Nestling unexpectedly next to Munich’s main power plant is the office of design group Designliga and its sister company, digital agency Form & Code.
Although dwarfed by the towering München Sud power station, Halle A – one of several workshops on the plant’s surrounding industrial estate – is a hangar-like 650sq m space with a 10m-high ceiling.
“We never imagined that we would have so much room,” says Christina Koepf, head of interior architecture and design at Designliga. The building’s cavernous dimensions inspired the construction of a pair of two-storey house-like structures within it. “The space is so big that you don’t really understand that you’re inside a building, so we thought ‘why not build things within it?’” says Koepf.
The smaller Gold House is constructed from brass Dibond aluminium composite panels; inhabited by Form & Code, it features a lounge on the first floor furnished with cushions and a sofa. The Gold House doubles as a giant room divider, splitting the main space into Designliga and Form & Code.
Along with a further two-storey block housing the kitchen, bathroom and meeting rooms, the Gold House and the White House form what Designliga calls The Village Square. It even has its own park bench and street lamp, and is surrounded by outlying ‘streets’ of desks.
In the morning, staff ride their bicycles right into the office through the wide metal doors, tethering their bikes in the square. “Once, we let a client drive their Ford Mustang through the office – clients love this place,” says Koepf. The village square extends into an open-plan library space, while a long, low storage cabinet winds around the periphery of the office, embracing the desk areas. “When we asked the staff what they wanted, the top two things were a proper kitchen and good storage. They got that – the cupboards are so big that they’re still half-empty,” says Koepf.
Koepf is seated in her own office on the top floor of the White House (co-founders Saša Stanojčić and Andreas Döhring occupy the ground floor). She sits at her trestle-style desk, opposite a mid-century modern domestic sideboard and homely rug, the roof sloping over her head. “I was so excited to move up into my little office. It feels more like an apartment, and people often come up here to relax and have a break.” Speaking of breaks, it’s nearly lunchtime at Designliga. When Koepf gets up and walks to the external metal staircase, she will look out, factory-foreman-style, on a vista of desks where people are busy producing logos, websites and interior design schemes for fashion, luxury and lifestyle labels including Adidas and Marc O’Polo.
Lunch is an important time of day for Designliga. A spacious, domestic-style kitchen boasts “a proper oven”, in place of the standard, slightly depressing office microwave. “Generally we have someone sending an email round in the morning saying, ‘I am cooking a meal today, with six platefuls if anyone wants to join me’,” says Koepf. “And in summer, we eat our food at the big outdoor table in our garden, where we have just started to grow vegetables and herbs. It’s great.”
Two years ago, Designliga was forced out of its home, a 1950s industrial building where Munich’s telephone directories were once printed. The place was torn down to make way for a complex of luxury flats, answering the real estate demands of a rapidly growing city. Designliga could have gone to the creative quarter of Munich, “but we wanted something different,” says Koepf. Döhring was walking his dog along Munich’s river Isar when he saw the building and thought it might do for Designliga. The group were later shown around Halle A by a concierge “who couldn’t believe we thought we could make this space into an office, but we took one look at it and said ‘this is the place’,” says Koepf. The company is surrounded by metalworking and carpentry shops, which pleases Koepf. “We like being the only design company here; we like being unique, and also to get away from design sometimes.”
In September 2011, Designliga and Form & Code moved in, having thoroughly cleaned the filthy interior. The floor was so dirty that Koepf initially thought it was all concrete. It transpired that much of the floor was wood block, which softens and warms the space. Designliga retained many original features, including bare brick walls, exposed crane tracks and the wall clock. “We painted the steelwork in harmonious whites and greys to fit in with the surrounding buildings. Also, the building speaks for itself so painting the walls lime green would have been too much,” says Koepf.
Despite its appeal, this mid-century industrial structure is not old enough to be listed, and Koepf says she can feel Munich’s properties developers “waiting around the corner” once their contract expires in five years. Munich’s ongoing property boom looks set to continue. “This is a prime piece of real estate, right next to the river,” says Koepf. She adds, “It is becoming increasingly difficult for creative companies, which do not earn huge amounts, to stay in the city, which is why everyone is moving to Berlin. We will stay here as long as possible because it has such a great atmosphere – and cities need places like this.”
While this office in Darmstadt, Germany is no spectacle, it is nonetheless a space that shows how an everyday workplace can be transformed with thoughtful planning and a simple design feature to tie it all together.
Created by Vitra for German gas and electricity supplier VNB, together with VNB’s in-house architect Gert Bock, the new office brings together 50 employees from several different departments in separate offices. A key aim was for the space to be open plan and fluid, but its location in a former factory building meant the architecture had its restrictions. “There are five arches within firewalls that we had to keep, but they are quite narrow,” says Vitra’s Miriam Vogel, who led the interior design together with colleague Pirjo Kiefer, “but we still wanted an open space to link the departments.” The team therefore devised the idea of the yellow line, which runs through the main office space as a suspended partial roof supported by yellow partition walls. Made in lacquered wood, the shape is not regimented but asymmetrical, like a freehand drawing, which breaks up the uniformity of the office and introduces a vibrant design element to join the spaces.
