The Tamed Snake - BMW's Central Building in Leipzig
The BMW works in Leipzig reveals a completely new approach to vehicle production. Here, robots work in laboratory-like conditions, and linear production patterns have been replaced by a star-shaped organization, which offers greater flexibility and shorter routes. At the heart of the star, between the works halls, is the central building, which houses administrative functions, quality control activities and social spaces for the staff. Here, one dines while the bodies of vehicles glide silently overhead on their way from the presses to the spraying shop.
The arrangement of the 4,000 parking spaces in front of the building prepares one for Zaha Hadid’s formal world. They are laid out in long, angled strips that lead to a diagonal bridge between two halls. Beneath the bridge are three revolving doors which provide access to the foyer. Internally, visitors pass two Hadidian reception counters and proceed through a powerful concrete portal to the “marketplace”, an area with tables which serves as a bistro. Everything seems spontaneous and uncontrived. The route continues to a space that stretches away in various directions and where one has the feeling of not being entirely welcome. In the entrance area, the spatial qualities do not comply with specific needs. Instead, there are many dynamic accents: numerous lines in the ceiling that extend into the distance, ramps with balustrades, and transport bridges. Everything seems to be in a state of movement. The coloration is somewhat bleak. The grey of the screeds, of concrete, steel and Eternit is
broken here and there by white painted objects, reddish-brown furnishings and a yellow crane gantry; or by the procession of car bodies, which are effectively illuminated in blue.
The building is a hitherto unknown type: a multifunctional linking structure. Through windows one has views into the enclosed laboratories, health service and kitchen spaces, and the auditorium. Other functional areas, especially the offices, are organized as an open spatial continuum. The underlying aim is to maintain contacts between members of the staff and to encourage them to identify with their work, which is visually present at all times. Whether this concept works, whether the staff really develop a sense of solidarity and mutual identity and manufacture “their” product to a higher level of quality is something the work psychologists and business managers will have to determine.
Another question arises, though. How much Hadid did BMW allow itself? The huge works halls designed by the company engineers are no more than conventional container architecture with sheet-metal enclosures. Hadid’s snake-like linking element is the eye-catcher, even though it has been extensively remodelled. There was evidently not much room for extravagance as far as the rather banal facades were concerned. The layouts reveal a greater degree of pragmatism than is usual with this architect. The circulation routes, production lines, spatial sequences and the overall character are mostly logical and effective; they seem to have determined the architecture rather than vice versa. One is reminded of the organizational layouts of Hugo Häring. Hadid’s resistance to the right angle is un-broken, however. Lozenge-shaped rooms, irregular windows, bizarre stairs and raking struts are all part of her architectural grammar. Dynamic sequences and perspective drama belong in equal measure to her syntax. The odd, fragmented aesthetic of her early designs is here relieved by soft transitions and rounded forms, which also create a greater sense of movement. Material and spiritual streams appear to flow through the building, and in that respect the architect has certainly achieved the kind of statement BMW desired. The fact that one can also work sensibly within this structure is a token of Hadid’s increased tolerance towards the basic constraints of function and economics. Her earlier clients were not as well served. They had to accept far more building “art”. Zaha Hadid’s architecture has become more reasonable, thanks above all to the prudent works manager Peter Claussen and Hadid’s own project architect, Patrick Schuhmacher?. The bold assertion that this structure ushers in a new age of industrial (building) culture must be open to question, however.