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    Ulm Münsterplatz

    by Robert F. Gatje

    Just over 100 miles (170 kilometers) from Freiburg, Germany, the city of Ulm straddles the banks of the Danube River, and although the two cities' cathedral squares — Münsterplätze — have slightly different birthdates, they are virtual twins. They grew up over the same five-and-a-half centuries, only to be laid low in the same bombing raids of 1944.

    The two cities took different approaches to postwar revitalization. Neither had to rebuild the square around its cathedral entirely, but major repairs were needed in both Münsterplätze. While Freiburg pretty nearly restored its square to its original form, Ulm seized the opportunity to give its cathedral square a fresh face with venturesome modern features.

    Freiburg's cathedral tower may or may not be the world's most beautiful, but Ulm's, at 530 feet (161.5 meters), is indisputably the tallest. Construction of the Ulm Minster and the space around it have been going on since the foundation stones were laid in 1377. The steeple was topped out only in 1890. The town's population has waxed and waned over the centuries, but a market has always been held on the parvis in front of the cathedral.

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    As the church grew in size and importance, its spatial setting was found inadequate for such a huge building. In particular, a medieval monastery just south and west of the cathedral crowded it; the monastery was torn down in the late 19th century. But no one had planned what was to replace the monastery, and the town argued over the issue throughout most of 100 years. Several architectural competitions were held, but were inconclusive.   >>>

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    This article is excerpted from Great Public Squares: An Architect's Selection by Robert F. Gatje, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton.

     

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    The Münsterplatz in Ulm, Germany, contains the Ulm Minster, a cathedral-like church dating to the 14th century, and the Stadthaus Ulm (1993), an art gallery and gathering place designed by Richard Meier.
    Photo: Robert F. Gatje Extra Large Image

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    The gabled silhouette of the Stadthaus Ulm resembles those of its neighbors.
    Photo: Robert F. Gatje Extra Large Image

     

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