Ruthless efficiency is a chilly Germanic stereotype with deep cultural roots. Which is to say that Germans will sometimes pledge their first allegiance to scientific precision, even as it threatens to quash any hint of magnetism or sex appeal. “That mentality is part of our heritage,” Peter Ippolito explains. The architect is a romantic and also a member, with Gunter Fleitz, of the Interior Design Hall of Fame. Their Ippolito Fleitz Group practices across Germany as well as in Russia, China, and Switzerland. Clients come to them for interventions that unlock creativity and connection, two precious human impulses now recognized as fundaments of modern business. Such was the scenario with AEB: A workplace consultant recommended the firm shake up its 155,000-square-foot Stuttgart headquarters being conceived for the 400 employees of the international shipping-software company founded in 1979.
Another architecture firm, Riehle+Assoziierte, had already cemented ground-up construction plans for the building that fronted its squareness and absence of ornament. “That mirrored the company,” Ippolito recalls. “If AEB management had been looking for an animated kind of space, it would have picked a different building architect in the first place.” But, in a welcome moment of self-awareness, the management team recognized that the location could also make a statement about its humanist aspirations. Up for grabs was nothing less than the creative future of the enterprise. That’s where Ippolito Fleitz stepped in.
The building itself would stay monochromatic—white and shades of gray—with a sober palette of modern materials, such as concrete and fumed oak. Ippolito Fleitz even selected the simple frameless glass balustrades as one of several connections to Riehle+Assoziierte’s original plans. “AEB worried that our ideas might not be compatible, Ippolito recalls, “but it’s never about who wins.” Still, an air of cultivated informality could communicate collaborative “values about idea exchange and softness of space, from a user’s perspective,” he continues.
That informality, restrained, of course, begins in the lobby, at the base of the building’s five-story atrium. Stefan Borselius’s curvy blue sectional wiggles playfully against the atrium’s organizing grid. Across the more serious concrete floor, a gaggle of ottomans and shell chairs, in exuberant shades of orange and teal, can be easily swept away to reconfigure the space for large gatherings.
Overlooking the atrium, stacked balconies host lounges outfitted in a rainbow of surprising furnishings. Doshi Levien’s peacock chair, for example, supplements Werner Aisslinger’s Bikini Island modular system in pastel blue and pink. Ippolito and Fleitz call the spaces “landscapes,” thanks to the lush tropical plants, in tall gray or black architectural pots, populating each one. Additional liveliness in these lounges comes in the form of pendant fixtures—some pea green, others cherry red—all by Claesson Koivisto Rune.
Ippolito and Fleitz refer to the ground-level cafeteria, with its four walls of glass, as a “communication” space, so it got broken down in layers. The architects took rectangles as a decorative motif to structure the space. Suspended red-painted ones recall Fred Sandback yarn sculptures, but these are steel frames fitted with LEDs, to serve simultaneously as dividers and light sources. Bright blue booths sit beneath navy acoustic ceiling panels, also rectangular, while oversize pendant fixtures shine in daffodil yellow. The scale and colors give an “industrial character,” unlike an elegant restaurant, Fleitz notes.
Nearby, Lievore Altherr Molina sled chairs gather underneath a dropped ceiling of sound-absorbing perforated aluminum fins that also incorporate LEDs. The fins resurface on the ceilings of the open office areas upstairs, where all the furniture is reconfigurable. The color palette for seating on each floor takes its identity, chromatically speaking, from a single-color splash. Lilac, say, or yellow, highlights the collaborative areas corralled within plywood partitions near the elevators.
Even further out of the box is one of the breakout rooms, a sort of think tank with salmon-colored shag carpet and a red plastic sculpture in the shape of a life-size baby elephant—they, along with a wall of blackboard paint, are meant to encourage creative thinking.
Though AEB’s clients are global, some areas of the workplace deliver regional German touches. An Alpine-themed lounge has half-height particleboard paneling, which, with its jagged edge, reference the rugged horizon of the actual Swabian Jura mountaintops visible through a wall of windows. Although the room’s chairs are by Italian designer Luca Nichetto, they’re joined by folk art-ey pendant fixtures of wooden mountain men dangling sockets for lightbulbs. “The lights nod to the old-fashioned way to furnish a local village pub,” Ippolito says. Fittingly, they were sourced in the German Alps by AEB founder Michael Belz.
Project Team: Arsen Aliverdiiev; Frederik Gordt; Kamil Kaczmarek; You Seok Kirschenmann; Claudia Lira Grajales; Mario Rodriguez; Charlotte Scheben: Ippolito Fleitz Group. Lichtwerke: Lighting Consultant. H. Klapper Schreinerei & Einrichtungs: Woodwork. CPM GMBH Gesellschaft Für Projektmanagment: General Contractor.