Bothe Richter Teherani turns to a strong, simple form for the German headquarters of lighting manufacturer Tobias Grau
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 5/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
In Rellingen, Germany, half an hour northwest of Hamburg, a pair of two-story aluminum-and-glass tubes greets the landscape head-on. With their sloping northern facades, the structures could be high-speed trains whooshing over the countryside. In point of fact, though, the tubes house the corporate headquarters of German lighting manufacturer Tobias Grau.
When the company's eponymous founder decided to move his business from a 100-year-old factory on the outskirts of Hamburg, the company bought land in Rellingen and invited four architecture firms to submit proposals. Designs for the new building, envisioned as a showcase for innovative hanging lamps, task lighting, and sconces, were to address several issues. Grau put a premium on illumination—and not only of the artificial kind. Maximizing daylight in the pursuit of a bright, energy-efficient work environment was just as integral. "Our primary objective was to create sophisticated architecture using simple means," explains Grau. "We wanted openness, transparency, and naturalness. And lots of space on a tight budget."
The tube concept—proposed by Hadi Teherani, partner at the Hamburg firm Bothe Richter Teherani Architekten—delivered all of the above in a bold, breathtaking package. In phase one of Teherani's scheme, the workshop and shipping facility would occupy the lower level of a single tube, with offices above. When future growth dictated expansion, a second tube, devoted entirely to storage, could be built parallel to the original one and connected by a square volume to form a 20,000-square-foot H-shape structure. Teherani won the commission, building the first tube in 1998. Phase two was completed last year.
Vast expanses of glass and an exposed—indeed, flaunted—structure create an easy rapport between inside and out. The smooth skin of each tube is formed by panels of Alucobond (lightweight aluminum sheets sandwiching a plastic core); this is stretched over a framework of bonded-wood truss beams spaced at 16-foot intervals. Wraparound C-shape beams skim the building's curving, corrugated interior surface like ribs of a ship, keeping the floor plan free of support columns and maximizing usable square footage. On the glazed southern facades, integrated blue-tinted solar panels reduce heating costs and double as sunshades, tempering the flow of light. Along the east and west walls, BRT developed giant louvers of green glass that move automatically according to the sun's position. "They're computer-controlled to react to sunlight but can be individually adjusted electronically as needed," says project manager Nicoletta Rhode. Magnesium-coated concrete floors on the ground level radiate heat in winter and keep the building cool in summer, thanks to water piped below.
Although the design process involved an intense collaboration between the architect and client, Grau took the lead on the interior fit-out. Beyond the double-height oak-paneled entrance, the ground-floor storage and workshop spaces are relatively raw and elemental. Meanwhile the upper level's cafeteria, product showroom, conference rooms, and office area—reached via a folding concrete stair—are a refined blend of the exposed and the artfully hidden. Electrical and data lines are channeled below the industrial oak parquet floor. Columns and support beams are left exposed, breaking the floor into different zones.
Favoring openness, with easy communication lines and short circulation runs, Grau designed birch desks and grouped them in threes along the perimeter of the first tube. Low storage partitions, which double as display surfaces for Tobias Grau products, separate the desk systems from the circulation corridors. Two atria slice through the tube's center, drawing natural light into the middle of the floor plate, a boon both for administrative and design staff tethered to their desks and for assembly workers below. Tucked between the atria is one of two glass-enclosed conference rooms.
Just as important as the tubes' physical capacity, however, is a more nebulous quality: their role as a source of inspiration. "The immersion in the study of architecture over the last few years has given my work and my company new impulses," says Tobias Grau. Eight designs created specifically for the building have since been put into production. The height-adjustable opal-glass suspension lamps that illuminate the conference rooms at headquarters are now sold as Project X fixtures, and the delicate aluminum lights hanging in the open kitchen at the rear of the oak-paneled cafeteria are available under the name Oh China.