“We wanted to emphasise the importance of this corridor and we had the room height for it so we came up with this idea, which covers all the space as a unifying element,” says Vogel. She explains that, in Germany, the colour yellow is used as a universal symbol for gas, which is one of quite a few design elements that were included so the employees could identify with the company they are working for. Across one wall is a graphic designed and installed by German design studio 22quadrat, which depicts a map of interweaving lines representing a network of pipes, and a map of a small town, to “show where the gas ends up,” says Vogel. To the same effect, Vitra chose to leave the air ducts and pipes exposed on the ceilings, a reminder of the building’s former use, but also – according to Vogel – a reaffirmation of the employees’ responsibility.
Perhaps a subtler link to the company’s identity is the use of natural materials, which according to Vogel is a reference to the natural gas VNB uses. What it does achieve is a welcome softener to the lines of white desks and grey floors, creating a warmer atmosphere. Oak is used for some meeting-room floors, thick-pile rugs are used to delineate smaller breakout spaces, and olive trees and plants are dotted around the whole interior. The Mouette light by Artemide that hangs throughout was even chosen for its bird’s-wing shape.
Though the “yellow ribbon”, as it has been penned, has become the signature detail of this project, it was actually an afterthought that arrived after the meticulous and thorough planning of the layout. Before embarking on any design work, Vitra carried out a two-day workshop with some employees and department managers, looking into how they worked and how they wanted to work in the future. “We asked – what do you need? What is bad in the old office? Where would you like the printers, what type of coffee area do you want? Everything you need to design a good office. At the end, we had a concept for what it should be.”
The 1,100sq m space was planned for 50 people, a fairly generous space-to-person ratio, and included a few individual offices for managers. Where space was left over, it was filled with think tanks, meeting rooms and breakout spaces. Some of these are just two of Vitra’s Alcove high-back sofas put together, while others are big boardrooms. “At the workshop we asked, do you really need all these meeting rooms – what do you use them for?” says Vogel. “You don’t need much space for most of the meeting areas, and each one can do different things. You can meet there and be creative without disturbing your colleagues.”
Like most of Vitra’s workplace projects, the office is based on a raised floor built from 60x60cm sections, enclosing all the wires. This, together with the easily adaptable workstations and breakout spaces, makes the space more flexible to accommodate new layouts in the future. “This is a sustainable office because they won’t need to move out very soon!” says Vogel.
It seemed a silly question to ask if all the furniture was Vitra, which it is, but Vogel says this is not always the case with their commissions. Sometimes, once the space is designed, the client decides not to specify Vitra furniture, but in this case Vogel and the Vitra team were in charge of the fit out from beginning to end. “This project is a complete work – in German we would say it is ‘round’,” she says. “We get the perfect result.”
Although now a global giant, sports brand Adidas is still based in the small German town where its founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler and his brother Rudolf Dassler – the father of rival sports brand Puma – were born more than 100 years ago.
Since the 1990s, the brand’s headquarters have been situated in a decommissioned Second World War American military base, nestled in the Bavarian countryside. In this green and leafy landscape, Adidas has built a campus-like embassy, comprised of a warren of old military hangers alongside new builds such as the woodland-surrounded Stripes restaurant and the Adidas Brand Center, completed in 2005 by Vienna-based Querkraft Architekte.
Despite their interesting heritage, the container-based military buildings surrounding the new builds were only meant to be a temporary solution, and so in February 2007 Adidas launched an architectural competition to design a building to for its huge creative team, which comprises 1,700 marketing, design and product development staff.
Briefed to create a building considerably larger than any of those around it, the winning practice, Kadawittfeldarchitektur, was keen to create a structure that absorbed the leafy surroundings fluidly into its heart, giving employees the impression that they were still part of the green campus landscape. It was for this reason that Kadawittfeldarchitektur decided on a ring-shape – with a pinched middle, so its form somewhat resembles a bow tie – that created a lofty atrium space at the core of the building. Following on from this concept, the practice was forced to introduce zig-zag crossings, connecting different sides of the atrium on every floor, which soon gave rise to the building’s highly appropriate name – Laces.
Although originally green in the project proposal, the “laces” that dissect the leafy tongue of the atrium are created from black 30cm-thick suspended walkways, some of them up to 50m long. Neat white staircases connect the laces vertically, allowing movement between floors without encroaching on the walkways’ clear outlines.
Kadawittfeldarchitektur project partner Dirk Zweering explains how Adidas’s unmistakable branding helped to shape the site: “We wanted the building to be abstract and have a certain simplicity to it, which we thought would fit Adidas very well. Just like the black and white stripe – very smooth and minimal,” he says. “We didn’t want to see any construction elements like screws so we planted all those little details out of sight.”
The lighting, too, is disguised within the seemingly gravity-defying laces, consisting of motion-triggered LED strips that only glow 2-3m ahead of your stride. Dimmable lighting controlled by daylight, three-layer insulated glazing, 28 geothermal probes and the test centre’s 1,700sq m planted roof contribute further to the building’s green credentials.
