Super landmark for Germany

Architecture can be beautiful. It can impress, influence and frighten, it can be serious – but above all architecture can definitely be fun! Take WERK12 by MVRDV and N-V-O in Munich’s Werksviertel-Mitte that was named best new building in Germany and awarded the DAM Prize 2021.
by Jeanette Kunsmann | 2/16/2021

The competition was fierce. Finalists included two projects in Berlin, namely the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts by Ortner & Ortner Baukunst and the Wohnregal apartment building by FAR frohn&rojas, not to mention a new job center in Oberhausen on whose roof Berlin office Kuehn Malvezzi installed a greenhouse. In the end the project that emerged the winner was a hybrid building in Munich: WERK12 by MVRDV and N-V-O Nuyken designed by Oefele Architekten. The jury comprising 12 renowned members unanimously declared the project the winner of the DAM Prize 2021 as an “excellent and visionary achievement”. “There is something loud about WERK12 but it tells us something important: Anyone who really wants to can be flexible, universal, robust, open, fashioned and yet still be cheerful,” praised architect and juror Anne Femmer from the Leipzig office Summacumfemmer. And it is this very lighthearted optimism that sets WERK12 apart from its competitors. And proves that architecture need not take itself so seriously.

WERK12 is an open building and the architectural concept behind this standalone building can be quickly explained: The hybrid of office use and a fitness studio as main tenant as well as restaurants and bars in the new Werksviertel-Mitte district promises a healthy mix of creative industry and leisure offerings. Boasting fair-faced concrete and startling installations, the new build comes across as adaptable, wild and honest. Five jutting concrete platforms with a mullion and transom facade are stacked on top of each other 5.5 meters apart o form something that resembles an enormous sandwich – they are connected by external staircases that wrap around the volume. The story height allows an alternation between double and single-story use: Thanks to the ceiling heights, galleries form additional levels inside. The circulation shaft on the north-east facade is complemented by terraces over three meters wide that surround each floor. Werk12 is evidently a reference to the “stacked landscapes” of the Dutch pavilion at EXPO 2000 in Hannover that was the most popular building of the world exhibition and a typical early project of MVRDV. The typology is enjoying worldwide popularity, as with Gensler's "C3" project in Los Angeles.

Indoors the highlight is the 25-meter-long pool for the fitness studio, while the facade is decorated by striking architectural art. In an homage to graffiti art, bold lettering five meters high spells out common expressions from German comics, WOW, AAHHH, OH, PUH and HMPF. MVRDV developed this piece of urban art in collaboration with Munich artists Beate Engl and Christian Engelmann. It was the wish and proposal of the Dutch architects that the facade be completed with letters – on an artistic level the absurd exclamations suggest humor, irony and fun. “On the one hand WERK12 is stylish and cool, but on the other it doesn’t take itself seriously, and it is not afraid of addressing passers-by with PUH,” commented Jacob van Rijs during the opening in 2019. MVRDV do not shy away from color, shapes or lettering – for the three founding partners Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs und Nathalie de Vries architecture continues to mean enjoying creating visions, space and experimentation. “It is so pleasant when a concept takes a place as is, yet simultaneously transforms it,” says jury chairman Alexander Schwarz, who was privileged to accept the DAM Prize last year together with David Chipperfield for the James-Simon-Galerie. According to architecture historian and curator Hans-Dieter Nägelke Werk12 also sets out to be read “as a special landmark symbolizing the emergence of a entire district – with and without interjections in its facades.” Stuttgart architecture journalist Amber Sayah even sees WERK12 in Munich as the urban resurrection of MVRDV’s Hannover Expo pavilion: “cheeky, glamorous and open to the wildest mix of uses.”

The DAM Prize 2021 was bestowed at the end of January, albeit only virtually owing to that corona pandemic, on the project architects Jacob van Rijs and Christoph von Oefele as well as Caroline Eckart, who represented the developer. The exhibition on the DAM Prize 2021 featuring models of the best 25 buildings inside and outside Germany will be on show in Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt /Main until mid-June 2021. The winning building has the potential to garner further prizes. We have already spotted the MVRDV super landmark on the recently published long list for the renowned Mies van der Rohe Award 2021.

Preisträger des DAM Preis 2012, ARGE MVRDV & N-V-O NUYKEN VON OEFELE ARCHITEKTEN WERK12, München