Gehry in Berlin
Not another museum exhibit but, instead, the American architect's design of DG Bank.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
It began, as projects of significance often do, with a competition to select the design firm. In the case of the DG Bank Building in Berlin, a property intended to combine 150,000 sq. ft. devoted to office space with 50,000 sq. ft. for 39 residential units, the jury included two real estate developers: The German DG Immobilien Management, GMBH, and the American Hines Grundstucksentwicklung, GMBH, both hereafter known as the clients. Other jury members were city officials and German architects; the proffered prize was to be the design of a spec office building. Guidelines dealt with mandated compatibility between exterior building materials and the immediate vicinity, meaning, in this case, the Pariser Platz and Brandenburg Gate facing the commercial façade, and Behrenstrasse on the residential side. Starting with a day-long introductory colloquium and followed by sessions where each of eight contestants was limited to submission of drawings, one building model, and pertinent text, the procedure ended with the selection of Gehry Partners. At this time it also transpired that the clients intended to use the structure's commercial section as Berlin headquarters for DG Bank, something of a surprise to the Gehry group who had gone along with the spec idea. Still, negotiations between the several principals proceeded apace. Design began two months after the August 1995 competition, and construction took from December 1996 to May 2001. The finished building has, since then, been sold to another bank.
This and more one learns from Craig Webb, Gehry's project designer on the job. The city planners having stipulated that the northern façade was to be cast in white or buff plaster or stone, the American team opted for buff-color Italian limestone. Within the commercial sector's atrium, ceilings, floors, and wings—they look a bit like flying buttresses moved indoors—are of glass with scored, arced, and diamond-shaped stainless- steel reinforcements. Stairs to the off-center conference hall were to have been of glass too, but as this might have caused some discomfiting unease, a walkway with black granite paving now cuts through the glass. Still, the omnipresent transparencies, reinforced by a 65-ft.-by-197-ft. skylight, draw in lashings of daylight penetrating the glass floor and reaching areas beneath. All this in a five-story structure, not counting lowered spaces, internally defined with five tiers of tightly spaced office windows. The inverted orientation makes sense since lots abutting the building's sides are bound to be filled with added real estate. The new U.S. embassy is slated for the west side, and a German arts center is rising to the east. On the top floor, four offices occupied by high-ranking executives have street views, but their location is unaffected by outlying construction work. Staff generally enjoys the privilege of privacy since DG Bank, an investment institution, has no tellers' areas swarming with walk-in customers. The main entry is marked by a glass canopy; an arcade leads to office elevator lobbies on either side. At the opposite end of the building is a smaller atrium transecting the apartment sector.
The project's most distinctive Gehry-was-here imprint is, of course, the conference center, seen by those on the job as "the horse's head" but looking, to the writer, more like a squat creature from the sea lumbering ashore. Its carapace is of stainless steel lined, as are the atrium's walls, with Douglas fir wood strips perforated for acoustical absorption. Measurements for the space-within-space are 92 ft. long, 46 ft. wide, and 44 ft. at apex point. Also commanding attention is the 6,350-sq.-ft. cafeteria below street level. Seating 250 at meal times and 550 when reconfigured for special events, it appears to put attendees into a huge orb topped with fat white clouds floating above people who, in turn, suddenly look small. The "chandelier sculpture" by San Francisco-based Nikolas Weinstein involves glass tubes bound together and slumped, then lit internally. Sandblasted on one side and suspended from steel cables, the frosted formations project a luminescent quality. No two nimbi are alike. Moving upward, a top-floor lounge overlooks much of Berlin. The bank people never did quite decide what to make of this space, Webb admits.
The design team, as always headed by Frank O. Gehry in closest collaboration with partners James Glymph and Randy Jefferson, further included project architects Marc Salette and Tensho Takemori, Laurence Tighe, Eva Sobesky, George Metzger, Jim Dayton, John Goldsmith, Jorg Ruegemer, and Scott Uriu.