In October 2004, BMW moved into the Central Building at its new Leipzig premises. The building’s design is a radical new interpretation of open office landscape, delivering an engaging message of connectivity and transparency combined with functionality. The call for tenders specified the aim of translating industrial architecture into an aesthetic concept that would equally comply with representational and functional requirements. Accordingly, the central building acts as a “mediator” between the production halls and public space. Its architecture adapts and moulds itself to the site, orienting the various directions of access, synthesising a complex series of concerns into a seamless, integrated whole. This is made possible by the curvilinear morphology that incorporates a multitude of forms and directions without fragmentation.
The project is contained in a narrow stretch of land since the adjacent buildings had already been finalised. With a wide range of suppliers pre-appointed for the rest of the factory, many fit-out elements were selected from a standard range of products, emphasising BMW’s industrial approach.
The Central Building is the nerve-centre of the whole factory complex, the core linking the 3 main departments of Body-in-White, Paint Shop and Assembly while serving as the entrance to the plant. The building acts therefore like a force field attracting and distributing. Its architecture expresses this function clearly: circulation routes and segments of production converge on this giant compression chamber where workers and visitors but also production lines intersect and communicate. This Central Building is the hub and “market place” of the dynamic spatial system that is the factory. As a point offering administrative and reception facilities for workers and visitors, it enhances communication and interchange.
International spatial organisation is centred on the scissor-section that seamlessly connects ground and first floors. Two sequences of terraced plates, like giant staircases step up from north to south and south to north capturing a long connective void between them. The first cascade commences close to the public lobby and reaches the first floor in the middle of the building. The other starts at the offices at the south end and moves up to meet the first cascade, culminating at the upper level above the entrance. At the bottom of this void is the auditing area. Above, semi-finished automobiles move along the conveyor tracks between the various production units. The cascading floor plates are large enough to allow for flexible occupation patterns, ensuring more visual communication than would a single flat floor plate.
The overall objective of integrating personnel of the various divisions is echoed by the architecture’s internal transparency that overturns the traditional segregation of status groups. A series of engineering and administrative functions are located, for example, within the trajectory of the manual workforce’s daily movements. Clerical workers operate on the ground and first floors. The same logic was used when allocating employee social and recreational areas to avoid the formation of exclusive domains.
The terrain on the site would have allowed the use of the usual direct foundations. However, given the load concentrations, it was decided to offset stresses with reinforced concrete point stiffening. Environmental sustainability and ease of construction were primary concerns. As a result, readily procured materials were chosen for standard construction techniques. The main elements of the superstructure are in self-compacting concrete while the roof is support by a series of double T steel girders. The struck-in-place reinforced concrete staircase blocks and lift shafts are part of the reinforcement system necessary to ensure lateral stability of the loads exerted at each level.
Night lighting accentuates the appearance of visual permeability, attenuating the division between indoor and outdoor space. Internally, the lighting enhances the dynamic of certain key elements like, for example, the conveyor tracks on which the semi-built cars move through the factory. Colour and luminosity variations highlight the different levels and create a sense of depth.