In the spirit
A parish hall in Hamburg, Germany, is now an ad agency—but Feldmann + Schultchen's renovation preserves the building's 1960's appeal
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 10/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
When architects André Feldmann and Arne Jacob Schultchen first arrived at Philipp und Keuntje in Hamburg, Germany, the young advertising agency was in crisis mode. The office occupied a former Lutheran parish hall, and all 20 staff members had been working at improvised desks in the building's main space—before the electricity blew. "It wasn't designed for 20 computers. More like a record player and a lamp," says chief creative director Hartwig Keuntje. An overhaul was clearly long overdue, and Feldmann + Schultchen Design began drawing up the plans.
How had things come to such a pass? Established in 1999, Keuntje and chief account director Dominik Philipp's agency got off to a flying start. In no time, they had three clients (Audi, Minolta, and a local beer), a pressing deadline (two catalogs to produce), and a problem (no offices). As Keuntje recalls, "We were slightly panicked." Nevertheless, the two directors set out with one major criterion: The prospective premises had to be something different. "We're a creative business, and we weren't comfortable with the idea of a 'normal' building," Keuntje explains. "A supermarket would have been perfect—we could have filled the shelves with our clients' products."
Instead, Philipp and Keuntje found the parish hall, an abandoned 1969 building near the city's famous Saint Pauli red-light district. When they first saw the brick and concrete facade, it was splattered with graffiti. Inside was a vestibule, cloakroom, and snack bar on the ground level and the main hall above. "Design-wise, it reminded me of the East German cinemas and official buildings from the 1960's," Keuntje says. The adjacent sexton's house, similar in style, was a warren of tiny rooms.
Both parties quickly agreed on the direction for the renovation: to preserve the building's 1960's spirit. On the exterior, the architects cleaned up the graffiti but left everything else. Inside, the majority of original elements remain, from the main hall's glass globe pendants and larch-wood paneling to the mahogany staircase banisters. Feldmann + Schultchen kept the ground level's terrazzo flooring, too. "Walking in after the renovation, you ask yourself, 'Is it new or not?'" says Feldmann.
Dropped ceilings, however, had to go. "They just looked so ugly," Schultchen recalls with a grimace. Once revealed, the original concrete ceilings were sandblasted, and the architects installed square light boxes in translucent and opaque glass. Wiring runs through zinc pipe—the resultant grid reminding him of a circuit board.
Practically all the furniture is built-in, and most is mahogany, an echo of the reddish tones of the larch-wood paneling. In corridors and corners, Feldmann + Schultchen set up what the architects call "think niches," mini lounges furnished with built-in mahogany banquettes covered in green leather. The architects did their best work in this vein in the upstairs main hall—spectacular with its 15-foot ceiling and full-height windows. Here, mahogany clads five rows of interlocking workstations, four per row. (One of the workstations is for Keuntje, who decided against a private office.) Filtered neon lighting, placed beneath shelving, eliminates the need for desk lamps.
Elsewhere in the building, Feldmann + Schultchen turned part of the basement into a video room, the snack bar into a conference room, and the cloakroom into a lounge and reception area. The reception desk is a sculptural concrete block 15 feet 4 inches long. "It looks like it's growing out of the floor," says Schultchen.
To allay Keuntje's fears that the design might appear too sedate, the architects injected a bit of color in the form of striking ceramic-tiled bathrooms. "They really are very exciting and surprising," Schultchen volunteers. The men's room is greenish-yellow, the women's magenta, and the guest bathroom bright blue.
Linking the parish hall and sexton's house proved the renovation's most difficult aspect, particularly because height differences between the buildings' second levels required a new stair. The work furthermore involved demolition and reinforcement with steel beams as well as plumbing and rewiring, but the effort paid off in the end. Besides improving circulation, the new structure provides space for a central staff pantry.
With a maze of interior walls knocked down to transform the ground floor into a single open-plan space, the sexton's house is now home to Philipp and his account-management department—separated from the creative team in the main building. "In my experience," offers Keuntje, "accounts people talk a lot on the phone. The creatives, on the other hand, need quiet." And quiet they certainly got. What with the mahogany furniture and built-in bookcases, he says, the atmosphere in the revamped hall reminds him of an "old university library." Or perhaps a parish hall.