The building’s sleek exterior is made from a facade of glazing and aluminium elements, with an integrated sun and glare shield between the panes. On entering the atrium, employees tread on a combination of turf and natural crystals of the Terrazzo floor – as opposed to the sports-arena-like epoxy resin of the floors above. From there staff can head to Innovation Valley, which houses materials laboratories, research areas, the brand archive, the Test Hall, and Athlete Services, a plethora of rooms for visiting VIPs where clothing and shoes can be adapted and fitted with the help of the latest biomechanical methods of analysis.
Because of the large and complex nature of the building, wayfinding was an integral consideration right from the start. Kadawittfeldarchitektur worked with Stuttgart-based practice Büro Uebele from a very early stage to integrate wayfinding graphics – comprised of energetic-looking dotted lettering – into the building’s architecture.
The office spaces themselves, each named after historical products, border the atrium’s 60m glass facade on all sides, creating a light, open and hopefully inspiring environment for Adidas’s creative team.
As well as providing stimulation for creative brains, it was essential that the Laces office environment also met the team’s specialised practical requirements. Berlin-based design company Kinzo (cover stars of onoffice 23), which came to Adidas’s attention after creating bespoke furniture for German tabloid Bild, were enlisted to develop a whole line of new furniture to fit employees’ specific needs.
“At Adidas, the staff not only work with files and paper, but all kinds of samples, footwear, apparel, and balls,” explains Kinzo’s founder Chris Middleton. “They have piles of samples in their office – and there’s no furniture on the market that will accommodate the ordinary file with the possibility to store more unusually shaped samples.”
For both Kinzo and Kadawittfeldarchitektur, Adidas’s iconic style and brand assets, such as the black and white stripe, and its bright products, were a huge influence on the design of the building. Zweering says, “The space is full of textiles and products and they’re so vibrant that no colour scheme would ever stand a chance to compete against them. The offices needed to be white and open, so that only with the products does it become vivid and lively.”
The office’s open topology and fluid orientation system provided Kinzo with a blank canvas to create its bespoke system. Comprised of more than 50 different elements, Teamplayer, as the furniture is dubbed, features a honeycomb of punched-out metal sheets, hooks and pegs that can support shelves, cupboards and clothes hangers. Lightweight screens, inspired by ice-hockey goals, can be moved to create private spaces, and breakout spaces are populated with bright red upholstered chairs by Vitra. “Teamplayer is very modular so each person can arrange it to do what they need,” says Middleton. “We were also referring to furniture as a team sport because it looks very dynamic and sporty. The single pieces aren’t as interesting as the combination of all the ‘players’ together.”
The furniture’s rhomboid shape and eight-degree angles also reflect the building’s tilted facades, something that was important to Kinzo when designing the system. Middleton explains, “As you enter the building you have the experience of entering a film set. Everything fits together and you don’t want a gap between furniture and architecture. The architecture is special, like a spaceship from a different world. Adidas is a modern company – we had to do something very fast and dynamic.”
Photography by Werner Huthmacher
Every good design has a strong story behind it. Tapping into the area’s local history or referencing the company’s heritage are tried and tested ways of creating something meaningful. If there’s no story, it’s hard for architects to invent one.
But when your client happens to be Jung von Matt, Germany’s best-known advertising agency, a shortage of creative raw material is never going to be a problem. Like all successful advertisers, JVM specialises in creating myths and narratives to hawk their clients’ wares. When it came to perpetuating its own legend, the agency turned to Hamburg-based architects Stephen Williams Associates. The two firms had crossed paths eight years earlier when Williams had become friends with JVM’s finance director Ulli Palast. It was Palast, rather than the agency’s creative team, who approached Williams, thus kicking things off on a pragmatic rather than aesthetic footing. “We started off talking about function,” says Williams. “It was a question of ‘how do we get the best working spaces for their people so that they are as creative as possible?’”
The people in question were the finance department and JVM’s board of directors, which had usurped two floors of a converted warehouse the company already partially occupied. JVM’s primary concern was straightforward: the office should work properly. A funky, but flawed, fit-out by a younger architect had left the agency searching for a safe pair of hands. Thankfully, safe in this case does not mean dull and Williams’ design is packed full of interesting iconography and humour.
JVM is one of those rare beasts, an advertising company whose founding members are still on the board. Founded more than 20 years ago by Jean-Remy von Matt, the agency is now one of the most successful in Europe. With success came expansion and the original directors found themselves spread across multiple floors. Perhaps aware they were leaving their start-up roots behind, the bigwigs decided to work alongside each other around a 9m-long lozenge-shaped table. “The essence of the company is the interaction between these directors so instead of having a corner office and a little conference room they said ‘let’s go back and feel like we have started again,’” says Williams. The room dominates the floor, stretching nearly two-thirds across the floorplate and conflates symbolism with pragmatics. Workers passing by on the woven runner glimpse the directors at work courtesy of a series of steel louvers that work like a kind of slow-motion zoetrope. “There is transparency, but you can only see in if you stop and turn 90 degrees, which is kind of embarrassing,” says Williams.
The boardroom is dubbed the Elephant House – Germans call company directors elephants – and Williams eagerly played on its resemblance to a cage, saying that the louvers “bring in this toughness, like a kind of zoo.” The enormous desk is supported by thickset steel (elephant’s) legs, which had to be welded on site due to their size. Williams experimented lewdly with the vaginal shape of the table by housing the cabling in a rubber slot in its centre. Anyone wanting to fiddle with the wires has to plunge in up to the elbow. The male members of the board reportedly love it.
