Name that tune
Aukett + Heese orchestrates the work of six other firms at Universal Music's new European headquarters, Berlin
Sophie Lovell -- Interior Design, 2/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Unlike most companies, which strive to project a unified corporate image, Universal Music encourages its myriad labels to glorify their own identities. When it came time to move European headquarters from three separate buildings in Hamburg, Germany, to one in Berlin, Universal actually gave each label its own designer. As executive architect, European firm Aukett + Heese was assigned the happy task of integrating the different styles.
The common denominator is the notion of hip, starting with the industrial location. Universal's nine-story warehouse building, totaling 188,000 square feet, is in the Friedrichshain district, about 3 miles east of the Brandenburg Gate. Says Jacob Bilabel, Universal's vice president of corporate communications, "When we came here, it was a bit hard explaining to people why, but we said, 'Just wait and see.'"
Until recently, however, the 1928 building was anything but headquarters material. The former cold-storage warehouse, capable of housing 50 million eggs, was a virtually windowless brick colossus. Property developers Wert-Konzept took the first step by revamping the facade even before Universal appeared on the scene. Freshly cleaned, the ornate brickwork was augmented by glass skins on the north and south elevations; a steel-and-glass top floor was added and the surrounding flat roof transformed into a terrace.
Left: A staff member strikes a suitably casual pose in a conference room designed by Kayenburg Linear Einrichtung. The armless chairs are by Patricia Urquiola; the partition is clear-lacquered cement-filled fiberboard.
The building is entered from the street side. Universal made an early decision, however, to orient the new design to face the Spree River. Reception extends across the ground floor in order to benefit from a stunning picture-window panorama of river, bridge, and docklands architecture. The lounge and restaurant enjoy the same view.
Aukett + Heese's interior concept is the sum of many parts. "Eight different designers came up with mood boards," says project architect Stefan Pehle. "There were different designs for different sections of individual floors. We had to make sure those segments fitted together perfectly." Considering the circumstances, Pehle's team of 12 to 15 people got the job done on a frighteningly tight schedule: nine months from start of rehab to start of business. In that time, Aukett + Heese oversaw construction and supervised the acquisiton of furnishings, 85 percent of which are new.
Industrial basics—exposed heating and cable ducts, for example—set the tone throughout, and acoustical elements required widespread attention. In a world where playing music is a job requirement, the cacophony emanating from open-plan central areas may give the impression that every employee is listening to a different CD at the same moment. However, Aukett + Heese ensured that every listening room, office, and conference room is soundproof. Quiet lounges are enclosed in special sound-absorbing glass, and their ceilings are draped in fabric.
Left: The pool lounge, by Stephen Williams Architects, is a cascade of glass mosaic tile laid on a curved wooden frame. A 12-foot-long aquarium completes the underwater effect.
Left: Aukett + Heese's archive room features steel shelving and a Marmoleum floor. A corridor on BFGF's management floor provides access to the roof terrace. SHE_arch installed an expanse of rosewood veneer to announce the offices of Polydor. On the roof terrace, the responsibility of developer Wert-Konzept, fiberglass chairs line up along the aluminum-clad walls of elevator machinery rooms.
Left: Williams handled the Universal Classics & Jazz and Universal Marketing Group/Family's lounge. Floor, wall, and bar surfaces are linoleum; Stefano Giovannoni designed the Bombo stools.
Each floor has its defining elements. In the ground floor's lounge, designed by the Büro für Gestaltungsfragen (BFGF), the reception counter is ingeniously "upholstered" in polished cast-aluminum squares, like an abstracted chesterfield sofa. BFGF was also responsible for the top floor, corporate management's lair. There, a row of conference rooms has walls that move. On two sides, horizontal strips of plate glass can be raised to the ceiling like venetian blinds; along the length of the row, dividers slide up or down, garage-style, to unify or separate contiguous spaces as dictated by gathering size.
Conference rooms on the eighth floor, the domain of mainstream pop and rock's Polydor and Island Mercury, are a collaboration between SHE_arch and Sven Thomsen Design. Sound-absorbant red felt hangs inside the rooms' glass walls, and motorized stainless-steel panels replace conventional doors.
For Motor Music, Urban, and Def Jam on seven, Stephen Williams Architects designed the stunning pool lounge, with its wave of glass mosaic tile. On six, Williams also handled the stylish lounge for Universal Classics & Jazz and Universal Marketing Group/Family. Here, the defining material is linoleum, which appears on floor, wall, and bar surfaces.
SEHW Architekten designed the finance and facility-management offices on the fifth floor. Here, a slate floor and a wengé espresso bar lend the space a peaceful aura. Similarly tranquil is the fourth floor. Completed by both SEHW and SHE_arch, it houses publishing and sales staff.
Universal's staff as a whole will get some fashionable young neighbors this summer, when MTV Networks moves from Munich to the 1913 brick building next door. With the 72-foot-high Universal logo projecting its holographic message along the riverfront, the company has already defined its environment. An entire Berlin neighborhood may soon be dancing to the Universal tune.
PROJECT DIRECTOR (BRO FR GESTALTUNGSFRAGEN): PETER UNZEITIG. PROJECT TEAM: GERRIT KUHN; ERIC PFROMM; SEBASTIAN MENDS-COLE; CHRISTIAN SCHTEN. PROJECT TEAM (SHE_ARCH): CAROLINE DE GRAHL; ULRICH HAHNEFELD; INKA KERSTING; ANNA NICOLAS-ESPIG; STEPHAN SCHRICK. PROJECT TEAM (STEPHEN WILLIAMS ARCHITECTS): WIBKE BRAEUNLICH; MICHAEL KORB; TORSTEN LIETZ. CHAIRS (CONFERENCE ROOM): MOROSO. BENCHES (RECEPTION): VITRA. COUNTER PLASTIC LAMINATE: ABET LAMINATI. DOWN-LIGHTS: IGUZZINI ILLUMINAZIONE. OAK FLOORING (RECEPTION, MANAGEMENT FLOOR): OBJECT + PARKETT. GLASS MOSAIC TILE (POOL LOUNGE): BISAZZA. FLOORING (ARCHIVE ROOM), FLOOR, WALL, BAR (BAR): FORBO LINOLEUM. CUSTOM PENDANTS (MANAGEMENT FLOOR): ZUMTOBEL STAFF. PENDANTS (POLYDOR OFFICES): STYLEPARK. LETTERING (MANAGEMENT FLOOR): OSCHATZ VISUELLE MEDIEN. STOOLS (BAR): MAGIS. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: WOLFF MLLER.