Where communication counts, good acoustics are decisive: the new Unilever company headquarters

Ferndorf (Carinthia, Austria), November 2010.
“Our products help people feel good, look good and get more out of life.” A company which follows this aim cannot help but offer its own employees the best of everything. And this is exactly what Unilever does; a group which manages globally known brands for nutrition, personal hygiene and textile care – just look at the new company headquarters of Unilever Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Hamburg.

“I am impressed at how lively this building is, yet the sounds in the atrium are spread out and are perceived gently,” said a Unilever employee on site at the new company headquarters of Unilever Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Hamburg. The size of the atrium and the materials used (plenty of glass) required a special acoustic solution. The architectural team of Behnisch Architekten decided in favour of wood wool acoustic solutions from Heradesign, demonstrating this way that acoustic solutions made of wood wool are not reserved only for use on ceilings but also look good as decorative elements.

Martin Haas from Behnisch Architekten explains, “The atrium is the centre of the building. When you walk into it, you almost feel like you’re under the open sky. The glass roof and the transparent side façades allow so much light to stream inside that the entire interior is illuminated as bright as day. It is completely bathed in light, friendly colours, and its yellow, orange and green shades make it look like a summery outdoor space. To achieve this effect, a material for the balustrade cladding was needed that was fully colourable and varied, easy to handle and also acoustically effective. We found these advantages in the Heradesign products which blend wonderfully with the informal character of the Unilever building.”

The new Unilever headquarters reflects maritime flair

Since September 2009, the new Unilever building has been located at a prominent spot in Hamburg’s Harbour City, directly at the river Elbe and with the address Strandkai 1, in the immediate vicinity of the cruise terminal. The harbour with its maritime flair characterises the whole surrounding area.

The new company headquarters fits perfectly in these special surroundings. In the same way that the building looks like the exterior of a ship, the interior also offers a maritime scene. The walkways with their light railings could be from a cruise liner, and on the top, the roof pitches are positioned like sails in the glass vaults. This way the building opens dynamically towards the outside and the inside.

There are no barriers – thanks to short distances, immediate accessibility and a multitude of crossings. This is the point where we get to the actual idea of open structures: one point can be reached from many directions.

The atrium: a network for neighbourly communication

The new Unilever headquarters invites people to walk across the light flooded atrium. Let your eyes pass upwards over six levels, through the large glass areas of the roof into the sky – and you will notice that hardly anything will remind you of a conventional office building. The entire ground floor acts as a public meeting place, a room for communication that enables an uncomplicated introduction of visitors and Unilever employees. The room is open and inviting; it involves the public by giving them the opportunity to get to know the company, for example, in the Dove Spa and the Unilever Shop to the left of the main entrance. A few steps further is the Langnese ice cream parlour from where you can enjoy views to far beyond the river Elbe.

At the same time the atrium is the central place to meet and exchange ideas. The new Unilever headquarters lives through its network – literally. Bridges, stairs and walkways connect the individual floors at different places, stretching through the building as a network of paths, making the Unilever building not just a decoratively empty space but full of horizontal and vertical neighbourhoods where the office areas located on the floors two to six are linked with each other in a playful way.

Relaxing meeting points for an informal exchange of ideas over a coffee
For interfunctional teams to work together, they not only need fast paths but also places to meet. This is the reason why there are places to meet on all levels. ‘Tearooms’ would be an inadequate description of these meeting points – the arrangement of kitchens, wooden tables, chairs and couches creates a relaxing as well as inviting atmosphere which establishes a platform for inspirational meetings.

Employees will find their mail there, they can make themselves a coffee or make photocopies and, whilst doing so, they will always meet colleagues to chat with. It is these spontaneous meetings, the incidental impulses which are often the crucial turning point when it comes to solving a problem.


Unilever Building Info Box

  • Project name: company headquarters of Unilever Germany, Austria, Switzerland

  • Building owner: Strandkai 1 Projekt GmbH

  • Architect: Behnisch Architekten, Stuttgart. Tasks: architect, interior design, furniture

  • Project management: Peter Schlaier (project manager), Stephan Zemmrich (project architect

  • Competition: 2006, 1st Prize

  • Start of planning: January 2007

  • Start of construction: 2007

  • Completion: September 2009

  • Use of the building: office space, employees’ restaurant, conference rooms, public bar and shops

  • Areas: 38,000 m², usable floor space: 24,000 m², height: 26 m

  • Number of jobs: 1200

  • Number of storeys: nine storeys (seven above ground, two underground)

  • Awards: BEX Award 2009; World Architecture Festival Barcelona Award 2009, Category Offices; RIBA International Award 2010; HafenCity Eco Label in Gold 2009

 

Heradesign: Acoustic systems for feel-good rooms

Heradesign produces, develops and distributes high-class acoustic systems based on wood wool for ceilings and walls that excel by a unique, timeless design character and a multitude of creative options. The main fields of application involve education, sports, office, infrastructure, entertainment and recreational facilities.

Thanks to the outstanding sound absorption values as well as the high quality and “warm” character of the wood wool structure, the Heradesign acoustic solutions make an essential contribution to the improvement of the ambience of a room. They increase well-being and, as a result, improve concentration, efficiency and performance.

Wood, magnesite and water make up the principal components of the Heradesign acoustic solutions – so they are harmless as regards building biology. Acoustics and design with a clear, “green conscience”!

Heradesign, headquartered in Ferndorf, Austria, has been a business unit of Knauf Insulation GmbH since 2007. The company has its roots in the Heraklith AG, to which the cult status of the products as well as the professional competence can be attributed. For further information, see www.heradesign.com.

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