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A Palace Among Cabbage Fields – Züblin House in Stuttgart (1983-84)

In 1900, a certain Eduard Züblin acquired a licence from Francois Hennebique to what, at the time, was the world’s leading concrete construction system, and it was this that helped Züblin, the company that he formed, to become synonymous with concrete for over a hundred years in southwestern Germany. Later in the 1960s, Züblin accomplished a major work of German post-war concrete architecture in the form of Gottfried Böhm’s Sanctuary of Mary church in Velbert-Neviges. Twenty years later, however, concrete’s reputation had deteriorated badly, with Postmodern architecture favouring natural stone, brickwork, lacquered steel and colourfully coated chipboard – and not the much-disparaged honesty of visible concrete surfaces.
 
To polish the image of itself as a company and of the construction material for which it stood, Züblin again turned to Böhm, this time to design its new headquarters on the outskirts of Stuttgart. As commissioned, the architect planned a building constructed out of precast concrete parts, but to the surprise of the client also inserted a huge glass hall between the two wings. From the very start the unheated volume measuring 24 meters wide, 60 meters long and covered by a glazed half-hipped roof became the most important meeting place for the headquarters’ approx. 700 employees. 
 
Concerts, opera performances and other cultural events have been taking place inside its walls for many years. Spiral staircases, two elevators and long walkways lead out of the volume into adjacent office storeys, while on the long façades, stair towers that form the counterpart of the elaborate stairways lend the building the character of a Postmodern Renaissance palazzo. Yet this corporate palace happens to stand in an industrial estate, on an arterial road linking two Stuttgart districts. Extensive cabbage fields stretch out at the front, and meadow orchards at its back, between them the transparent glass hall, rising up as a fascinating, oversized monument to corporate culture that makes all later office atriums seem little more than cost-cutting measures in built form.

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