by Almas SadiqueSep 23, 2023
The iconography of tiny patterns on paper envelopes meant to shield confidential information such as PINS, became the key inspiration in the design of a building envelope, conceived by Berlin-based architecture and design studio J. Mayer H. The project titled SW35 encompasses the revitalisation of a 70s era office building facade in Stuttgart, Germany. The intervention transforms the weary white facade of a three storey volume into a bold, patterened skin, characteristised by dark grey and white squiggle-like swollen patches.
The overhaul of this previously non-descript structure has been given a new identity to its architecture. It is now home to 1886Ventures, an innovation platform that develops sustainable and digital industry solutions with technologies such as AI, data analytics, and the internet of things. The building was originally established as the innovation hub of Mercedes-Benz in 2007 and given the name Lab1886. However, in 2020, after being acquired by German Businessman Ulrich Dietz, it became the mobility, innovation and testing space for a group of startup companies working in the green sector.
Jürgen Hermann Mayer, founder of J. Mayer H., has been collecting envelopes that feature the data protection pattern, for the past 25 years. He associates the composite of the blurred shapes and symbols to a ‘primordial soup’. The metal and glass façade of SW35 is intended to secure the interior programs from the outside world. Over the structure’s skin, the pattern is painted on the metal surface and glued where there is glass. Armed with an expressive graphic design, the building delivers the status of a landmark in an all-white industrial neighbourhood while at the same time keeping its functionality private. “Drawing attention and keeping secrets are kept in an ambivalent balance,” says the German studio in a press release.
Another connotation to the façade design is captured in the link between the project’s locational context and the role of the companies working within the building. Southern Germany has long been known as the country’s automotive hub where before a car is launched, it undergoes several test runs on highways and streets, often a popular sight in Stuttgart. To hide the look of these automobiles before they are unveiled in the market, the cars are covered in similar organic patterns, a tactic used to camouflage test mules and to escape the eager eyes of automotive enthusiasts. In the case of these cars as well as the building, the ‘new’ is sportively kept hidden while still in plain sight.
Berlin-based art critic, culture writer and educator Kimberly Bradley relates the building to an urban QR code in which “the exterior patterns protect as they provoke; they shield the innovation inside from peering eyes and minds, but at the same time make it clear that something interesting is happening.” In an essay titled SW35 - Musings on a Building, Bradley describes how the building envelopes and explores the tension between the inside and outside domain by locating itself, perhaps, on the threshold (or a liminal space). She writes, “Those outside can’t (yet) know what’s going on in these rooms behind the reverse pattern shades, […] This layer between public and private, and exposed and discreet is again always in negotiation." She continues, "Behind this cloaked exteriors is a threshold; a zone of transition in which impulses become ideas, which in turn become novel ways of doing things in this world.”
“SW35,” she adds, “cleverly and appealingly makes something invisible as it pulls the eye; what happens inside this place stays inside this place; that is, until it’s ready for the big reveal.” Treading the liminal path - between safety and vulnerability, intrigue and discovery, and contact and boundary – the project evokes the disposition of a façade in architecture as more than what meets the eye.
Name of project: SW35
Client: RB-Real Estate GmbH / Ulrich Dietz
Partners in charge: Jürgen Mayer H., Hans Schneider
Team: Noah Ehlers, Paul Rindt
Architect: Heike Schaefer
Lighting: Lichttransfer / Katrin Soencksen, Berlin