Established office setups have been shaken from top to bottom since coronavirus arrived nearly two years ago. In response, more flexible working arrangements have been required. At Axel Springer, a change in thinking was already underway before the pandemic. In 2013, an architecture project was put out to tender for a new building offering ultimate flexibility in terms of work structures. The new Axel Springer building entered use in 2020 and is now open for business to more than 3000 employees. As well as receiving DGNB certification in gold for high standards of sustainability in new construction, the building also received DGNB certification in diamond to underscore its high architectural quality.
Standing opposite the gleaming gold Axel Springer office block, the new Axel Springer building reflects a period of expansion at the Berlin headquarters of the media and technology company. Erected in 1966 – in those days, directly next to the former Berlin Wall – the 78-metre-high office tower laid a cornerstone for the modern Springer campus in Kreuzberg, an area that enjoys a strong tradition in newspapers.
A publishing house that changes with the times
The new building was put out to tender in 2013 by Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner. In total, 18 architecture firms were invited to go away and mull over his question: “What does an inspiring workplace look like for journalists, marketing staff and developers working in the creative industries? That’s the key question we ask you. I’d like you to reflect on and redefine this in a radical and innovative way.”
The pitch was won by the Rotterdam-based architectural firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). In response to Döpfner’s question, Dutch architect and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Rem Koolhaas and his team designed an eye-catching building offering an entirely open working environment to over 3000 people. Covering an area of more than 50,000 sqm, the floors are designed to offer enough flexibility to accommodate a broad variety of usage scenarios, even if future adaptations are required.
A clear statement in an urban landscape
Designed to look like a black cube on a trapezium footprint, the new building stands on former ‘no man’s land’ between the old East and West. Along the southwest and northeast flanks of the building, the black glass and reinforced concrete facades appear to be wedged open by a free-standing transparent structure featuring multiple glass dimples. The two large openings mark the starting and end points of an axis running diagonally through the entire building, a symbolic representation of the line drawn by the Berlin Wall. Along this connecting hallway, eleven storeys extend upwards like terraces along both sides. Each level is connected by a bridge or walkway across a 45-metre-high atrium, which is flooded in natural daylight.
It goes without saying that the open design offers plenty of viewing angles and only a very limited number of fixed workplaces. From seating areas to conference tables and conventional desks, each individual level offers a variety of working areas, so you can work by yourself or in a team, with very few indications of hierarchy. The idea is to encourage people to meet, interact and exchange ideas with colleagues across different areas.
The icing on the cake of the building is a 4000 sqm rooftop area with a 360° view of Berlin. Most of the roof has been designed to offer a green space to walk around on between trees, shrubs and the seating areas. It’s here that staff meet up for lunch, to exercise, work, or gather after work – nestled between lavish raised beds. The greenery is cared for by a special Axel Springer Green Team, which also promotes overall sustainability issues on the Axel Springer campus.
DGNB Gold and Diamond on the highest level
The new building offers staff and visitors a spectacularly futuristic place to meet up, and its owners have also thought carefully about the future when it comes to sustainability. Gaining a DGNB Gold Certificate, the second-highest level under the DGNB certification system, requires a holistic approach to construction.
Summarising the process, DGNB auditor Ulrich Schweig, whose remit was to accompany the project from the very beginning, says: “The new Axel Springer building is a shining example of successful collaboration between all involved parties. The client and the contractor, ZÜBLIN, delivered the project under a partnership (which they called ZÜBLIN teamconcept). Even during the early planning phase, experienced specialists were called in to check the options for the building concept in terms of holistic sustainable construction. With a score of 80% on the total performance index used by the DGNB assessment system, the team very nearly even achieved platinum.”
In addition, the DGNB convened an independent jury of experts consisting of Martin Haas (haascookzemmrich), Amandus Samsøe Sattler (Allmann Sattler Wappner architects) and Boris Schade-Bünsow (editor-in-chief of Bauwelt magazine). The jury awarded a DGNB Gold Certificate in recognition of the design and architectural quality. Describing their verdict, they said: “The spectacular qualities of the radical realisation of a vision – in this contemporary world of New Work – clearly outweigh the weaknesses of the external impact we see in the building.”
Projects can apply for a diamond award on receiving a DGNB certificate in gold or platinum. The award is aimed at buildings that not only boast sustainable construction methods, but also make an outstanding impression in terms of architectural quality.