Berlin hipster export
A floor of a factory behind Berlin Central Station. Even at the entrance boxes and packaging materials are all piled up. There are tables and chairs everywhere, a sofa and a display case nestled in-between. Material samples, models, sketches, fabric – creative chaos reigns in Werner Aisslinger’s studio. Young men and women are sitting at computer screens, quietly doing their work. The boss hasn’t arrived yet. He’s at the metalworker’s – the prototypes for the ISH sanitary ware trade fair need to be finished. When Werner Aisslinger does actually show up, he’s got to leave again in a few minutes. A prototype needs to be taken to be powder-coated. So our interview is swiftly moved to the car. I get in the black estate, and off we go into the evening rush hour.
The car is the perfect place to talk to Werner Aisslinger anyway, because being on the road is his lifestyle. Like many other designers, he travels from client to client, from trade fair to trade fair, and runs a firm in Singapore on the side. Yet first and foremost travel is one of the central themes of his work, for Aisslinger conceives hotels. He designs the interior fit-out of the public areas and the rooms, as well as the stories the building is to tell its visitors.
The Michelberger Hotel in east Berlin caught the industry’s interest in 2009, and Aisslinger enjoyed global success in 2013 with the 25hours Bikini Berlin, especially as the hotel can boast an occupancy rate of around 90 percent and a popular restaurant.
Currently there are two further hotels designed by Aisslinger set for commissioning: Next week the “Hobo,” a 200-room hotel for Nordic Choice, is due to open in Stockholm, and on April 1 a new addition to the 25hours hotel group in Zurich. The “Hobo” is centrally located in Stockholm’s Norrmalm district, in a building dating from 1974. There are two buildings by the prominent Swedish architect Peter Celsing nearby, the “Riksbank” (1976) and the “Kulturhuset” (1966). The whole area is being revitalized at present: Nordic Choice is opening another hotel, “At Six,” directly next to the “Hobo.”
“It is an honor for us, as Germans, to be able to outfit a hotel in Stockholm,” says Aisslinger, as he swerves into the bus lane to bypass the line of cars waiting at the traffic lights. “A lot of people have told us it is something of an exception. After all, there are enough good architects and interior designers in Scandinavia. There’s nothing we have that they don’t.” The designer, born in 1964, explains the reason for them landing the contract nonetheless as follows: “Stockholm and Copenhagen are elegant, thriving places, but they long for Berlin a little.” He didn’t want to simply export the Bikini style, however, rather he sought to take some of the Berlin chaos with him: “We sought to build something unconventional that had a collage element to it, to create an open, loft-like atmosphere.”
As such, behind a glass façade the ground floor of the “Hobo” welcomes guests with an informal reception and an elongated bar. There is a pop-up room intended to host a new concept every six weeks. For the opening, he notes, a barber’s shop has set up there. Thus in Stockholm too, Aisslinger has included several of his favorite themes, for instance the plants suspended from the ceiling in the public areas. Herbs and spices for the restaurant and bar grow in an indoor farm in the foyer. The eclectic mix of new and old, “raw” and “cooked,” high-end design and flea market is also typical of Aisslinger.
We have now arrived at a commercial estate in the Schöneberg district of Berlin. Aisslinger retrieves the prototype from the trunk and disappears into the hall of corrugated sheet metal. As opposed to his studio his car is tidy; there are only a few parking receipts and a pot of chewing gum on the shelf. Back behind the wheel Aisslinger talks, amused, about the 45 windowless rooms he was asked to design in the “Hobo”: “It’d be illegal in the rest of the world, but in Scandinavia these rooms are very popular, because they are cheap.”
In all the other rooms Aisslinger positioned the bed directly in front of the window. On the one hand, to save space and adopt an unconventional arrangement, on the other to enable guests to enjoy a view of the sky or the city when they wake up. The head of the bed simultaneously serves as a partition, with a narrow panel adjoining it to be used as a table and shelf. Open shelves, hooks and clothes rails replace the wardrobe. “A massive waste of space,” comments Aisslinger. “Today no-one arrives with a huge trunk and hangs up 30 jackets.”
In addition, he designed a new synthetic luminaire range especially for the “Hobo,” produced by Swedish manufacturer Wästberg. “Wästberg was very interested in the project,” he recalls. “It enables them to tap a mass market: The luminaire only costs around 150 euros.” Moreover, he developed a new sofa with Italian furniture brand Cappellini, set to be officially presented very soon at the Salone del Mobile fair in Milan.
For Aisslinger, this is how hotel projects are linked to product design. Originally his core business, today he sees the sector critically: “In economic terms product design is an inconsistent business,” he explains. It has become difficult, he continues, to sell an object so often that any notable sum comes together in terms of license fees. “Unfortunately, it is often the case that it’s only enough to go out for a meal once a year. I am pleased that I am no longer so dependent on product design.” Interior design projects are more predictable, he says. A project lasts two to three years and finances two or three employees. “And if it goes well, there’s something left over too.”
Our journey through Berlin together ends in Charlottenburg. He has to get back to the studio. The following day he is in Munich, and shortly after that in Paris. Then it’s the ISH in Frankfurt. Werner Aisslinger is always on the road.