On the financial floor below, things are less perverse. Surprisingly for a creative company, the layout favours cellular rather than open-plan workspace. Two-person offices line the perimeter length of the oblong floorplate. In the centre things get interesting with an unconventional breakout-cum-meeting-space constructed from whitewashed wooden floorboards. The concept is a bastardisation of the myth of the Trojan Horse, JVM’s symbol. The agency’s creatives steal themselves away inside, only to leap out armed with blow-your-mind concepts when its competitors are asleep. Williams rightly ate this idea up, creating what he calls a “conspiratorial, collaborative workshop”, the rough-hewn boards mimicking the wooden horse of yore. The practice even threw in a dog kennel. By using muted green for the walls and lowering the ceiling about the space, Williams enhanced the Machiavellian atmosphere. The concept is repeated in the kitchen area, where a chunk is cut from a wooden structure to form benches, a table and a breakfast bar. “We made the boards as dark as possible as this is supposed to be the carcass of the horse,” says Williams.
The characters that populate the office help to explain some of the office’s quirkier features. For instance, finance director Ulli Palast has a ranch-style wooden hatch opening into his office through which he is handed documents, and a desk customised so you can either sit and work or stand and chat. In the smaller meeting rooms the tables are standing only, which shows JVM has little time for gassing, if nothing else. Other vagaries include the wooden planks that can board up the glazed partitions in the PA offices.
But beneath all this is a fit-out of great integrity. Not wanting to betray the building’s origins as a workshop, the architect persuaded his client to hang onto the original wooden floor. Similarly, the steel window frames and table legs will rust over time in a further nod to its heritage. Williams’ ideas found fertile ground with Jean-Remy von Matt, with whom he met up every two weeks. Pitching concepts to a kingpin of Germany’s creative landscape was no cakewalk, however. “There are these silences while he is thinking about your ideas and you start to get a bit nervous. But no, he was really lovely to work with.”
Photography by Ralf Buscher
Most workplaces try to impress from the front, prioritising receptions and client-facing areas – but machine tools producer Trumpf’s recent factory extension in Hettingen, Germany, is arguably the most beautiful back of a building we’ve ever seen. Sitting in the Swabian Alps just south of Stuttgart, the Trumpf factory has been growing in fits and starts over the years. “Like most typical middle-sized German factories, aggregates have been added over time, creating a factory hodgepodge,” says Frank Barkow, from Barkow Leibinger architects. “Although it is more on a workshop scale than large industrial halls.”
The firm’s brief was to add an office space to house trainees and management, and this addition was always going to be the last because the site backs on to a protected natural habitat. Barkow says: “We set out to cap the factory off, to complete not just the site but also the village.” And indeed, the clear linear design, essentially an integrated long sliver overlooking a meadow, draws a line, a clean transition from nature to the village. The aerial shots also show the growth pattern of the plant, which spread like a patchwork across the space. “Normally, a German village will have a historical core with a fragmented industrial periphery sprawling all over the space. That’s why we went for a clean cut, a capping-off here.”
The extension is spatially and functionally connected to the rest of the factory, but its formal facade has a stringency to it that completes the site. “We spruced up the elevation and articulated it more carefully than in traditional building. But apart from the structural engineering, it’s a simple project on a modest budget.” It is a simple steel structure with concrete decks. The work floor is a straightforward industrial interior. But the sophistication with which the upper level cantilevers 20m on both sides creating a roof for the lorries in the loading bay, gives the building, and with that the company, a strong identity. The linearity of the aluminium facade has a dramatic finish and the views from inside are stupendous, overlooking the green meadow covering the mountain slopes.
The views are unobstructed by the generous glass facade. “That part of the building is north facing so there aren’t any problems with the sun overheating the room or disturbing staff,” says Barkow. The vertical stripes can be opened to let in air and blinds have been fitted to prevent sunlight from reflecting up from the creek. Inside two trusses tie back into the core, perpendicular to the facade. But weren’t the trusses an obstruction to fitting out the space? “No, in the context of the plans the trusses are not really a barrier as you can pass right through them. The space is 98% open and the rest is column free,” the architect explains.
For the interior Barkow Leibinger made a space with a rawness, almost a matter-of-factness to it – a quality enhanced by exposed steel and a concrete deck that is left to set as it was poured. “We treated the structure as the finish,” Barkow says. The concrete colour, the yellow of the acoustic panels, the mineral materials and untreated aluminium: most surfaces are shown in their construction shade – apart from the white-painted steel trusses. “The only artificial treatment is the carpet tile.” Barkow goes on to say Italians would never have carpet in an office. They would always go for tiles. But he feels it is these cultural differences that make projects so interesting and varied from place to place. “The Trumpf office is a perfect example of a site-specific design. Even in today’s global world if you’re working in Korea or Switzerland the restrictions, budget or building culture are still so different. To find those differences a nuisance is quite extraordinary. Exploiting those differences is what makes an interesting project.” For Barkow the future of office design is developing a hybrid solution, a multi-hierarchical mix between open plan and cellular. Currently Barkow Leibinger is working on a research study for Deutsche Bank’s Dutch office and the outcome promises to be radical. Tantalisingly, to date the information is embargoed. But watch this space.
