Jochen Drexler & German Haimerl: Corporate architecture as a reflection of corporate culture

The US architect Richard Meier once stated that architecture in the best of cases is direct interaction with people.

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Meier’s statement is particularly worth pondering when the relevant structure is located in a public space, that is, when it is exposed to active interaction. Ar­­chi­­tecture has always had a lasting impact on society – just think of the many ep­­ochs of human history that were named after major stylistic movements. For ex­­ample the works of Gian Lorenzo Berni­ni, who had a signif­icant influence on the Italian Baroque and shaped a whole city (Rome) and its culture. At that time, the Roman-Catho­lic Church commissioned Berninis works, and of course they were intended to achieve a clear purpose: A building was to represent a place and to serve and communi­cate a distinct message.
Basically, this process has not changed very much up to our present-day society. If the owner of a building is a (modern) company, the underlying intentions are probably the same. Ancient cathedrals and the skyscrapers of a contemporary city like New York have many things in common.
In this context, one might be justified in arguing that in the grey architectural uni­­formity of large modern cities the prin­­ciple of rationality and expedien­­cy pre­­­vails over quality and design. Al­­though this objection cannot be dismissed, fun­­­damental changes have tak­­­en place in re­­cent years and thanks to the possibil­i­­ties of modern engineering, it is no long­­er an unavoidable fact. Effi­ciency and de­­­sign do not necessarily exclude each other.
The ever stronger pervasion of specific corporate identities inevitably had an impact on architecture. Over the past decades, besides institutions, companies have increasingly been using the possibilities of architectural design to create their own unique profiles and stand out from the competition. Recent history provides the first indications of that. Some examples include: Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau in Dresden; the Transparent Factory of Volkswagen AG; the four-cylinder-shaped BMW tower, which was designed by Karl Schwanzer, built in 1972 and inaugurated in 1973; or the renovated Munich RE headquarters in Gedonstraße, Munich.
As we all know, companies spend huge amounts of money on advertising and sponsoring just to find out that much of the information is never really noticed by consumers. Merely due to its lasting and visible presence, architecture can be much more effective. Today more than ever, a room, a building or a square are intended to attract people’s attention, while at the same time offering more than just a standard message, to make sure they are not overlooked as a consequence of the dematerialization of in­­for­­mation. Thus, a property, instead of be­­­­ing part of the brand, can become a brand itself and contribute a lot to com­­­municating the company’s ideas. How­ever, Drexler + Partner do not consider ar­­­chitecture as anonymous corporate ar­­­chitecture which only aims to create max­­­imum presence, but as a characteristic feature, as a reflection of the company’s individual philosophy and culture. At the end of the day, constructing a building to meet these requirements means more than producing a “built structure” that conveys a certain message. Too much im­­portance has often been attached to the divergence between interior design and architecture, which partly continues to exist to this day. To Drexler + Partner, cooperating with companies means con­­tributing to each of these companies’ culture, and in this context the overall concept weighs more than just a striking facade.

yantan_07Here are some examples: Among other things, Drexler has specialized in de­­sign­­ing modern health care centres. For in­­stance, the company was the general con­­tractor for design services in charge of the Omooma – Private Hospital for Women in Kuwait City. The clinic’s focus is on obstetric medicine. The whole build­­­ing is much more than a place where patients are treated.
Great importance was placed on the at­­­mosphere created through interior de­­­sign, which strikes a delicate balance between comfort, elegance and state-of-the-art technology.
Since Drexler + Partner work exclusively on private sector medical projects, it is crucial that particular consideration be given to characteristic features of the business or company. Private clinics are fully exposed to competition for pa­­tients. Patients have to be regarded as clients whose wishes must have first priority.

Therefore construction must not focus only on functionality, because people need special environments. People in need of care have different requirements than active athletes, seniors and young people also have different needs. The standards in the premium health care market are particularly high. Architec­ture, interior design, ambience, staff and serv­­ice comply with the criteria for top qual­­ity hotels. Medical performance and med­­ical equipment meet the highest re­­­­quire­­ments without compromising the atmos­­phere of the rooms.

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There are more examples in and around Munich. The European Cyberknife Cen­t­er in Munich-Großhadern clearly dem­­onstrates that high-tech medicine and warm, harmonious interior furnishings do not have to be contradictory, quite the contra­­ry: They can be arranged to com­­plement each other to the benefit of patients. Here, fancy design is combined with modern LED technology and quality medical care.
Private health & hospitality are the con­­sistent element that characterizes the planning and design of health care cen­tres. The Isar Medical Centre goes to prove, once again, that patients do know the difference and have long ceased to be satisfied with a sterile, grey-green at­­mosphere and bleak corridors. Its cen­­tral location in Sonnenstraße alone is an argument in favour of the Isar Medical Centre. Wood, carpets, leather and glass emphasize quality and make the client the centre of attention ­– in fact, external architecture would be nothing but an empty shell without a functional and transparent interior design. In other words: Good architecture does not end at the doorstep.

Numerous projects carried out by Drex­ler + Partner, mainly in the million-strong metropolis of Lanzhou, attest to the fact that these quality features are gaining ground, even in far-off China. Contrast­ing with the monotony of the typical Chinese development projects, one-of-a-kind residential, sports and multi-pur­­­pose buildings are created in the city in the upper reaches of the Yellow River, for example the Riverside Development with terraced building complexes, ho­­tels, offices and parks. The major challenges construction projects face in the Far East include regulations by local urban planners, client demands, integration with the natural environment and the representation and preservation of Chinese traditions. China’s path between tradition and modernity holds many challenges, but also unique new opportunities.

 

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The renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor stated recently: “It seems to me that a piece of architecture that on­­ly tells a cosmopolitan and visionary story without having any resonance in its local area is lacking sensual bonds with that specific environment (…).” Drex­­ler + Partner have successfully trav­elled down this road and managed to find the best possible solution for bridging the gap between maintaining their own quality standards, satisfying client demands and realizing an integrated, consistent overall concept, which is a key economic factor in architecture.

Jochen-Drexler--AtelierThe author, born in 1942, studied civil engineering at the technical university of Karlsruhe and architecture at the TU Munich. After completing his studies, Jochen Drexler worked for Behnisch + Partner and in 1974, he started working as a freelance architect. Drexler­ +­ Part­ner Architekten, where he is a managing partner, was established in 1985.

 

 

DSC_0083The author, born in 1968, studied ar­­chi­­tecture at the Munich university of tech­­nology, TUM. German Haimerl was pri­­marily active in media projects – among others for broadcasting stations – and in the areas of health care and high-qual­­ity interior finish. In 1998 he be­­came a managing partner of Drexler + Partner Architekten.