If you didn’t know that BMW’s tower headquarters in Munich is one of the most significant examples of post-war architecture, you could be forgiven if, seeing it for the first time, you assumed that this innovative, sustainable building was constructed very recently. Although it has undergone some renovations and maintenance, it was actually built between 1968 and 1972, in time for the Munich Olympic Games (although the official opening didn’t take place until 1973.) The tower, which stands 326 feet (99.5 m) in height, is still one of the most remarkable examples of modern architecture in Munich, and it’s precisely this timeless quality that has given BMW’s headquarters its iconic status. Fifty years on from the building’s completion, the German marque chose it as a symbol of change, taking advantage of some of the innovative features that architect Karl Schwanzer incorporated into its design. Today it’s still seen as futuristic architecture, sustainable in terms of both materials and its approach to social issues (its design means that conditions are equal for workers on each floor) and of great symbolic impact.
To mark the world’s transition into the era of electric vehicles, a light show transformed BMW’s four-cylinder tower (an allusion to the internal combustion engine) into a four-battery tower at an international event that was held on the 50th anniversary of the building.
On July 22, the BMW Group focused on the importance of its headquarters as a world-famous architectural icon at an event with over 200 international guests from the economic, cultural, political, and social spheres. The opening speech was by architect Francis Kéré, winner of the 2022 Pritzker Prize, who was followed by Nihal Saad, Chief of Cabinet and Spokesperson for the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Illustrator Christoph Niemann created an artwork inspired by the BMW tower to mark the occasion.
Along with a performance by tenor Jonas Kaufmann and a speech by Dr. Markus Söder, Minister President of Bavaria, the celebrations climaxed with a special event involving twelve dancers from American dance company BANDALOOP, who transformed the exterior of the building into a kind of vertical stage.
“We took our inspiration from the curvature of the building, recognizing that the human body expresses in curves and spirals, and the momentum of the human heart driving us toward a livable world for future generations.” BANDALOOP artistic director and choreographer, Melecio Estrella.
With choreography by Estrella, the ensemble presented a graceful performance that was a perfect interplay of architecture and dance. Entitled “Momentum Curve” and set to music composed for the event by Ben Juodvalkis, this exclusive performance was a tribute to this unique architecture.
How do you construct a building starting from the top? Still one of the most unusual buildings in terms of its architecture and engineering, the BMW tower was built from the top down. The upper floors were first built at ground level, then lifted hydraulically onto the massive reinforced concrete tower shaft and completed in several segments. The four cylinders are suspended from a cruciform steel beam structure on the roof.
The building, designed by Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer, overlooks the Olympic site, designed by Behnisch & Partner with Frei Otto. With its imposing façade, visionary construction, and its spatial concept, this suspended tower uniquely combines visual conciseness with constructive and functional logic. It’s not only visually striking – especially given when it was built – but also futuristic, and, in the vision of its creator, open to the future. Circular and open plan, the offices are a kind of Babel where everyone enjoys the same view.
The innovative power of Schwanzers’ design has been associated with BMW, making the company headquarters a symbol of its commitment to sustainability. Celebrated by the media as “the coolest and most impressive corporate headquarters in the world,” it’s not only a symbol of economic success, but also represents international exchange, peace, and cross-cultural dialogue. Today, Schwanzer’s built message is pointing the way to a new era of electrification, digitization, and circularity.
“Architecture and the automotive industry have been, and continue to be, two of the most important catalysts for innovation, economic development, and the prosperity of nations. Both industries are society-changing, forward-looking, and trigger global trends that have a complex impact on the economy and environment. Today, people, nature, and industry are under enormous pressure to find solutions that require an honest examination of our actions. As a result, players from both the architecture and business worlds need to pull together more than ever, recognizing our interdependencies and responsibilities in order to adapt our respective creations to focus on a sustainable future.” Francis Kéré, architect and Pritzker Prize winner.
He Flew Ahead is the title of a feature film about Karl Schwanzer, starring Nicholas Ofczarek in the role of the architect. It was presented at the opening of the BMW Group event. Director Max Gruber created the film for Martin Schwanzer, the late son of Karl Schwanzer, and his granddaughter Caroline. As the film’s subtitle, Architect’s Poem, suggests, the film is an unconventional approach to an extraordinary man, who saw architecture as poetry in concrete form. Along with Karl Schwanzer, the architect’s friends and other important figures from the period also have their say in the film, which will have its official premiere in fall 2023.
Photography BMW Headquarters of Myrzik and Jarisch, courtesy of BMW AG-medium
Photography Final rehearsal of “Momentum Curve” by US dance company BANDALOOP at BMW Headquarters of Brooke Anderson, courtesy of BMW AG and BANDALOOP