May 1, 2010

Dress for Success: A Fashion Showroom in Berlin’s Mediaspree

Mention Mediaspree to trendsetting Berliners, and you may get a hiss in response. Opposing the ongoing redevelopment of docklands on the Spree River into a mini-city, which includes the O2 World arena and the headquarters of MTV and Universal Music Group, protestors have named themselves, rather emphatically, Flood Mediaspree! Yet city planners, who’ve focused on this derelict area since the early 1990’s, believe that they have the best interests of creative people in mind.

“Most fashion designers in Berlin work at a very small scale, like New York’s Lower East Side,” architect Simon Frommenwiler begins. “Mediaspree attracts international media and fashion companies, so local talent has something to grow into.” Frommenwiler is the F in HHF Architekten, which won an international competition to build Mediaspree’s second center for fashion showrooms, Labels 2.

A lawyer turned developer, Stefan Sihler, conceived its predecessor, Labels 1, as an alternative to the hotel rooms and other temporary venues where Berlin fashion brands introduce buyers to new merchandise as often as 12 times a year. In 2006, Sihler converted a neoclassical brick warehouse on the Spree into what Frommenwiler calls the “typical fancy loft building, preserving the elegance of the architecture but making all the ducts and pipes visible. Companies love the character of the old interiors and the straightforward way they can insert their own equipment.” Hugo Boss relocated its headquarters to Labels 1 almost immediately, and that move unleashed more prospective ready-to-wear tenants than the site could handle.

Despite the success of Labels 1, HHF had no intention of blindly replicating the past. Frommenwiler and his fellow principals, Simon Hartmann and Tilo Herlach, were searching for a tie-in loose enough to allow them to explore new territory, and they found their answer at Hugo Boss. Standing in the showroom, Hartmann says, “We were impressed by how the 19th-century building generates a suitable background for the fashion just by the iconic power of the big arched windows.”

Arches became the inspiration for Labels 2—but not straightforward arches. “We used geometric pattern as a language,” Frommenwiler explains. HHF developed a pair of overlapping sine curves to define the exterior of the six-story building in addition to such interior elements as a central staircase.

Curves are both form and flourish. Swags of ribbed concrete create horizontal movement across the exterior of the five lower stories while hiding security cameras and shielding the curtain wall from the sun’s strongest rays. Inside, parabolic arches of reinforced concrete line the perimeter of the floor plates. These arches, positioned at 30-foot intervals, anchor display fixtures, desks, and meeting areas in addition to serving a structural purpose.

Not load-bearing, by contrast, are the partitions that angle across the floor plates to separate the showrooms. These drywall forms “follow their own geometry,” Herlach says, and were designed for maximum flexibility. That proved handy during a recession, as tenants constantly reconsidered their space needs over the course of the planning process. There are considerably more of these partitions than originally expected: At press time, Labels 2 counted more than 30 tenants, Puma among them.

The interior is intentionally antibourgeois, a subtle nod to the protestors. Frommenwiler explains that new tenants can occupy the space much like they could an authentic loft, making very few design gestures at additional cost. Indeed, Puma, which occupies half the second floor, has inserted only the occasional plinth or specialized light fixture.

Protestors would perhaps concede that Labels 2 has created jobs. A nearby shipbuilder constructed the central staircase, a complicated steel spiral that synthesizes the signature sine curves. The company produced the weighty stairs much like it would a hull, even painting the balustrades black like a tanker.

The project will provide employment and entertainment outside showroom hours, too. A café on the ground level, overlooking the Spree, should open soon. And an adjacent space—large enough and flexible enough to host runway presentations and other fashionable happenings—is operated by a wildly popular nightclub, 40 Seconds.

Photography by Christian Gahl.




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