Architecture that puts people first
Louis Becker is a Partner and Design Principal at Henning Larsen Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here, he talks about design, sustainability, and his architectural philosophy – including his vision for the new Siemens headquarters on Wittelsbacherplatz in Munich, which he helped to plan.
You have designed buildings around the globe. What is the architectural vision and idea that unifies all those projects?
Louis Becker: We believe in putting people first. Our approach to architecture is manifested in the spatial principles that are eminent in our projects. First of all, we are rooted in the Scandinavian design tradition that considers architecture as an important contribution to the development of society. We have a pragmatic approach with a focus on functionality, flexibility, and human beings.
The scarcity of resources has formed us. As an example, Nordic art and architecture is preoccupied with daylight. We see it as one of the most important tools for architects. Today, we know that daylight is more than poetry. Daylight has an influence on our health, comfort, and energy consumption in buildings.
Our projects are founded in their context: the city and the open landscape. The inspiration for the individual project comes from ‘reading’ the location and asking questions that can give us an understanding of the context. The plot only physically demarcates the project. Other factors with decisive influence on the design include the environment, culture, tradition, climate, and topography.
With its new headquarters, Siemens wanted to create a highly innovative building that fits seamlessly into the urban context but also showcases world-class efficiency. What challenges did this mean for the architectural design?
Being situated in the historic center of Munich offered a great challenge – and a great opportunity to make the new building part of the city! One of the design ideas was to avoid creating an introvert office building. Instead, the ground floor is publicly accessible and promotes interaction with the local community. The decision to build a new headquarters in this location was ambitious and called for architecture that could be discreet and significant at the same time.
Towards Wittelsbacherplatz, the building hides modestly behind the restored, historic façade of Palais Ludwig Ferdinand while offering state-of-the-art conference and meeting facilities. From the plaza you can stroll through the building to the Oskar-von-Miller-Ring – moving from a historic context to a contemporary one.
Towards the ring road, the Siemens building features a distinctive and prominent façade signifying that Siemens – one of Munich’s globally renowned companies – is rooted in Munich and closely connected to the city.
How did you solve these challenges?
Where office buildings in recent decades have had a tendency to be built outside of cities, with the risk of isolation, the location of this new building is remarkable. It’s an example of an approach where corporations engage in a close relationship with society and the city in which they operate. To build in the city center is much more sustainable as you avoid urban sprawl and reduce the need for car transportation.
One of our main architectural ambitions is always to promote knowledge sharing and social interaction in an organization.
The new headquarters consists of a space in which four rectangular, rounded courtyards are cut out. Inside the building, a central vertical structure – the ‘spine’ – connects the entire complex. The heart of the building, a roofed courtyard, is situated in the middle and is accessible from all sides. One of our main architectural ambitions is always to promote knowledge sharing and social interaction in an organization. In the new Siemens building, transparency is important and the employees have visual contact with their colleagues across the courtyards.
The office levels are connected by bridges, creating a continuous floor stretching through the entire complex. The central interaction zone connects the various office spaces and represents the key concept behind the organization of the building.
Compared to other international projects, where do you see the new Siemens headquarters regarding sustainability?
Sustainability is both necessary and important to respond to climate change and mankind’s consumption of resources. This is on top of the global agenda and architecture is one obvious response. As architects, we have to take responsibility and contribute with concrete solutions.
Siemens’ new headquarters stands out as a flagship project of sustainable design in an urban context. The design is energy-efficient in itself and uses daylight as a tool to create a comfortable indoor climate. State-of-the-art technologies produced by Siemens are incorporated and make the building highly intelligent. It is the office building of the future.
The organization of the office spaces, the slightly sloping façades that furnish also the office space on the lower levels with daylight, as well as the selection of healthy, sustainable materials create a healthy work environment.
You say architecture is the right balance of space and light. In Munich, the building is now finished. Please describe the new headquarters from an architectural point of view?
From day one the Siemens building will be part of Munich and offer this historic city a new architectural experience that is inspired by a well-known and local, urban signature – the Munich courtyards – and introduces this as the architectural concept. Past and present become fused. The timeless expression of the building further strengthens this embrace. This achievement makes me proud.
Architecture is fundamentally about staging human interaction – and in the new Siemens building architecture stages an inviting gesture to Munich and the world.
Picture credits: Siemens AG
In 2008, Louis was appointed Adjunct Professor at the Department of Architecture and Design at Aalborg University. In 2011, he was awarded the Eckersberg Medal by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts as a special recognition of his extraordinary contribution in putting Danish architecture on the world map.
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