All photos © Jan Bitter
There are few hotels, railway stations or trade-fair halls that greet guests and visitors with such a large canopy roof as does the new “Hager Forum”, designed by Sauerbruch Hutton in Obernai in the Alsace. The impressive roof by no means seeks to be brash or even boastful, and neither does it highlight the company’s wealth. Despite its immense size it proves to be a cordial and decidedly modest welcoming gesture. Modest because the architects have eschewed any attention-grabbing, self-indulgent steel-and-glass fireworks in favor of a robust set of deep wooden cassettes that rest on almost dainty looking pillars. The broad space beneath the canopy has a correspondingly pleasant feel to it – illuminated by glass shed roofs: A pleasurable, bright place that is surprisingly intimate.
Inside the “Hager Forum” building itself, visitors can expect to encounter everything the company does today and will be doing tomorrow: The structure is meant to represent corporate values, foster interaction, and promote innovations. Given such ambitious intentions, it is almost surprising that the entrance to the new Hager Forum consists of two narrow revolving doors. Behind them though, the open feel of the canopy is emulated in a spacious foyer in which there’s a café to the left and a reception desk to the right.
With a clear, straightforward structure
The building has a clear, straightforward structure: The H-shaped footprint with its two central atriums is flanked by two-storey blocks. The building is some nine meters high, and includes a basement, the ground floor (which features the presentation areas and project rooms), and a floor above that houses the office areas for the Corporate Development unit, the Design and Innovation Dept., and meeting rooms. The two blocks are linked at both ends and in the middle by bridges. The central bridge, the bar in the H, extends across 21 meters without any supports, and was developed in cooperation with Werner Sobek Ingenieure; it also divides the ground floor area visually into two zones, destined for events or for symposiums and conferences, and large enough to take 400 people.
Visualizing the invisible
Architecturally, the building is framed by structural roof supports made of laminated timber that are as logical as they are elegant. Brought together under a single roof, this could seem like bland symbolism. But the spatial context of the Hager Forum needs to be borne in mind: company grounds with functional production halls, various no-frills office buildings, and any amount of black-top parking spaces.
The investment costs have been about 20 million euros.
In such a pragmatic setting, the architects’ scope was limited from the outset, if the idea was to create something that blended into its surroundings while nevertheless fostering identification with the company and creating a new focal point. Sauerbruch Hutto therefore decided to take their cue from the existing buildings – for the new edifice, which is, after all, no less than 108 meters long and 39 meters wide. The protruding roof functions as the key distinctive feature: The narrow wooden trusses, and their shape traces the flow of forces, create a grid of 3x3 meters. Some of the boxes in the grid boast shed roofs such that all the spaces in the building, which is almost 40 meters deep, enjoy daylight.
Subtle branded architecture
If you want, you can read the grid squares as representing those that decorate the Hager logo. That said, nowhere in the building will you encounter the typical “Hager blue” that features on the window frames and the edges of the other buildings on the grounds. On the contrary: The new Forum completely emphasizes transparency and in the context is surprisingly color-free: fair-faced concrete, a dark stone floor, bright wood, white walls and glass are the materials that predominate. Only the reflective panels on the façade possess a little color – whenever they mirror their surroundings.
Essentially, Sauerbruch Hutton has constructed the branded architecture not by relying on appearances, but on “inner values”: The entire building relies on Hager products, meaning that across more than 7,000 square meters you can subtly experience all the different electronic and building automation solutions the company offers. Added to which the building leaves lots of space, does not define all the functions of the individual rooms. Daniel Hager, Hager Group CEO, explains: “What we wanted was a space where innovation can happen.” He had always had a kind of “film studio” in mind, one that was not exactly jam-packed and therefore open for further development and changes.
Hubs and labs
This applies above all to the open foyer between the two wings: It constitutes the events and congress space. It’s a bit of a shame that the analogy with a film studio wasn’t emphasized somewhat more and that the space has been called “The Hub”, while the showrooms are designated as “Labs”. Evidently, although the “Hager” brand experience has been so masterfully integrated into persuasive architecture, someone didn’t want to forgo using purportedly future-oriented terms that ostensibly smack of innovation, let alone an entertaining brand experience developed by Stuttgart’s Milla und Partner for Hager.
Milla und Partner devised an elaborate Edutainment concept for the “Labs”: It is meant to convey the applications and sheer ingenuity of Hager products. Since the products invariably tend to remain invisible, Mila und Partner felt what was needed were animated light, sound effects and all manner of “playful” info-content courtesy of elaborate presentations. This may convince the one or other client or consumer. However, such effects swiftly become dated, especially if you have just watched the image film in a space-ship like staged architecture – it’s a real blockbuster among image films replete with emotions, music, action and corporate values.
The clip also informs you that when they went to trade fairs, company founders Oswald and Hermann Hager always used to take along champagne and cognac from the Alsace region. At the time it was a smart move to attract potential clients to their booth and making a name for the company, which was still in its infancy. Admittedly, today champagne and cognac will not go a long way to boosting the brand identity of a global corporation with a payroll of more than 11,000 people, with decidedly high-quality products and a customer support service in place that is being hailed as exceptionally personal. Be this as it may, away from the trade fairs and events, this down-to-earth, well-conceived and thoroughly convincing architecture would have simply been enough in itself – without such extras as extravagant brand staging and edutainment frills. After all, champagne also tastes better on its own, without the strawberries.
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