All photographs copyright of Zooey Braun
The Passivhaus institute in Darmstadt, Germany, was established almost 15 years ago. However, out of over 15,000 Passivhaus buildings worldwide (nestled mostly in regions of Germany and Austria) you can count the number of accredited UK projects on one hand. A domestic project and training and education centre in Wales share the accolade with one London house, a student residence block at Leeds Metropolitan University, and a row of houses in Scotland. “We are at a turning point,” explains Gavin Hodgson of the Passivhaus arm of the British Research Establishment Group (BRE), the UK accreditation body. “For the last two or three years there has been a lot of talk of Passivhaus, and competition designs based on it; its an emerging standard that has now made its way into the popular consciousness of architects and designers.” Hodgson believes its recent take-up is largely down to changes in the overarching political agenda, and drive towards zero-carbon building targets. Although the two are not directly comparable, Passivhaus is now measured in the same metric as building regulation CO² targets (kWh/m²/yr) and automatically achieves them – by definition a Passivhaus will consume 80-90 percent less energy than an equivalent conventional building, and have a space heating requirement below 15 kWh/m²/yr, but unlike a zero-carbon building, no energy is produced onsite to offset this target. “The energy saving is in the design and the fabric of the house,” Hodgson explains. “It’s attractive because it cuts the costs and space requirements of putting in onsite renewable energy sources.”
The BRE began disseminating information on Passivhaus five years ago, as part of an EU supported campaign to spread the discipline, which combines excellent insulation, stringent air tightness, well thought out solar gain, minimal thermal bridging and mechanical ventilation heat recovery to create environments that naturally (or passively) control temperature, to a comfortable level in all seasons. And now, its drive to get a cohort of Passivhaus-trained engineers and architects on the ground in the UK has kicked in. Recruitment for the London-based training, which will begin to run this summer, launched at Ecobuild in March.
“When Passivhaus works, it works well, for life, but it is a technically complicated solution, based on building physics,” Hodgson explains. The statistical Excel-based Passivhaus Planning Package (PHPP) design compliance tool forms an integral part of the training plan. “We’re expecting architects and engineers with a background in and understanding of delivering low carbon buildings, to form this crème de la crème of certified Passivhaus designers,” Hodgson explains. So, with local exemplar projects, UK-based training, and government compatible targets, Passivhaus is certainly taking grip. Embarking on a Passivhaus project in the UK just a few years ago was a very different story. The Beechwood Park office in Dover, coming up for completion this summer, is a project that was initiated four years ago, when one of the partners at property development company WCR Property organised a trip to Freiburg, Germany, the epicentre of Passivhaus, for fellow staff to experience sustainable buildings.
“At the time it was a speculative trip. We already sensed the sustainable market showed very different supply and demand equilibrium than the market for conventional office buildings. It was part of a crystal ball gazing process for us, as to where the market was going to go,” Mike Wallace, property director explains. “We just knew we didn’t want to build any more conventional office buildings.” It was the sense of health and comfort that the buildings gave, rather than the energy savings, that first sold them on the concept. “It’s difficult to put into words, “ says Wallace. “But it’s something you can only witness when you step inside a Passivhaus, which is why it’s really important to have projects here in the UK.” What was planned as a one-off trip to Freiburg, turned into multiple return visits.
“Getting information on sustainable development at the time, and the kind of detailed support and expertise needed to build to the standard in the UK was like stumbling around in the dark,” explains Wallace. “There were a lot of people talking about it, and talk of government policy in support of it, but no practical advice. Eventually we turned to architects in Frieberg, Grießbach and Grießbach, whose experience in Passivhaus projects is numerous. At the time they were retrofitting a local town hall, several hundreds years old, to Passivhaus standard. To apply it to a building that old, made our challenge in the UK seem all the more achievable – with their advice and guidance.
“Having German and UK architects working alongside each other taught us a lot. It was a case of allowing the expertise to be fed over. In Frieberg, where they have been building to this standard for many years, contractors have got to grips with the concept. No gaps can occur when building to Passivhaus standard, every time you form a seal, it has to be spot on, if it’s not, you do it again – quality control is essential. Here buildings are designed to live and breathe, gaps are built in to the design, so in a way it is a case of re-education. With this level of tenacity, the process can be twice as long, but there are no shortcuts. “Although time predictions can be hard to make when building to Passivhaus, as you are sourcing components from new suppliers in Scandinavia for example, it should improve, as demand grows.” WCR have been working with independent bodies such as the Carbon Trust, monitoring the building’s performance during the process. The first launch of the project took place in March, when the external fabric of the building was complete, and it was four degrees outside. “Everyone turned up with coats and had to peel them off as they got inside. None of the services were connected then so they could be certain the building had never been heated, but by this point the whole place was insulated, airtight, and warm throughout.”
