Renovating an office building that’s been standing empty for years is not the kind of decision you make lightly, especially if you’re a property developer. But this is precisely what happened in the Westend district of Frankfurt, and now the project is a shining example to others. The people who made this a reality are now the proud owners of a DGNB Certificate in Platinum – confirmation that the renovation achieved the very highest standards of sustainability. This was followed by a DGNB Diamond, testifying to the high architectural standards of the development.
When you first set eyes on the Morrow building, which stands proudly in the Westend suburb of Frankfurt, it’s not at all obvious that the office building dates back to the 1970s – well at least the structural shell of the building does. The original building, which was designed by local architect Helmut Joos, stood 11 storeys high. Many properties in the area date back to the years of rapid industrial expansion in Germany, which were shaped by Wilhelminian architecture, and the Morrow building has always stood out – not only due to its imposing stature, but also because of its striking staggered floors from the fourth storey upwards.
The original horizontal facade, which consisted of red panels and white windows running around the building in stripes, was fundamentally altered in the 1990s. Architects Kleffel Köhnholdt Gundermann were made responsible for the renovation, which introduced corrugated silver sheet metal and chrome windows to the building. It was also necessary to add fire escapes in the form of spiral staircases, which ran down the building near the terraces, complete with eye-catching umbrella-like top pieces.
After standing empty for ten years, the property was acquired in 2017 as part of a joint venture between development company Red Square and Art-Invest Real Estate. Working alongside architects Holger Meyer Architecture (design) and apd architecture+engineering office (Kati Stock, Rafal Rogalski, DGNB Auditor), the building was given a third lease of life under the name Morrow. In 2020, the building was taken over by the real estate investment management company LaSalle for a special fund it manages.
A renovation pointing the way forward
Instead of tearing down the building, the project partners decided to rise to the challenge and build on what was already there. Their declared aim was to preserve the striking fabric of the building, which to some looked out of place, so that it could be assimilated into its urban surroundings and create something novel in visual terms.
This was achieved by radically changing the proportions of the building, as well as the colour scheme to play to the presence of nearby buildings. Instead of greeting the eye with striking horizontal patterns, the facade is now divided into three zones – the base of the building, a tower and terraces – which all blend in with their urban environment. The previous striped facade has been replaced by one consisting of metal panels and floor-to-ceiling windows in different shades of bronze.
Technical facilities housed on the roof were relocated in order to upgrade the building under energy-saving measures. This resulted in the addition of an extra floor of attractive offices. The lower levels, which derive no benefit from the expansive terraces starting on the fourth floor, now have suspended balconies to extend offices outside the building.
A working environment in keeping with modern times
The ground floor includes restaurant areas to inject life into the surrounding street and allow the building to dovetail with its environment. Access to the building is offered through a clearly visible entrance that leads into a lobby. All of the offices on the higher levels are accessible from this area.
The aim of the project was to provide occupants with premium-quality premises that would be as adaptable as possible to different uses. To offer plenty of space, the stairwell originally located behind the facade and the spiral staircase leading up to the terraces were merged to create an interior stairwell that can also be used in emergencies. This is now surrounded by leased units on the facade side, offering a combined floor space of 10,500 sqm.
Existing buildings offer plenty of potential to come up with new designs
It’s probably obvious what the advantages of renovating buildings are compared to starting from scratch, especially when it comes to energy consumption and using key resources – i.e. sustainability. With the Morrow project, it’s when you enter the interior that it becomes clear just how much design potential existing buildings offer. None of the spaces adhere to a clearly defined pattern, as is usually the case with new buildings. Instead, a number of surprises await the occupant – especially in spatial terms – thanks to an ingenious approach to using the existing structure of the edifice. On all storeys, floor plans can be adapted as needed, thus catering for any future requirements.
This approach led to the independent commission for design quality – which was convened by the DGNB and consists of architects Amandus Samsøe Sattler, Michael Schumacher and Susanne Wartzeck – awarding the Morrow building a DGNB Diamond for outstanding design and Baukultur. Projects can apply for this additional award if they have received a DGNB certificate in Gold or Platinum.
We’d like to congratulate everyone involved in this project and hope to see more intrepid building owners rise to the challenges of modern times. It’s always good when people see the development of existing buildings as an opportunity.