“Stunde Null” (Hour Zero) for Bayer
Bayer is one the world’s largest pharamaceutical companies, with its European headquarter located in Leverkusen, Germany, just outside of the city limits of Cologne. The company was founded 1863 in Barmen, Germany, developed quickly into one of the main chemical companies and during the Nazi era became part of the ominious IG Farben.
Restarting production after the war was coupled with the development of its main production facilities and administration functions in Leverkusen, already the site of its headquarter from before WW II. Amongst other large scale constructions, a 30 story high rise building was built 1963 by one of the then leading German architectural offices Hentrich Petschnigg and Partners (HPP). The office building, demonstrating state of the art technology at its time, was designed in a neo-Miesian style, with an elegant glass curtain wall facade. The main volume of the building, a slender and simple rectangular volume sits on top of an expansive lobby on the entrance floor.
The building represents the ‘democratic’ and peaceful restart of a company that had become engaged and guilty in the worst chapter of Gemany’s history. It is akin to an “Hour Zero” (Stunde Null), a new beginning, for an industrial giant. The highrise building has since then become a landmark for the region, its elegant silhouette giving orientation to people from far away.
The Undesirable Highrise
In the late 1990s, Bayer was reformulating its strategy for administration and decided to outsource many of its central functions. It also realized that the central management positions required technologies that were not available in its highrise. In short: Bayer decided that it needed only half the space for its headquarter, and that this space needed to be fully equipped with up-to-date technology. The HPP highrise had become a burden in the transformation of Bayer into a ‘lean management’ company. The CEO decided to tear it down.
Bayer then asked eight architectural offices world wide to develop ideas for a replacement of the ageing skyscraper. This new headquarter building was to be placed into the park that currently surrounds the highrise, a park dating back to the late 19th century when Bayer was founded. Together with a older befriended architect, Erich Schneider-Wessling, who was one of the invited participants for the competition
first of all, we asked the questions:
But can we really imagine Leverkusen without it's highrise building?
Nevertheless, we sat down and started developing ideas for a new small headquarter in a park, some nicer, some not very nice...
... until we stumbled upon one design which we quite liked, with lots of holes inside...
... and we noticed that it had the exact same volume as the original high rise ...
... so that we started lifting it...
... and lifting it further...
... to become the upright standing volume of the disliked highrise again.
Recycling a Building
We proposed to ‘reverse’-build the existing skyscraper, i.e. to strip the existing construction down to raw construction. It would then be rebuild again in a fragmentary way to offer new kinds of spaces, previously never possible in the existing building.
The concrete space lattice of the 1960s construction offered structural stability and great flexibility for all our purposes. After laying bare this threedimensional grid, different volumes of floating administration entitites would be constructed at various heights and connected by a wide range of staircases, elevators and other means of vertical infrastructure.
The existing building is reused and re-equipped with radically new spaces, while keeping the overall preexisting volume. The landmark for the region remains standing and the ambigous architectural expression of the company’s ‘Hour Zero’ is transformed into a forward looking edifice, able to incorporate the wide range of functions that were required by the top management. A ‘sustainable’ architecture if there ever was one.