"A watering hole for troglodytes", "a mutton-chop niche" – how else would the "Spiegel" confront its own office building if not dripping with irony? When the Hamburg-based news magazine moved into the third office building in its history, the editors mustered their "inventive spirit" to depict the "decorative extravaganzas" inside in the right language – an amalgamation of "geometry and color, mussels, glass and glimmering light", as documented in the "Spiegel's" internal newsletter from February 3, 1969. At the time, a new complex had been built on the southern side of Hamburg's old town area – a new home for the "Spiegel" and in the neighboring high-rise, IBM. Werner Kallmorgen who had a decisive influence on Hamburg's cityscape at that time, was the architect in charge of the planning and implementation. Instead of opting for a block that ran right along the sidewalks, as would have corresponded to the zeitgeist, he adorned the edge of the plot with two architectural one-offs. But in order to do so a well-maintained building of great historical significance on the Brandstwiete first had to be demolished: The Dovenhof, Hamburg's first "Comptoir house" and the first "thoroughbred office building" on the Continent, its neo-renaissance design by Martin Haller in 1885 – architect to the Hamburg Town Hall. The building comprised numerous individual offices around imposing, multi-story atria and boasted sophisticated, technical innovations, from the first light fittings using electric bulbs to a paternoster lift.
Out with the old...
Without being subject to conservation laws, the Dovernhof was demolished in 1967. "On Ost-West-Strasse, walls are falling, balconies crumbling and iron girders tumbling into the abyss," reported the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper at the time. The exterior of the building's successor would come to be a rather unremarkable feature: a visible steel-concrete skeleton with front-facing emergency exit balconies. In his book "Der Spiegel im Spiegel" Erich Kuby described the structure of the rooms thus: "Like a honeycomb, the building is divided up by flexible partitions, which are screwed into the steel framework. The individual cells could not possibly be made any smaller (...) Spiegel employees are now single-cell organisms, one man or one woman to each, thus the expansion of the editorial team is something that the tower's interior structure simply cannot accommodate."
Common areas, hallways, conference rooms, waiting areas, the cafeteria and snackbar and the swimming pool in the basement were decorated with a veritable fireworks of colors and shapes masterminded by Danish architect and designer Verner Panton who was introduced to the project via the interior design magazine "Schöner Wohnen" and commissioned by former „Spiegel" company manager, Hans Detlev Becker. The designer received unequivocal instructions, as the "Spiegel" did "not want any kind of experimentation here (...), we are on the contrary bound to probity and sobriety in the building's design," as stated in the minutes from a meeting and quoted at length by Sabine Epple in her text on Panton as an interior designer, which featured in the Vitra Design Museum's 2000 catalog. The original layout comprised ten of the twelve stories, each with its own color, while the executive stories remained closed off. "The lifts travel between the basement and roof along the company's own vertical, water-proof rainbow," described the aforementioned internal newsletter. For the floors housing the editorial desks, Panton had somewhat cooler colors in mind, while the administration floors were steeped in warm tones.
...in with the new!
Central elements in the interior design were the so-called "Spiegel dashboards", plastic panel-modules, for the most parted fitted with indirect lighting, which were installed on the walls and ceiling of the lobby, as well as the boundary walls in the entrance courtyard. "The frenzy of color did nothing more than get on Spiegel employees' nerves," wrote editor Stephan Burgdorff in an editorial for the 1995 "Spiegel" special edition "Das Jahrhundert des Design" (The century of design). When design experts today swarm over the "Spiegel Cafeteria" as a design icon or "a masterpiece of design history", one easily forgets that it was the remainder of an extensive design concept and a place where "Spiegel" editors and employees were rather reluctant to spend their lunch breaks at the time. As described in the "Spiegel's" obituary for Panton, "In the 1980s – a decade with more of an inclination toward the subtle – a large part of his interior design creations fell victim to pneumatic hammers." Hellmuth Karasek, "Spiegel" editor from 1974 through 1996, recently spoke of an interior design that was at odds with the serious work carried out by the "Spiegel" editors. "A conflict that we attempted to ameliorate with alcohol and animosity."
Brand new but the old somehow lives on...
