It's all about good architecture

However much things change, one imperative remains the same: when Siemens builds, the architecture needs to be right. A brief retrospective of 170 years of building history.

Siemens buildings are a physical and visual statement of the philosophy of the company. Siemens has not always been averse to decorative features on its buildings, but today planning and design focus squarely on values like functionality, sustainability and cost-efficiency. All Siemens buildings from every era do though share one common factor: it's always about good architecture. A brief retrospective of 170 years of building history at Siemens to mark World Architecture Day.

This year's World Architecture Day, which falls on October 1, has particular resonance as the organization behind it, the International Union of Architects (UAI), marks its 70th anniversary in 2018. Corporate architecture at Siemens though stretches much further back in time: ever since the beginning of the 20th century, Siemens architects have been endeavoring quite literally to chisel the company's philosophy in stone. 

Perfect example of sustainable construction

One of the first outstanding architects to make an impact at Siemens was Hans Hertlein. Born in 1881, Hertlein started designing buildings for the company early on in the 20th century and exerted a significant influence on Siemens architecture for several decades. Striking examples of his work include the Siemensstadt Berlin complex and also the renowned Himbeerpalast ("Raspberry Palace") in Erlangen. Opened in 1953, this sizable office building served as the company's administrative center for many decades. It was recently acquired by the State of Bavaria, which intends to use it as a teaching facility for students of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg.

"This is a perfect example of sustainable building," says Stefan Kögl, whose role as Chief Architect at Siemens Real Estate (SRE) includes responsibility for the company's corporate architecture. "A structure designed some 70 years ago is now being repurposed as a seat of learning."

Functionality, cost-efficiency and design

Sustainability is one of the key values at the heart of today's corporate architecture at Siemens, which also prioritizes functionality, cost-efficiency and design. "In fact these values have always played a central role," explains Stefan Kögl. "It's just that they have been interpreted in different ways at different times. As the requirements facing production and office workplaces change, so too do our buildings. Irrespective of all of this though, the primary objective is always to create timeless architectures: that is the only way to ensure buildings remain usable permanently."

Brick buildings, at first rather opulent and later on thoroughly functional, dominated the first half of the 20th century at Siemens before being replaced at the beginning of the second half by projects such as the famous Erlangen and Munich towers from the pen of Hans Maurer. These were followed in the late 1970s by developments like the Munich Perlach site, which struck a decidedly avant-garde note at the time, and then from the 1990s onwards by American star architect Richard Meier, who gave us buildings including the former Siemens Forum in Munich.

Context before individualism

"Looking back, the iconic Richard Meier buildings should perhaps have raised some questions even when they were new," reflects Stefan Kögl. "After all, even now they are still regarded very much as Richard Meier buildings rather than Siemens buildings. Our aim today is rather different. Iconic does not always equate to sustainable: iconic structures tend to be a child of their time and do not necessarily always make a harmonious addition to their broader context."

Context has come to be a key consideration in the stylistic language of Siemens today. Run an eye over the most recent additions to the company's estate and it is striking just how effectively they harmonize with their setting, how they open themselves to their surroundings and state, loud and clear: Siemens is here.

"We have a great number of different sites and a great number of different products – and our buildings reflect this diversity," Stefan Kögl explains. "From production facilities and, in some cases, office buildings on very simple lines to our more prestigious complexes, this is how good architecture develops in context."

Good architecture reflects the function of the building

Siemens corporate architecture, Stefan Kögl insists, must be defined not so much by fixed design specifications as by quality – quality as measured against the building's intended function and how well it complements its setting. Recent buildings suggest this more flexible approach has already taken root: while a modern tower in Beijing makes a highly visible statement of the company's presence and identity, the extensive campus development emerging in Erlangen includes large green spaces and plenty of areas for people to gather. Equally interesting is the contrast between the new headquarters of Siemens Building Technologies in Zug, Switzerland, and the new Siemens Healthineers headquarters in Erlangen. Both buildings use modern glass and steel construction methods representative of the innovative strength that drives Siemens, but they differ substantially in realization – one centered on an atrium, the other featuring multiple wings – in acknowledgment of the typical qualities of the distinct contexts in which they stand.

Another example – again just one of many but particularly impressive all the same – is the Siemens headquarters building in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. Designed for Siemens in 2011 by London-based architects Sheppard Robson, it is fairly unremarkable in its basic form but features a sophisticated external shading system that uses differently shaped shading components in different areas, depending on their orientation to the sky, and gives the structure a unique appearance. This building combines architectural design quality with functionality, sustainability and cost-efficiency to perfection.

Stefan Kögl sums up in a similar pragmatic manner: "What we need at Siemens is good architecture. That's what it's all about. And good architecture is architecture that perfectly maps the function of the building and looks as though it absolutely belongs in the context in which it is set. Often there can be a strong push to create something that stands out visually, but this all too frequently leads to features that serve no purpose but distinctiveness. Resisting this temptation can be a challenge. If something is good and works well, there is no reason not to implement it as it is – and repeat it too if necessary."