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Aachenmünchener Headquarters Aachen
Design: kadawittfeldarchitektur, Aachen
Location: North Rhine-Westphalia, far north-west corner of Germany
Company representation, consideration of the existing building structure, urban integration.
Company headquarters in the inner city usually form blind spots, unattractive to the public and desolate after office hours. Therefore, the design is not understood as an architectural but as an urban task with the aim of maximizing public space on the building lot. With a number of plazas, a direct footpath from the main train station and the inner city and the integration of external uses, the area becomes more attractive to the public. The demand for maximum public use and communication dictates the internal organization of the building.
Aachenmünchener Headquarters Aachen – Project Description
The annex occupies two blocks of late 19th-century city fabric, and provides a new interpretation of the typical perimeter development with its semi-public and leafy courtyards. The urban sequence of expansions and squares is extended by a flight of stairs and a plaza evolving from it. Existing and new buildings are connected by the “boulevard” which consists of a transparent level hosting seminar areas, a restaurant, a cafeteria, meeting rooms, and other communication areas. The boulevard floats above the various garden spaces inside the building block, and connects the office spaces, eventually opening up at the main entrance and the Pocket-Park, offering a representative face to the street.
“Not a house, but a new piece of the city” was the title given by the Aachener Zeitung in January 2006 to kadawittfeldarchitektur’s biggest building project up until then: the new building and extension of the headquarters in Aachen of the insurance company AachenMünchener. An exciting task like this – the chance to build such a complex building – doesn’t belong to the everyday life of an architect. And because it’s not located in the middle of a green meadow, it’s also a big challenge to build within the existing city fabric.
The company wanted to gather all its various divisions – which up until now were distributed over various buildings in the city – into one coherent building complex. Considering its 250,000 inhabitants, Aachen is not a small town; rather, its city center is shaped by a mixture of fragments of small Middle Age groupings and heterogeneous areas with impermeable large structures. The decision to channel this ambition in a demanding urban and representative location and, considering the attention given to the existing site is, on the one hand, a commitment of the company to the historical site and, on the other, a true challenge to plan.
Building an office complex of 30,000 m2 into an existing structure contains not only chances but also risks for the urban surroundings. Elsewhere, there are many examples of sealed-off company headquarters that occupy inner city areas and, thus, deprive the public access to entire city districts. Perceived by both the citizens and inhabitants as “blind spots” in the city – unattractive and desolate outside of office hours – they function as a sad counter-model to what should be a dynamic city. It is often wished by a company that the architectural expression should be manifest in an unmistakable architectural sign: often this is not the case in German cities where companies are represented neither by the location nor their significance.
With the construction of the AachenMünchener Insurance building, the opposite path was taken by matching the requirements of the client to build a representative central headquarters as well as the demands of the city and its citizens. Rather than imposing the spatial requirements of the company onto the city, they were integrated in a compliant way: a quality recognized already in the competition phase by the jury and which eventually led to first prize.
Beyond the point of view of architecture, the design was considered from an urban-planning perspective with the goal that the property held in private hands would be made accessible to the public at particularly vital locations – a “public-private partnership,” with advantages for both sides. The project closes a gap in the “Via Culturalis” in the pedestrian footpath connecting the axis between the main train station and the inner city, with a series of public squares, so-called “urban steppingstones.” After reaching the Bahnhofsplatz (station square), coming from the direction of the Marienplatz is a grand flight of stairs leading to the new AachenMünchener Platz on the Borngasse and, with the help of an elaborate ramp, it overcomes the difference in levels between the two public squares and adjoining streets. From here, one arrives via the old postal courtyard (today called the “Kapuzinerkarree”) directly on the former trenches of Aachen’s Old Town. A further not insubstantial part of the lot has not been overbuilt in the area of the Pocket- Park on Franzstraße, thus, offering up the community a public added-value space. In order to make this urban area more lively, a post office, shops, and restaurants are integrated into the adjacent building to satisfy daily public needs.
Aachenmünchener Headquarters Aachen – Building Information
Typology: office building
Construction volume: GFA 28.050 m²
Cubature: 100.600 m³
Client: Generali Deutschland Immobilien GmbH
Competition: 1st prize 2005
Awards: BDA – Auszeichnung guter Bauten 2010, nominated for Mies-van-der-Rohe-Award 2011
Aachenmünchener Headquarters Aachen Building images / information received 040211