Office complex, Aachen
A transparent boulevard strengthens urban integration in kadawittfeldarchitektur’s perimeter block.
AACHEN (DE) - Sited on two blocks of late 19th-century city fabric, the new headquarters of AachenMünchener gathers the various company divisions in a single location, reinterpreting the typical perimeter development, including the semi-public realms often associated with such projects, with a view toward maximizing the useable public space through the design's organization. A transparent 'boulevard' level connects existing and new buildings, floating above the various garden courtyards located within the building block, and comprised of seminar and meeting rooms, a restaurant and cafeteria, and other communication areas. Wide stairs are contiguous with a sizeable plaza area, both of which serve to broaden kadawittfeldarchitektur's resolutely urban sequence of expansions and squares, in turn made more accessible by the inherent transparency of glass facade elements. (Dutton R. Hauhart)
Company headquarters in the inner city usually form blind spots, unattractive to the public and desolate after office hours. Therefore, the design is not understood as an architectural but as an urban task with the aim of maximizing public space on the building lot. With a number of plazas, a direct footpath from the main train station and the inner city, and the integration of external uses, the area becomes more attractive to the public. The demand for maximum public use and communication dictates the internal organization of the building.
Building an office complex of 30,000 m2 into an existing structure contains not only chances but also risks for the urban surroundings. Elsewhere, there are many examples of sealed-off company headquarters that occupy inner city areas and, thus, deprive the public access to entire city districts. Perceived by both the citizens and inhabitants as 'blind spots' in the city – unattractive and desolate outside of office hours – they function as a sad counter-model to what should be a dynamic city. It is often wished by a company that the architectural expression should be manifest in an unmistakable architectural sign: often this is not the case in German cities where companies are represented neither by the location nor their significance.
Corresponding to the desire for an open, communicative quarter – both transparent and with a particular flow – the volume was dispersed throughout several buildings yet connected (and given a new identity) via a glass bridge. The inner boulevard connecting the various building parts of the project serves its users as a space for communication and meetings. Its typology is new territory, arranged in an elongated space as such that the relevant public program of the insurance company, as well as the communication zones, call to mind the elevated passages of modernist urban utopias. The boulevard functions like a protected street space and develops a sequence of expansions and contractions which correspond to an adjusted rhythm on a more human scale. Accidental meetings and encounters are as equally wished for as the functional advantages through vertical connections and shorter paths.
The office facades have a black anodized aluminium element construction in a structural glazing optic, each element analogue to the modular grid. Vertical storey-high glass panels alternate with room-high window elements with window stops, as well as closed gold-coloured anodized aluminium panels. Therefore, a uniform rhythm to the facade system is created, at the same time, a mirror image of the lively inner life of the building. Functionality is consciously readable, so that the neighbouring areas are created through closed horizontal aluminium window bands with a golden coating, while the large-scale, two-story foyer is distinguished by an all-glass facade, stretching across the entire room height. The glass boulevard – with a partial glass ceiling – takes on the character of a light and spacious covered promenade. Rounded glass elements in the corner areas underscore the impression of meandering. Underneath the boulevard overpass, there is a translucent suspended ceiling made of coarse-meshed white lacquered expanded metal, hiding fixtures such as sprinklers, smoke detectors and ventilation, and integrating the lighting as well.
The extension stretches over two Gründerzeit city blocks. The building volume of the four newly built structures fit to the surroundings, according to their height, and are placed as such that the flow of the urban promenade remains uninterrupted. Rather than classical blocks, they are angled and set up facing one another so that there is an exchange from a development almost flush with the street, thus creating small public squares. Of course, the existing AachenMünchener insurance building from the 1970s is integrated into the building ensemble. It lies on the inner boulevard, yet remains recognizable as a 'child of its time' and profits from the additional offerings on the boulevard.
The building complex of the AachenMünchener insurance company is thoroughly characterized by the idea of integration: the integration of various companies, the integration of old and new, the integration into the urban space. A spatial balance of interests between public space and private capital, in which the tendency is that an underused quarter becomes more structurally consolidated and functional and, at the same time, is given the air that the city needs to breathe.
Wednesday | 9 March | 2011 | Germany | kadawittfeldarchitektur