Polishing the Brand in a Cathedral for Cars
MUNICH — I admit I had not been thrilled about flying here to see the BMW Welt, this car company’s fancy new delivery center. The enthusiasm many of us once felt for the notion of an increasingly interconnected world has dimmed, a casualty of the canceled flights and lost luggage that is the reality of travel today. And I feared that the building itself — a luxury showroom that could double as a theme park for car fetishists — would be a monument to excess.
But then the glittering forms of the BMW Welt building appeared, and immediately rekindled my faith in architecture’s future. Set against a backdrop of hulking factory sheds and 1970s office towers, the building weaves together the detritus of a postwar industrial landscape, imbuing it with a more inclusive spirit. Its undulating steel forms, suggesting the magical qualities of liquid mercury, may be the closest yet that architecture has come to alchemy.
Designed by Wolf Prix of the Vienna-based architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, BMW Welt — or BMW World — joins an impressive list of high-profile architecture projects by German car companies in recent years, including Zaha Hadid’s BMW factory in Leipzig and UNStudio’s Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.
Whether from a passion for well-built machines or a more self-serving interest in architecture’s ability to promote an aura of technological sophistication, the auto companies are underwriting buildings that combine a stunning level of structural refinement with a flair for formal experimentation.
Of these recent German buildings, BMW Welt, which opened in the fall, is both the most blatant as corporate self-promotion and the most exhilarating as architecture.
Its cavernous main hall is packed with restaurants, a cafe and a shop hawking BMW merchandise. Clients arriving at the main showroom to pick up their new cars are handed frothy cappuccinos and led into a small booth where they can try out the car’s special driving features by computer simulation.
They then proceed down a grand staircase to a platform lined with BMW cars. As they approach the bottom of the staircase, spotlights light up underneath their car, which begins to rotate on a platform. A young woman sprints over to snap a picture.
Yet if the experience brings to mind the hollowness of contemporary consumer society, the architecture is more generous in spirit. The building stands at an intersection of busy roadways at the edge of the Olympic park, a short drive from the city center. Just to the east are BMW’s corporate offices, a cluster of cylindrical concrete towers designed by Mr. Prix’s former professor, Karl Schwanzer. The tentlike forms of Frei Otto’s swimming stadium, designed for the 1972 Munich Olympics, are visible in the near distance to the west.
Rather than turn their backs on this world, the architects revel in it. Like many of their contemporaries who came of age in the 1960s and 70s, the Coop Himmelb(l)au designers try to locate the strands in recent history that are worth preserving, and then weave them into a composition of genuine civic stature. An hourglass-shaped events hall grounds the building at one end, its torqued glass-and-steel form evoking a tornado drilling into the earth, sucking up energy from the passing cars. From here, the roof unfolds like a gigantic carpet draped over the main hall. Its curvaceous form billows up at some points and then sags at others, echoing the contours of the nearby park. A vertical band of glass cut into the main facade is set on an axis with the corporate tower across the street, locking the composition into its surroundings.
That combination of a bold formal language and a subtle feel for context continues inside, where the interior is conceived as a vast public forum whose centerpiece is the automobile. Mr. Prix claims that the roof is large enough to cover Piazza San Marco in Venice, and at times its steel underbelly, animated with slashes of light, can evoke the fabric canopies that shade traditional bazaars in Middle Eastern cities.注:
To emphasize a sense of mystery, the main hall is organized in a slight arc, so that it reveals itself only gradually. Shops line the hall on both sides, while spacious curved walkways crisscross the space overhead. A spiral auto ramp corkscrews through the center of the hall, connecting the main showroom to the street.
What unites these various experiences is the flow of cars and people through the space. Visitors spill in from entrances on two floors. New buyers cruise down the ramp in their glistening cars, while pedestrians gaze at them from the elevated walkways. These streams form an intricate pattern, linking man and machine, inside and out.
As a result, the structure is imbued with a level of dynamic energy barely imaginable by an earlier generation of Machine Age enthusiasts. The glistening surfaces — of the building and of the cars — call to mind the obsession with machines displayed by the Italian Futurists. (One, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, famously claimed in a 1909 manifesto that “a roaring motor car that seems to run on shrapnel is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”)
注shrapnel Hide phonetics
noun [U]━━ n. 榴(りゅう)散弾; 砲弾の破片.
small pieces of metal that are scattered by a bomb or similar weapon when it explodes and are intended to injure people:
Twelve people were hit by shrapnel in the attack.
a shrapnel wound
(from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace, is a 3rd century B.C. marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory). Since 1884, it has been prominently displayed at the Louvre and is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world.請看WIKIPEDIA之說明 (日本語等)
But the precision with which Coop Himmelb(l)au has woven these various strands comes closer to the spirit of the Internet Age than to that of the assembly line. The building’s steel beams are welded together with the precision used for a car frame; the stainless-steel panels that make up the building’s skin are cut with a level of care seldom found in a project of this scale.
The architects have created a new kind of social organism, one that can make the clumsy cobblestone grids of ancient cities look as uninviting as prehistoric cave life. The question, of course, is who holds the keys to this new technological kingdom.