Onward and upward
A onetime skittles alley in Hamburg, Germany, scores high as a media-centric conversion by Carsten Roth Architekt
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 5/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
"We never begin with drawings or with scribbles," says architect Carsten Roth. "Our initial design phase consists of discussion and brainstorming." When it came to adding a floor to the top of a building in Hamburg, Germany, an old joke came to mind.
It went like this. A big party is going on, and one guy is late. When he finally turns up, everyone is shocked to see a frog sitting on his head. After a while, someone plucks up the courage to ask where he'd come from. "I stepped on him," answers the frog.
For Roth, there's a design moral to the story: "For the rooftop addition to be successful, you shouldn't be able to tell which came first, the new construction or the rest of the building."
In this case, the "rest of the building" happened to be a shoddily constructed 1970's skittles alley, once the largest in Hamburg. The left-hand part housed three levels of bowling lanes. To the right, reduced ceiling height allowed for four stories, accommodating the bar, restaurant, and trophy room.
Not terribly prepossessing in itself. However, the building's location, a semi-industrial alternative neighborhood called Eimsbüttel, had become increasingly attractive to advertising agencies and other media-related businesses. In 1999, Carsten Roth Architekt was hired by FischerAppelt Kommunikation to convert the alleys into an office complex called 9 Waterloohain.
What Roth ultimately decided upon was rather more radical than a simple "conversion." Leaving the internal structure essentially as it was, he actually sawed the building in half, cutting a 5-foot gap between the two sides. "They almost touch each other but not quite, like God and Adam's fingers on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It's a really nice thrill," he says. In the resulting void—glazed at the top, front, and back—he built a steel staircase connecting the various levels. Some landings also serve as bridges between the sections.
The existing structure revamped to his specifications, he wrapped it completely in two layers of U-profile industrial glass, inserting transparent foil insulation cubes between. The effect is almost surreal, with the building's original facade of white plaster appearing hazily through a semitranslucent veil.
"We'd finished redesigning the building—and considered everything to be perfect," he recalls. "Then the client called and said, 'Hey, we've found some more money. Let's build another story.' We said, 'Oh, no! You can't do this to us.'"
Still, Roth rose to the challenge. For the rooftop addition, his firm came up with a volume clad in polished stainless steel. "It turns from brown to bright red according to the light and where you're standing," he says. It certainly looks contemporary but—true to his frog-on-the-head philosophy—ironically less so than the futuristic U-profile glass below.
Roth used the linearity of the building's exterior as an occasional reference point in helping new tenants kit out their offices. For Krueger Wilckens Music Production on the second floor, he designed geometric steel-framed partitions of semitransparent glass to wall off the kitchen, among other functions.
Third-floor ad agency Weigert Pirouz Wolf asked Roth to retain the exposed concrete ceiling and cover the floor in needle-punched carpet. To offset this rather stark combination, he added oak-clad columns, comfy purple-cushioned rattan ottomans, and a glassed-in conference room with a drop-dead chandelier thought to be French 18th-century.
The Weigert Pirouz Wolf mascot, a wolf, appears carved in oak on the reception desk as well as directly behind, in a photomural of a forest scene. A plaster wolf sculpture even stands guard on one of the agency's two internal patios—the bottom of light wells that Roth cut into the 82-foot-deep building.
Weigert Pirouz Wolf went for a very open space on the three-level side of the building and traditional closed offices for the accounts department on the four-level side. Upstairs, ad agency Rosenbauer Solbach opted for traditional walls and doors throughout—enhanced by subtle color. "There's no white at all. Greenish-white, yellowish-white, and cream, but no real white," declares Roth. Corridors tend to be dark, private offices much paler.
With so many different clients, the building became a "sort of portfolio of different office solutions," he says. "Each company can project a very distinct identity." Man or frog.