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A Troublesome Skyscraper Meets a Record-Setting Explosion

This weekend, Frankfurt's AfE Tower made history as the tallest European building to suffer a controlled implosion.

Associated Press

Farewell, AfE Tower, may your cantankerous, lurching elevators and hamster-maze warrens annoy the Germans no more.

On Sunday, demolition crews wired the Frankfurt skyscraper with roughly 2,100 pounds of explosives and hit the boom switch. In 10 seconds, the 381-foot-high Brutalist tower was reduced to a hazy nebula of rubble and drifting dust – remnants of the tallest European building demolition to employ explosives, reports Deutsche Welle.

A chorus of thousands cheered the monumental bone-breaking of one of the city's most irksome structures. The AfE Tower was built in the early 1970s as part of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, but quickly became suspect due to its wonky design: One side had floors that were 1.5 times loftier than the other side, like an architectural version of Two-Face. This quirk created interesting journeys for the students inside, according to Wikipedia:

The south side consists of offices only a single floor high, which requires an intricate system of staircases and split-levels between the two halves, considerably complicating orientation. After the construction, a cafeteria was established in the top floor, but was closed for lack of popularity. This floor is not accessible with all lifts, and is considered a hard-to-find secret due to the good view in all directions. 

And about those lifts: You could read through No Exit by the time one arrived. The original elevators were meant to handle 2,500 students but wound up servicing a population of 4,000, meaning that pushing the "Up" button could trigger a 15-minute wait. You can get a taste of the irritation they elicited – also due to their skipping floors – in this elevator fan's video investigation (don't watch if you're offended by graffiti genitals):

The tower received interest from urban explorers before meeting its thundering demise. And how'd that look? Here's the prodigious take-down seen from a variety of angles. The first one is especially noteworthy for the streamers the falling structure leaves in the sky, and for the flock of startled birds taking to the air – perhaps the skyscraper's last contribution to the planet's discontent?

Top image: The AfE Tower is demolished on Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany. (Michael Probst / Associated Press)

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.