When it comes to letting the building – a speculative three-floor build – communicating the concept of the building will be key. “Passivhaus is a holistic concept; it can’t be compared to other office spaces on a simple headline rent basis,” explains Wallace. And it’s not just energy cost savings that give the bigger picture. It’s the air and light quality, which promote health, staff productivity, cut absenteeism and alleviate the symptoms of sick building syndrome. “Working in one of the most energy-efficient offices in the UK is also a good accolade for a business to have,” says Wallace. “We hope people won’t just see it as 5,000sq ft project in Dover, but will be curious as to the other dimensions of the building.” Dr Qian Li, partner of architecture firm sustainableBYdesign, agrees that it’s not just the stats and the energy savings that give Passivhaus its USP: “It’s the internal light quality and natural ventilation that is so unique. It offers the occupier a lot more than savings on their bills; it’s an appealing internal environment that we want to offer our clients.” The practice is currently working on renderings of a Passivhaus school that they hope to see put into construction. “At the moment, the notion of Passivhaus is just setting in here,” Li explains, “As more schools teach it, the more architecture students become aware of it. It’s a case of spreading this understanding amongst the whole profession; the designer must educate the client, who must educate the developer and so on. At the slower end is the development of regulations to push builders to comply. “The construction industry has been doing things one way for 20 years. It takes time for change to happen, but the discipline relies on sensible principles, on making the most of natural resources and insulating. Because it is passive, nothing needs replacing, which is a problem when using renewable energy technologies such as photovoltaics. With the rise in energy prices, it’s a discipline that makes a lot of sense. “The technology for Passivhaus is not new, it has been around for 20 years, and only over the last three years it has started to be taken notice of here. Ultimately it’s a route to be followed, it’s a notion. The industry here as a whole needs to be mentally ready and willing to develop it, and to learn from Europe and Germany.”
When thinking of the inner circle of European signature designers – apart from Konstantin Grcic and, of course, Dieter Rams in his day – big names seldom emerge from Germany. For the contract market, at least, that is most probably because most German furniture companies work with anonymous in-house designers – similar to the US model. One exception in the US is Bernhardt Design, a company which is distributed in Europe through Danish firm Danerka. It stands out due to its creative director Jerry Helling, who has composed an eclectic collection of products by inviting international super-designers, such as Yves Behar, Arik Levy, PearsonLloyd and Shin Azumi, to create a global contemporary furniture range. And among that long list of established designers now stands Hansandfranz, Germany’s answer to BarberOsgerby. No surprise really that Helling was the one to discover the young design duo, as he is rumoured to have an eye for talent in the way that Rolf Fehlbaum is a reliable source for commissioning the next big hit. Not least due to the name, Hansandfranz, these two Bavarian boys manage to make a lasting impression and are happy to do what it takes to make it big. “People always ask who is Hans and who is Franz?” says Horst Wittmann. “So one year I’m Hans and the next we alternate.” Konstantin Landuris continues: “We just came up with the name, to prevent the usual contamination of surnames and to communicate that we’re young, fresh and, I guess, German. It’s about mixing our roots with an international outlook.” They’ve got a point; Wittmann/Landuris certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it. Hansandfranz launched two years ago after the pair finished their studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and decided to exhibit at the Salone Satellite in 2007, as most aspiring designers do. “Because it was the year of Euroluce, we felt it best to show some lights to fit in with that year’s theme,” says Wittmann. “But we didn’t want to dilute our design by cramming loads of pieces on to the stand,” explains Landuris. “So we focused on displaying just two products and concentrated more on designing the stand itself. We had fallen for the flooring at our university which was about to be ripped out due to refurbishment. In a ‘Sturm und Drang’ action, we broke in at midnight and took enough flooring to create an impacting stand.” The plan worked. Their LED lamp Troja, which arches like a bow, received a Special Mention from the Milan jury. That catapulted the boys on to the news pages of lifestyle magazines such as Elle Décor, Playboy (yes, they have a design page too) and Contract Magazine in the US.But the biggest boost came from catching Helling’s attention. “I remember seeing this man on our stand,” recalls Wittmann. “At the time, we didn’t even know who he was. But you could tell he had a certain authority. Then he came up to us and asked whether we’d be interested in exhibiting at New York’s ICFF in three weeks’ time. To us, it was a rhetorical question.” So Hansandfranz packed up the Three and Troja lamps and took them across the Atlantic. They weren’t paid or sponsored in any way, but they had just met the man who was about to give them their first commission. This would land them their breakthrough into furniture design, the Cycle stool, which was on show at Neocon in Chicago and at the Design Post during Orgatec late last year.