Berlin on Tap
Hip design by Mateja Mikulandra-Mackat flows freely at Fritzsch & Mackat, an ad shop in a landmark brewery
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 7/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Fritzsch & Mackat Werbeagentur's first office was the East Berlin apartment of one of its founders, Conrad Fritzsch. The ad agency has come a long way since then, outgrowing three other locations. Each was different, but in all, remarks partner Alexander Mackat, "We were keen on doing something special in terms of the interior." One space, neatly divided by glass partitions, had an asphalt-coated floor.
Today, the agency boasts 27 employees, an enviable client list—Schöller ice cream, Lichtenauer mineral water—and a setting that's strikingly avant-garde. The 8,600-square-foot office occupies two floors of an 1889 brewery in Berlin's trendy Prenzlauer Berg district. Beer was produced in the brick building until the 1960s. Afterward, it housed a Communist youth club.
"The space is huge, but it has very delicate steel roof trusses," says architect Mateja Mikulandra-Mackat, who still remembers being impressed on her first visit. At the time, she was a project manager at Planungsring Dr. Pawlik + Partner, which specializes in health care. Nevertheless, she stood out as the obvious choice for the job. She is, after all, Mackat's wife.
Fritzsch & Mackat became her first solo project, designed on weekends and weekday evenings. Direction was clear from the outset. The floor plan should be open and egalitarian, with the same desk and file cabinets for junior copywriters and the CEO. The atmosphere, Mackat stipulated, should be "young corporate." The architecture was to "stimulate" but not "distract." And there were to be no expensive materials. "We have to impress our clients," he says, "but not appear boastful."
Mikulandra-Mackat respected the existing architecture as much as possible. Retaining disused 19th-century elevators built to transport beer barrels, she simply encased them in glass for fire-code compliance—and instant sculpturality. The first floor is now devoted to a reception area, a production unit, archives, and bathrooms. On the open-plan top floor, she partitioned separate departments with 5-foot-high storage cabinets and acoustic panels.
As for the muted palette, Mikulandra-Mackat explains, "We kept it neutral because the agency's work is already very colorful." The sealed-cement floor is gray, the walls white. Pale blue, the agency's signature color, appears here and there.
Neons backlight the hollow blue panels of polycarbonate fronting the reception desk, and attention to lighting carries through. For the cafeteria's self-service kitchen, Mikulandra-Mackat used the same polycarbonate-panel treatment, this time in white. Blue, green, and red spots are projected on walls and ceilings, while halogen and neon fixtures create different effects for different times of day. "We generally have warm light in the evening—but if people really need to concentrate, they can make it bluer," says Mackat.
Subtleties and nuances accounted for, the architect was ready for a dramatic statement. Just beneath the apex of the brewery's roof hovers a capsule of steel and glass—nothing less than a 33-foot-long contemporary abstraction of a beer barrel. And this particular keg-UFO functions as a conference room to boot.
Held 13 feet aloft, the structure rests on a framework of six I beams and posts, intersected by the steel roof trusses. Mikulandra-Mackat painted the beams white to blend with the walls, enhancing the "flying" illusion. This otherworldliness is further enhanced by the white neon glow emanating from beneath the floor plates of powder-coated, perforated stainless steel. Identical plates form the treads and risers of the staircase providing access to the beer barrel.
"It's the heart of the agency, the spot that brainstorming, decisions, and presentations all take place," says Mackat. Most of those activities occur around a hybrid conference table: The custom top, constructed of melamine-coated chipboard, sits on a steel base by Charles and Ray Eames. At the barrel's far end, Mikulandra-Mackat set up a lounge with chocolate-brown cotton-upholstered sofas.
"When clients come in, there's always a wow," she says with undisguised pride. Most of those clients are based in places such as Hamburg and Leipzig, rather than the capital. "For visitors," says Mackat, "our agency represents the new Berlin."