Ghost Towers: an explorative study on vacancy in old and new high rise buildings


Vacancy is an acute problem in the urban environment. Regardless of whether it is only floor-by-floor or in the entire high-rise building - vacancy remains.

The vacancy ratio in office space accounts the percentage of office space available for rent that stays unoccupied. Office space that is, due to other reasons (e.g. lawsuits, construction activities or decay or private use), not available at the rent market is not covered by these numbers.

Currently in Frankfurt (2020 during CoVid 19-pandemic) a vacancy ratio of 6,9 % is measured. Compared with other major German cities Frankfurt's ratio is the highest (Hamburg: 2,6 %, Berlin 1,2%, Cologne 2,4%, Munich 2,2%, Dusseldorf 5,3%) (1). Back in the year 2000 shortly before the burst of the new economy bubble the ratio was 2 %. After that it reached a hight of 18 %. Since 2017 office related vacancy is on the rise again. A communal study (2019) predicts the ratio to further rise the next years (for 2029 a ratio of 10 % was estimated) (2).

Reasons differ from general oversupply to very particular local circumstances and the preferences of new buildings over old stock. A structural change in the banking sector which tends to fewer employees needed, home office and real estate speculation are further amplifying factors. Especially in Frankfurt - famous for it's skyline - many high rises are owned and used by the same companies which in turn makes it difficult to adjust to a declining demand. Asynchronism between the planning of private and public investors, the capacities of the construction industry and the actual demand are reflected in the urban real estate market, as well.

Within this article I explore the abandoned skyscrapers that appeared and disappeared in Frankfurt's skyline and outskirts within the past five years. While useless for the real estate standards these skyscrapers temporarily served as movie locations; retreats for homeless and adventure spots for juveniles, training grounds for police and fire brigade. Parallel some "urban mining" was going on as cable thieves scavenged the buildings. Garages and parking lots were used by neighbors or sometimes car dealers.





(1) Colliers International Deutschland: Bürovermietung und Investment Markbericht 2020/2021 [ürovermietung.pdf]

(2) bulwiengesa AG: Büroflächenstudie Frankfurt am Main 2019 []