“Jerry Helling gave us an open brief,” says Landuris. “He just told us to look at the current collection and see what was missing.” Hansandfranz decided a “comfort” piece would be the ideal addition, plus something fresh and young. The result was a low bench, Cycle, for breakout areas and public seating in museums, with a clear form and geometrical design language that seems to be emerging as their signature style. Their original design is the large, circle-shaped cushioned stool in red, but it was exhibited in pastel-coloured leather in Chicago. At Orgatec, it was presented as a series of benches/stools in different rounded shapes with coloured felt fabrics. “We felt the polished chrome base was very Bernhardt Design, and the way the base loops in a cross is our clean interpretation,” says Wittmann. If trying to pinpoint a Hansandfranz style, it would be the focus on proportions: the cushion to the base and the concept idea that the round stool invites anyone to sit at any side of the product, delivers a young, democratic piece of design. The design duo, despite admitting that they are still new to this game, have quickly understood the realities of the commercial market. “We chose neither the colours nor the fabric. Our vision was always to have a red top, but we are happy to let our design go. After all, the manufacturers have experience of the market – not us.” Honestly, I was glad to hear it because the colours – a crass purple, orange, green and red – made the stools look more Ikea than high design. It was not just the tone of colour, but also the felt fabric itself that made the exhibited versions look a bit cheap, especially among the other products on show at the Danerka/Bernhardt Design stand, which sported quality finishes with wood and chrome combinations. Yet Hansandfranz was reluctant to agree; if Herman Miller’s Embody is anything to go by, it could just be that bold bright colours on a contract piece is a US attempt to look European.For Wittmann and Landuris, the challenge lies in the complexity of corporate design. “If you design for BMW, you must follow the chief executive’s corporate vision. The furniture industry is one of the few industrial design fields where creatives still enjoy artistic freedom and aren’t expected to bow to corporate norms. In the end, you can’t be too precious about your design because it exists on the market only in collaboration with the manufacturer.”Either way, the design of Cycle itself is simple and smart. And the enthusiasm that Hansandfranz demonstrates suggests the duo will go far. Its next project is the German Design Council’s 3D competition, for which it has already made the shortlist. The entry is another lamp, which is challenging the typological multi-layers between the floor and the ceiling, a filigree telescopic light. Despite a speedy start to their career, they still have their feet on the ground. “It is an amazing experience for us to meet all these established designers we really respect. We are learning so much, but think it’s important not to be too serious.” The design duo like to let their hair down. But don’t mistake their fun attitude for immaturity. They are just part of a new generation of German designers that doesn’t want to be overlooked by European design critics any longer. And if they are happy to drop their pants for a photo shoot, whoever could?
Architect Jürgen Mayer is making waves internationally and in his native Germany, and his latest office project, ADA 1, is an arresting new addition to the city of Hamburg inspired by the maritime locationIn Hamburg’s conservative inner-city lake district, a distinctive office new build by Germany’s rising starchitect Jürgen Mayer, of Berlin-based practice Jürgen Mayer H, shows how the fusion of innovative office design with the surrounding landscape can boost a country’s design confidence. Rounded windows pop out of the facade, which Mayer describes as “eyes” overlooking the surrounding area and letting the charm of the city into the office. The shape of these windows echoes the maritime flair of the harbour city like waves and drops of water, each glass module flooding the inner corridors with natural light. “It sits there like a big ocean liner on its way out to sea,” says Mayer of his ADA 1 building, named after its address, An der Alster 1. Alster is Hamburg’s beautiful lake, whose shore houses celebrities from Jil Sander to Wolfgang Joop in traditional white stucco houses. The point at which the new building stands is where the rich Alster area meets St Georg, in the seedy, rundown Hauptbahnhof district, which is experiencing a wave of regeneration not least due to ADA 1. “The fact that it’s constructed on the crucial border between these two diverse areas may be one of the reasons why the new build fits into the context so well,” says Jan Prätzel, sales director at the KNSK advertising agency that moved in to ADA 1 last month and occupies three and a half of the building’s six storeys. “Even though the style is unmatched in Hamburg it somehow fits.” Like the Gherkin’s presence on the London skyline, Hamburg feels it is entering a new era of architecture with this striking project. Germany’s leading news magazine Spiegel says Mayer has the “courage to break with convention” and the power to wake the nation’s architecture out of its recent lethargy. He certainly has the talent to create eye-catching buildings with a unique, almost flamboyant style. And while his shapes may suggest parallels to the fluidity of Zaha Hadid or the sculptural blocks of Rem Koolhaas, Mayer’s projects tend to revive a location rather than dominate it. ADA 1 is a perfect example of how a building has unified and upgraded an area while remaining true to its natural and urban environment.I meet Mayer in his studio, an old West Berlin townhouse with high ceilings and white stucco walls. We sit on Konstantin Grcic’s Magis chairs, although he quickly passes me a cushion, saying how he loves the chairs but “they do get cold in winter”. He has a black Paul Smith scarf wrapped tightly around his neck and is dressed in the understated fashion typical of architects. The wall behind him is covered in prints of his extrovert designs, colliding with his personal air of Teutonic pragmatism. “ADA 1 is structured horizontally,” says Mayer, “aesthetically picking up on the city’s maritime identity. The characteristic protruding oval eyes are also found in the ventilation gutters and the green landscaping features outside the main building.” He modestly adds, “The project’s success is very much down to the property developer, Andreas Barke of Cogiton, who is from Hamburg and had high aspirations. For him it was all about consistency, from the exterior right down to the details of the interior.” The property developer didn’t stop there though. To achieve complete consistency he made a deal with the city council to take on the design of the public ground in front of the building to create a green park, which mirrors the building’s distinctive design elements.The interior of ADA 1 is exclusively white and grey, lending it a certain sterility, but Prätzel assured me that with time KNSK will automatically add some colour. Despite being a creative ad agency, KNSK has split the floors into two-people offices rather than leaving it open plan, which adds to the contained atmosphere. On the other hand, cubicles are common in Germany and Mayer tells me that he has been witnessing a strong trend back to boxed offices. “Some companies like Pixel Park here in