Approachable Architecture that Creates Enthusiasm for Innovation

Wolfgang Kergaßner, architect of DATAGROUP’s headquarters in Pliezhausen near Stuttgart, in an interview

Wolfgang Kergaßner, owner of the Stuttgart-based architectural office of the same name, is considered a renowned representative of his profession in the German-speaking area. As the responsible project partner for the construction of the company headquarters in Pliezhausen he designed a building on behalf of DATAGROUP, which is still seen as a benchmark after more than 25 years. He gives some insights in this interview on the underlying concept and presents
his view on general topics such as simplicity in architecture or the significance of corporate architecture.

Is there a project you are particularly proud of?

Among the buildings that touch my heart, I spontaneously think of the company headquarters, which were to become the new location of DATAGROUP then, as well as our own house and the Linde Agora, the restaurant of the Linde AG. These buildings do not only have a high degree of usability, but also a certain emotional quality which can still be felt today.

Tell us more about the DATAGROUP project …

At that time, I was the responsible architect in close cooperation with the subject areas involved and with Max H.-H. Schaber as the representative of the team of builders. Back then, the integration of new thought patterns was on the agenda, combined with DATAGROUP‘s desire to translate the idea of an “open conceptual model” into a building. The result was an approachable architecture for people, in which employees and visitors can come together in an informal atmosphere and feel comfortable. To this day, the building’s architecture is still philanthropic, inspiring and encouraging, open and communicative. And: It stimulates the passion for innovation of employees and visitors alike. I was very pleased to hear that the building was awarded the Hugo-Häring-Preis in 1997, one of the most important architecture awards in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

What is your attitude towards simplicity in design and architecture? What possibilities do you have to reflect simplicity in architecture?

I would first like to go into more detail about how architecture starts. Each design consideration starts with the development of an underlying theoretic conception. This is the only way to develop a holistic concept, which is uncoupled from raw materials and independent of formal surfaces. At the same time, the building must be emotionally accessible. This makes the world more diverse and interesting. It must be reflected in the architecture. Everyone dealing with architecture must be aware that, first of all, architecture always serves a purpose. The architect primarily has the obligation to complete his work program. And then we get started: For every job we do, we have to ask ourselves over and over again how things would ideally look like, without external constraints. A lot of solutions take form when following the very simple decision-making pattern of “right” or “wrong”. And one thing is for sure: The process always ends with the simple things.

How was it to work with Max H.-H. Schaber as a builder?

The cooperation with DATAGROUP, represented by Max H.-H. Schaber, was characterized by mutual acceptance and respect. Even more: It was a symbiosis in the classical sense. The builder’s decision-making competence, his position as exclusive contact and the overall structured and target- oriented approach definitely were beneficial for the project.

How would you specifically describe the cooperation?

DIN standards were critically scrutinized in a problem-oriented way. We did not aim to build a house which complies to DIN standards but wanted to create something which is focused on the users. To this end, we also exploited synergies with the professional planning services involved and interconnected every aspect of building. Our aim was to reflect building and corporate culture through architecture – while complying with the economic conditions. True to the motto that building means responsibility not self-promotion.

The building has some features that are special for the early 1990s. What was your ambition when you planned and designed the building?

From the beginning, the flexible structure of the object
ensures a maximum degree of diversification due to the
arrangement, size and form of the individual rentable utilization units. After all, it had always been planned to also be able to let out certain spaces and floors to other companies, which helped to reduce the investment risk.

Even today, I am still delighted to see that the house has always met the respective generations’ expectations caused by changing working conditions and requirements. This also holds true for the future: The digital natives, young representatives of the generations Y and Z – more than ever they expect spatial and time flexibility at work. The organizational structure and atmosphere of the building also meet these requirements.

Please describe some of the basics and details of the building.

The workflow, communication and interfaces between the individual working groups were the basis for the room design. Areas for confidential talks, areas offering privacy for highly concentrated work as well as space for meetings and conferences were made possible in conceptual terms right from the start. The highly flexible and transparent building concept is suited to the dynamic forms of the project work – in the true sense of a breathing organization, which can respond to spontaneous and constantly changing growth at any time.

How efficient is this object?

Economy in architecture already starts with the general construction in connection with the available premises. It continues with a sophisticated, long-term facility management. With a useful integration of alternative systems such as underground conduits or concrete core activation and a conscious use of energy the building stands for a consistently implemented low-energy concept to this day.

Last but not least, is there something particularly dear to you?

The identity of a company becomes most visible in its buildings. You could say that it is a “built” reflection. Corporate architecture can have a real impact. It requires self-respect to handle it carefully. On top of that, corporate architecture also requires a responsibility for solidarity – next to aesthetic consciousness – and, consequently, a responsibility for the built environment. As such, architecture becomes an identity.

Thank you very much for this interview Mr. Kergaßner!