23. November 2018
London architecture and design studio Freehaus have completed the sensitive refurbishment of the historic headquarters of internationally renowned German biscuit manufacturer, Bahlsen
Freehaus played a key role in developing the strategic brief for the project in Hannover, which was borne out of a desire to open the building up to the public and align with the company’s wider values and working culture of curiosity, courage and support.
If Bahlsen’s historic headquarters (or Stammhaus) are considered their spiritual home, Freehaus’ initial role was centred around engaging with the Bahlsen family and the Bahlsen team to establish the building’s significance, what might constitute a Bahlsen welcome and how this might be manifest into a design.
Through this consultation, the extensive refurbishments to the Art Nouveau-inspired building designed in 1911 by architect Karl Siebrecht, were focused on the building’s historic facade, the barrel-vaulted foyer and the reception area.
Freehaus’ approach instilled domestic touches to the grand entrance spaces, with a focus on bringing light into the formerly dark and solemn environments, softening the surfaces of the interior and introducing opportunities for staff and public to appropriate the space. The architects designed a space to enliven and encourage use, in what was formerly a series of formal spaces; with opportunities to lean, linger and chat.
“We collectively felt a need to move away from a corporate aesthetic” says Freehaus director Jonathan Hagos. “Whilst the design approach maintains a level of refinement, we really wanted the spaces to feel like one was at home, to give a more grounded and relaxed air, informing the way in which visitors and staff might interact in the space.”
Door handles and handrails have been clad in leather to offer a warmer touch whilst an eclectic mix of furniture has been selected to bring a sense of the ‘living room’ to an office environment. Lamps from Fontana Arte and Artemidi are coupled with signature furniture pieces from brands such as Fredericia, Knoll, Bolia and Gerbruder Thonet Vienna to further reinforce the approach.
“This approach towards the domestic informed all of our decision-making, from the warmth of the light and the choice of furniture, to the height of the reception desk and the level of polish in the terrazzo floor. Furthermore there are hidden treats in the design: alignments and references that are intended to bring a smile to one’s face, a sense of delight as they are discovered. It’s a space envisioned to bring joy”.
Inspired by the ornate engravings and carvings of biscuits found throughout the building, Freehaus were keen to create continuity across the new refurbishment. Brass replicas of Bahlsen’s famous Leibniz Butterkeks biscuits were inlayed into the new polished terrazzo floor to allude to the joy of Bahlsen’s wide confectionary offer. Fabricated by the team that creates the brass master templates which form the moulds for the eventual biscuits, Freehaus looked extensively to Bahlsen’s wider fabrication capabilities identifying opportunities to make bespoke design items in- house and so embedding storytelling moments within the space. Similarly the cladding of the new reception desk takes its form from the biscuits fabrication equipment found on the factory production line. This design approach afforded Bahlsen’s background fabrication techniques to form the forefront of the aesthetic, infusing moments of pride and storytelling into the space.
Bay windows which originally afforded views into the factory floor when the building first opened over 100 years ago, had been closed off during the last refurbishment of the space. Freehaus’ design looked to opening these views back up to offer a glimpse into Bahlsen’s test kitchen and R&D lab, whilst also introducing spaces for informal meetings.
Freehaus worked closely with Bahlsen’s archivist to develop a new curatorial strategy to better bring elements of Bahlsen’s extensive 129 year archive to the fore. Bespoke display cases have been designed to feature a seasonal rotation of the company’s array of artworks, ceramics and packaging.
To avoid damaging a recently installed acoustic ceiling treatment, the architects worked closely with local architects and lighting designer Lux100 to install a new lightweight rig, suspended from existing columns, from which hanging pendants bring light deeper into the space and help reducing the bearing of the tall volume on visitors.
Images: Adam Luszniak
Architect and Lead Designer: Freehaus
The refurbished building is open to the public, admission free, from Monday to Friday between 10am and 3pm. For groups of five or more, prior registration is required
Bahlsen, Podbielskistraße 11, 30163 Hannover, Germany