Berlin experimented with open plan, but like most firms they are currently shifting back to individual workspaces. It’s just better in terms of sound and concentration.” If ADA 1 is anything to go by, they certainly have the space to do so. The corridors seem empty in comparison to London offices, where we’re all squashed up like sardines. The lobby area is stylish with generous free space and a few Fritz Hansen chairs dotted around (the classic Swan in the lounge and Oxford in the meeting rooms) – all in white and grey of course. Tobias Grau’s Go XT lighting panels fit in with the clean interior, and the meeting room table is custom-made with one large continuous corian surface that cleverly incorporates a structural column, along the lines of “what you can’t hide you highlight”. The most prominent feature is the coffered concrete ceiling, which is cut in the same oval shape as the building’s external eyes. The consistent design motif aside, the ceiling functions as a cooling system, making air-conditioning obsolete. “The building has a double facade consisting of two glass layers,” explains Mayer. “In summer the windows can be left open to cool down the rooms and the heavy concrete mass of the ceiling absorbs the cool air and emits it during the day.” There is also a system similar to heated flooring in reverse, with water pipes in the ceiling that cool the rooms throughout the day.It is no surprise that the property developer has already commissioned Mayer for two further Hamburg projects: another office new build, resembling a waterfall, in the Speicherstadt warehouse district and a charity project for deprived children.These commissions may place the architect, still a national newcomer at the age of 41, firmly on the map, but his practice has been on the nation’s radar ever since winning the Mies van der Rohe Prize in 2003 for the Stadthaus Scharnhauser Park in Ostfildern. Here his team demonstrated their ability to think outside the box by questioning the traditional use of a town hall in a digital age. The result is a mixed use public building with galleries, a library, a gym and music school combined, encouraging citizens to come to the new town hall to revive a feeling of community.“I generally find the multipurpose approach to certain workspaces very interesting – although it can be more difficult to find an investor in mixed-use than in retail or office,” says Mayer. “In the Stadthaus we pushed to break up the convention of mono-functional space and I think re-using a space in its ‘off-time’, turning it into an ‘on-time’ for another facility, makes perfect sense, especially in overcrowded urban areas. At the same time we have experienced territorial thinking, and security can be an issue. But with good planning and space management the overlapping of public and office space usage could hold potential for the future.” After winning the prestigious van der Rohe award, a number of pioneering concept designs followed, including the science park Danfoss Universe in Denmark and the arresting Mensa Karlsruhe for the Karlsruhe University in Germany. Each project has a landmark value and it is Mayer’s ability to surprise that gives each building its particular energy. Germany is glad to finally have a high-ranking name in architecture again, although Mayer wouldn’t brand himself as a German architect: “Nowadays, we all study abroad and gain global influence – it’s impossible to stamp a national mark on a particular design.” Just this month the University of Toronto appointed Mayer as the Frank Gehry International Visiting Chair for 2008, making him the first European-based architect to hold the chair. “I’ll be popping over every two weeks for two days. But I’ve been teaching abroad for almost eight years now, mainly at Colombia. I’ve always felt it’s important to keep an ongoing dialogue with students about what architecture could be. It enables you to research and inquire in a way you simply can’t in the office.”Even though the core of Mayer’s practice is architecture, his studio has always worked in an interdisciplinary fashion across art, installations and especially product design. Just recently Rolf Fehlbaum invited Mayer to participate in the Vitra Edition exhibition (running at London’s Design Museum from 13 Dec to 31 January), listing him among the likes of Frank Gehry, Ron Arad, Jasper Morrison, the Bouroullecs and more. Mayer’s Lo Glo is a seat made of piled-up disks that glow in the dark, highlighting where you sat. “The concept of active sitting and leaving your mark is particularly topical in our times of increased use of biometrics for security purposes,” he says. “There is no such thing as a naive or innocent surface – everything we touch could become an information carrier. So we played with this idea and used luminous paint for the Vitra stool so that when you get up from the chair it continues to glow until the next person comes to make their mark. It’s personalised, heat and time sensitive design.” Mayer has always been interested in the haptic experiences of materials. He experimented with thermo-sensitive surfaces as early as 2000, when he designed a bench for the Pixel Park office that highlights where you sit and the Heat Seat exhibited at San Franscisco’s MoMA in 2001.So where is Mayer heading next? “I’d be interested in designing a skyscraper simply because there are many interesting aspects that come with height and its relationship to the city and the landscape beyond. I must say I’ve also found speculative office build very intriguing, although your options are always dependent on good, innovative property developers.” Finally Mayer talks me through the printouts of his recent projects on the wall, including competition entries that never made it or plans that were choked by bureaucracy like the Speicherstadt in Potsdam this year. He highlights projects where the design clearly outshone the brief, including a fabulous beach project for a Spanish island. “We will always push the boundaries to create something special – I’m not interested in designing something standard.” Jürgen Mayer H is quickly becoming a name associated with uncompromised and aspirational design. At this stage what sets Mayer’s style apart from the notorious ego-designers is that he isn’t out to shock, but aims to uplift without alienating the context. It’s a fine line, and at present he is still dependent on the mercy of investors to push for this kind of progressive design in Germany. It’s good to see that it was an office build that got the ball rolling. We can only hope that one fine day a wise UK investor will bring Jürgen Mayer H to our shores too.