While in past decades the demolition ball and pneumatic hammer lay perhaps too close to hand, our architectural conscience has since changed. We no longer feel the need to get rid of everything that has become out-dated; a sentiment that has led to some peculiar consequences. The buildings by Werner Kallmorgen remain in place, albeit empty, their re-use remains uncertain. Although renovation would be conceivable, the area is subject to heavy traffic and resultant noise, thus – although much-needed – ruling out a conversion into apartments. Recently, employees were even given the opportunity to purchase 1970s "Jil" floor luminaires with their distinctive blue heads by Perry A. King, Santiago Miranda and G. Arnoldi and "Daphine" table lamps by Tomasso Cimini from their old offices. There was even a Facebook campaign to keep the heritage-protected "Spiegel Cafeteria" on the premises. The last hapless Senator for Cultural Affairs Karin von Welck of the CDU/Green state government, which has since been dissolved, had asserted that this cultural artifact belonging to Hamburg should not be put onto the international design and auction market but should remain in the Hanseatic town. Now in autumn 2012, a part of the cafeteria is to be remade to appear in Hamburg's Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, which will be the first time that parts of Panton's interior design will be accessible for the public. Yet the connection between a specific architectural piece and a particular room with a particular purpose has been destroyed forever. Hamburg art historian Hermann Hipp outlined – in a different context – a platonic notion of monuments, which at best expresses interest in shapes and colors, but not original textures, surfaces and contexts. We are thus left with mere replacements, arranged in a new way. Even what was once the Museum's "free room" where up to now designers from a diverse range of backgrounds were afforded the opportunity to present their work in cabinet exhibitions, would only offer enough space for a small and thus non-functioning part of the cafeteria and snackbar. It must be said; a number of the original "Spiegel armatures" were installed as towering wall decorations in the cafeteria on the fifth story of the new "Spiegel" offices in the "window to the city" and complimented with new "Amoebe" chairs by Panton. But what will happen to the rest of the items? Whether they will soon be making their way around the world as part of design exhibitions, remains unclear.
Brave enough for something contemporary?
When compared to its predecessor, the new building as inaugurated at an opening ceremony held on November 7 is a true palace. Surely a little strange when one considers the current shifts in the media world and the consequently massive challenges, with which today's media – be it in print, online or TV – is faced. If the former "Spiegel" offices were deemed – in comparison – conventional administrative buildings, the new building exudes a grandeur similar to that of a bank or insurer headquarters. Of course, for those who once worked there the break from the old honeycomb prison must have been a relief. But is the architectural and formal language of the new building really fitting for a media company?
It was Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen, which has a portfolio of clients all over the globe, who won the 2007 architectural competition and went on to realize the new building. On the firm's website there is a list of its 128 employees, the majority of them architects. Its founder, Larsen, is a contemporary of Panton, working with Arne Jacobsen at the beginning of the 1950s and then moved on to design the Saudi-Arabia's Foreign Ministry in Riyadh as well as the "Silberlaube" at the Freie Universität in Berlin. The quality of his work does not lie in the imposition of a particular signature, but rather in the reconciliation of the most up-to-date architectural trends with proven virtues of architectural history. In the 1980s, Larsen illustrated how to be post-modern, reputable and straightforward, all at the same time. His works include the Carlsberg Glyptothek and the Royal Danish Opera House. He is currently in the process of planning Siemen's new administrative headquarters in Munich, scheduled to open by 2015. Henning Larsen's trademark: emblematic buildings in prominent locations all over the world.
The days of the "Mad Men on Brandstwiete", an image invoked by author Silke Burmester in the "Frankfurter Rundschau", are over. This refers to a time when the atmosphere at the "Spiegel" was marked by a mixture of continuous alcohol consumption and the undaunted notion of "shaping the Republic with words". The "Spiegel Cafeteria" inevitably had its own special role in this. The Stuttgart-based Ippolito Fleitz Group was responsible for the new "Spiegel" restaurant, which caters to the zeitgeist on a high yet cool level. They provided the interior designs for the new Wienerwald restaurants as well as the lavishly modernistic Palace of International Forums in Uzbekistan. A table service is offered in the "Spiegel" restaurant just as it has always been, from the very beginning. But at least in photographs, the new, still untouched cafeteria with its white terrazzo flooring and 4300 aluminum plates lining the acoustic ceiling gives the impression that the "Spiegel" is trying to keep its employees' lunch breaks brief, urging them to return to their own desks. Courage, presence, risk – one might possibly imagine it to look somewhat different to this.
New releases on the subject:
Das Spiegel-Haus in der Hafencity Hamburg
(The Spiegel offices in Hafencity, Hamburg)
Published by von Susanne Beyer and Martin Doerry
Hardcover, 144 pages, German
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich, 2011