hyde Street Holdings.
  • A block down Hillsborough Street, another high-design, 20-story mixed-use building is being planned, called 400H. It is being built by developer Greg Sandreuter, who built the 23-story SkyHouse near City Market.
  • The plans for a high-design, 22,000-seat soccer stadium in downtown Raleigh are part of an ownership group’s bid to land a Major League Soccer franchise for the region. The project, which is proposed near Peace Street and the state government mall, would be a mixed-use development space that would include office and retail.

Although it doesn’t come under the category of cutting-edge architecture, the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral opened last month. The $46 million church, which seats 2,000, is of traditional architecture. But like the state Capitol, it is a beautiful building, meant to last. For a city Raleigh’s size, it seems unlikely there will be any Frank Gehrys or I.M Peis designing its buildings.

We’ll never be Berlin. But the dull, cookie-cutter nature of much of Raleigh’s architecture may be about to change into something more visually arresting.

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