Climate protection, new safety requirements, the tendency to work from home: Today, architecture must be able to do more than just design a smart look for buildings – whether in residential or commercial buildings. For the Munich- and Berlin-based architects HER, such new social developments are always a welcome incentive to rethink their own work. After all, it was the only way in which the company founded by Walter Henn in Dresden in 1947 could develop into one of the most important architectural offices in Germany today. But how does such new thinking work? Where should architecture start to be environmentally friendly? And why is the new “DER bogen” office campus in Munich becoming a sustainable business complex, even though it is built of concrete instead of wood? Fredrik Werner, Partner at HENN, gives the answers in an interview.
Sir. Werner, in late 2021, the New York Times published an interview with Martin Henn, a third-generation HENN architectural firm with a team of 20 partners. The focus of the conversation is on a new vocabulary in architecture that he introduced to the company: sustainability, circular economy, organic thinking. Since when has HER acted more and more after this credo, and to what extent should the daily work in your office be rethought to design buildings that benefit the environment instead of polluting it?
For more than 30 years, each of our projects has started with programming. The usefulness of a construction task is each time questioned and intensively discussed with the client. In this way, maximum value is created for future users. For only if a building has a long-term benefit and is accepted by users and neighbors at the same time, do we meet an important component of sustainability.
In the last ten years, however, the ecological dimension has become extremely important. This follows us through all the planning and implementation phases of a project. Designing and realizing a building for the sake of our environment and the future of our children requires a holistic mindset that must combine many components. It is about the form and use of construction, the location of a building, the acceptance of users and neighbors, the choice of energy supply or the possibility of later recycling. Success always lies in the dialogue between everyone involved. It is about creating lasting values.
Is such a departure and innovation in an office with over 350 architects and engineers from more than 40 nations always associated exclusively with euphoria?
Euphoria and enthusiasm are the basic requirements for future-oriented work and further development of technologies and of course of buildings. Above all, however, it is an intensive learning process that drives and motivates us. We must constantly deepen our knowledge in many places. Technologies, including those in the construction industry, are changing rapidly. You can only stay on the ball if you are driven by curiosity and thirst for knowledge. That is why we regularly offer our employees internal in-service training seminars, for example as part of HENN Academy, where a subject area or a new topic is presented by an expert. The internal dialogue is a valuable asset in the sense of a collective intelligence of 350 colleagues.
According to NABU – Naturschutzbund Deutschland e. V., CO2 emissions from the construction and use of buildings are responsible for about 30 percent of emissions in this country alone. Where do you as architects have to start to reduce this huge number?
First and foremost, as a developer and as an architect, you should ask yourself whether a new building is always necessary, or whether you can work in whole or in part with existing constructions. Because in the old stock, a huge part is bound to CO2.
In addition, reduction of soil sealing and thus space-saving use of building plots should always be discussed during planning. High-rise buildings can also be a sustainable answer in particularly dense areas.
The choice of material for construction, interior design and facade is also an important issue for us as architects. Because high-quality, durable materials that can be recycled in the long run are an important criterion. We are also increasingly considering the use of recycled building materials. Especially since these can have their very own and surprising aesthetics.
One of your current projects in Munich is the “DER bogen” business campus. It is being built on the south-western part of the former site of the company’s headquarters for the security group Giesecke + Devrient in the Bogenhausen district. On 43,000 square meters of rental space, it will offer space for around 2,000 jobs and will primarily be leased to established companies and start-ups in high-security technology, digitization and automation. In line with HENN’s thinking, the client will construct the complex as a low-energy building using sustainable building materials. The “DER book” has already received pre-certification in DGNB Gold. However, the building will be constructed of classic building materials such as concrete and steel. However, many architectural firms and builders are increasingly dependent on the construction of wooden or wooden hybrid buildings. Why did you not suggest a wooden hybrid in your designs?
Wood hybrid and also mixed solutions were explored in the early planning stages. Due to the special geometry of the building with its many curves and complex intersections, we decided together with the client to realize the construction in concrete. The focus was on an economical building grid so that plate thicknesses and column cross-sections could be reduced to the optimum.
This robustness of the “book” is based on a very long-term use and thus on a sustainable life cycle. In addition, in contrast to a wooden structure, the building benefits from the concrete storage masses of the concrete structure.
Why is the “DER book” still a sustainable construction – and therefore also exciting for tenants who arrange their companies according to the ESG guidelines. That is, tenants who not only appreciate the extremely spacious areas of up to 6,000 square meters per. floor, the visual beauty of the distinctive facade and the high-quality material design of the foyer, offices, restaurants or gym?
The building is designed as an integral urban building block. So it will not only be built for the future tenants. On the contrary, it also offers the neighborhood a variety of retail, gastronomic facilities and leisure activities – even outside office hours and even on weekends. The new building thus blends subtly and appropriately into the surroundings. This gives it something self-evident and makes it sustainable in the long run.
Whether it is the conscious purchase of groceries or the decision in favor of eco instead of conventionally produced electricity: Sustainable action is often associated with higher costs for all of us in everyday life. How is environmentally conscious architectural thinking reflected in construction costs – and where does it offer savings potential at all?
Sustainable construction does not necessarily mean building more expensive. It is always the comprehensive, holistic approach that, from our point of view, not only provides an answer to ESG, but also specifically to ecological sustainability. It requires an intensive dialogue with many of the client’s stakeholders right down to the individual disciplines. One of our main tasks is to gather everyone involved and thus use the construction budget sensibly in the right places.
Of course, we must always deal with new technologies and materials in order to be able to reliably assess costs. These include, for example, technologies for hybrid wooden construction or modular building systems and recyclable building materials. For example, we are currently working on a project with TU Dresden that involves the development and constructive use of carbon concrete.
In addition to climate protection, which gained greater importance worldwide with the launch of the Fridays for the Future movement in 2018, another topic has played an increasingly important role in society since the beginning of the corona pandemic: office work in the future. To what extent did the tug of war over the return of employees from the home office to the office influence the architectural planning for the “DER book”?
In the future, it will be about providing more than ordinary office space. On the other hand, additional offers must be created such as gastronomy, trade, sports facilities, roof terraces or attractive outdoor spaces in office buildings.
The work of the future will certainly be hybrid. This means that employees work at home for a few days and spend the rest in the office. The desire to meet colleagues and exchange ideas physically is felt not only in creative professions. For this new type of meeting hub, we will have to design the offices differently in the future. Because the employees want to do some tasks together in co-creation areas. But they want to perform concentrated work in withdrawal zones in the office or home office. The “THERE BOOK” can portray all of these topics thanks to its robust and flexible structure, though none of us knew how to spell Corona at the time of the concept phase.
Two final questions about your locations: How sustainable is HER in your own offices, and to what extent does homework play a role for you as architects in the work of the future?
HER is currently committed to the topic of sustainability in all areas, and we want to pursue a holistic approach in all our projects. Only if we look at the tasks from all perspectives and constantly question things, will we be able to realize future-proof, durable and thus sustainable buildings.
We work in both Munich and Berlin in historic buildings with a long history and therefore a very long life cycle. Although, of course, we all prefer to sit together at a table with the sketch roller, we have gotten along really well with the current work situation. The work in the architect’s office is creative, team-oriented and innovation-intensive. Therefore, we see the clear focus in our work on site. However, we are constantly considering which meetings can take place virtually. Activities that require extreme concentration are also better performed outside the office.
Basically, our travel activity has been significantly reduced due to the ability to hold meetings virtually. For 350 colleagues, this leads to large and immediate CO2 savings. Otherwise, of course, we also serve the cycling architect’s cliché.