The idea began in 2008 in a shared flat in Berlin. Ten years on, Zalando had grown to become Europe’s leading online fashion platform . Despite a strong and cohesive on-line brand, in reality its workforce was scattered across Berlin. What was needed was a unique, unifying building. One that reflected the spirit of the start-up culture and that would have the ability to remain flexible and serve all of the company’s functions. A building that would, at the same time, leave its mark on the city. HENN gave this vision a form. How did they do it?
Zalando – a crowd of fashionistas, IT hackers and marketing people. One thing is clear – when people can meet and interact in one place, the company will continue to flourish. In 2015, Zalando’s dream of such a place started to take shape.
“We want a house to occupy” – that was the briefing given to HENN. Located in Berlin’s new “Mitte”, between the Spree and Ostbahnhof, walking distance from Universal Music and MTV Europe.
HENN started to ask: What makes Germany’s most famous unicorn tick? Who works here, who talks to whom? What are the spaces that allow creativity, where does staff feel comfortable? HENN Programming® combines wishes and reality, oscillating between problems and solutions, until the DNA of the new building is ready to come to life. Only then can the design process begin.
The German capital has many centres. But here, in Friedrichshain, the youngest and liveliest of them all is emerging. Between Frankfurter Allee and the East Side Gallery, between AlexanderPlatz and the remains of the Berlin Wall, a new urban district is in the process of reinventing itself – the perfect spot for Zalando.
The Oberbaum Bridge doesn’t just connect Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, but also hosts the vibrant urban culture of Berlin. From the Zalando headquarters, employees have at their doorstep the pulsating mix of concert-goers and street musicians, gourmets and fast-food-fans, high-heels and trainers..
“To design a building that works as a stage” – that’s how Martin Henn, managing director and head of design, summarised his task. The way a city functions, and Berlin in particular, is also the way the new Zalando headquarters has been conceived: with places to think, routes to meet, and open spaces to interact and exchange.
“The diversity of spaces creates opportunities for encounter”, says Klaus Ransmayr, the head of the Design Studio at HENN Berlin. As well as urban analogies, he also mixed elements from the world of fashion in his team’s design. Recognising a company’s identity is the first challenge, but translating them into a vibrant space… that’s HENN’s real expertise.
How do you bring about creative ideas over an area of 38,000 square metres? As project director, Daniel Festag, Senior Associate at HENN, is responsible for implementing the designs – from prototyping, to 3D modelling, and detail planning. “The special thing about the double-X building is its form”, he says, and explains how a social entity emerges out of the terraced atrium, with “living rooms”, canteen, yoga room, child-care centre and a basketball court on the roof.
If you want planning permission, you can’t ignore the Berlin Building Regulations. Along with many other requirements, this set of laws prescribes a closed Berlin street-front. Commonly known as the “Berlin block”, it was also a regulation HENN had to follow.
Nevertheless, the designers found a creative solution that corresponds to the spirit of Zalando. They rotated the layout of the building diagonally to the urban-development plan. This created a double “X” that moved the inner courtyards to the perimeter of the site.
The result: the Zalando Campus opens up to the city and at the same time offers a view into the building from the outside. Not only do the staff benefit from abundant daylight and an expansive view over the city, but Berlin additionally gains a dynamic addition to its urban fabric. Or to put it another way: Zalando adds to the neighbourhood a new identity.
Berlin meets on squares, on steps and in parks. And because Zalando is a Berliner, the city is mirrored in the campus. The atmosphere remains filled with the spirit of the start-up – and is recharged with it over and over again.
A neighbourhood emerges wherever people do things together – work, go to eat, do sport or simply relax. The Zalando Campus provides space for all this and much more besides.
A company that loves fashion also loves wide horizons. Who meets whom, who wears what, what will tomorrow look like? HENN has fused together a stage and a catwalk for Zalando.
The “market place” offers everything that makes up the networked society. On the ground floor, a light-filled atrium opens itself up to the visitor, with a flight of steps flanked by seating and lounge areas. An auditorium, a café and a conference hall provide plenty of space for the international public. Kitchens, sports rooms, child-care areas – the staff are provided with everything to make flexible living and working easy and pleasant.
Whoever sits in a box, also thinks in a box. This is why HENN created the “living rooms” for Zalando: places of encounter in many different variations. Seating landscapes with a co-working feeling, kitchenettes with wooden tables and bar stools, a balustrade with space for laptops and an open view out over the whole campus. This way, interaction and connectivity occur naturally, and people’s minds have plenty of space for discovering surprising new ideas.
It’s the people who transform Berlin’s streets into the exciting public spaces that they are. The same applies to Zalando. The “catwalks” – the routes between the different office areas – are inspired by the city’s boulevards. In this way HENN weaves a clear structure within the double-X building showcasing functions first: interaction at all levels.
The work zones – called “neighbourhoods” in the Zalando Campus – can be effortlessly adapted to quickly expanding teams. Throughout the building are thoughtfully positioned areas in which staff can find the seclusion to concentrate fully on their projects. At the same time, interaction and exchange are always possible. A real analogy to neighbourhood life in Berlin: each in his own way.