Pioneers in the neighborhood: We are being awarded the “Orte der Arbeit” Saarland architecture prize

Pioneers in the neighborhood: We are being awarded the “Orte der Arbeit” Saarland architecture prize

Christine Gottlieb Head of Corporate Design

19.11.2021 • 5 minutes reading time

Awarded by the Saarland Ministry of Economics every two years, this architectural prize focuses on the theme of “places of work” in 2021. The award highlights the role of design skills as a critical factor for economic success. It underlines the importance of a holistic understanding of design to develop forward-looking strategies and sustainable construction.

A holistic perspective, to be pioneering and economical without sacrificing aesthetic qualities — these are not only the selection criteria for the architecture award but also the cornerstones of our daily work at Ergosign. Our company headquarters reflects this aspiration for our actions in our workplace too.

At almost 2,000 square meters, built to the latest KfW efficiency building standard (KfW 55), Ergosign’s new headquarters was unveiled at Europaallee 20a in Saarbrücken in 2018 — not far from Ergosign’s first company headquarters from 2008 — with a ceremony followed by a party. On 18 November 2021, we proudly and gladly accepted the architecture award together with our architect, Mario Krämer, from architecture firm FloSundK.

We want to use the award as an opportunity to offer some insight into the design and realization of our company headquarters.

Vimeo Video: Interview Architekturpreis 2021 with Mario Krämer, Dr. Plach und Prof. Wallach
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Creating a “place of work” for a team that collaborates with customers and partners both flexibly and collaboratively was one of the challenges. At the same time, the building was also to become a place for shared experiences and events.
How does an architect approach a task like this?

„As an architect, I want to precisely understand the task at hand before I begin a draft. This involves getting to know the people that the building is for and internalizing the intention of the design. It’s important to me to collect as much insight about the eventual users’ everyday work, their experiences in the world of work up to this point and, most of all, suggestions as to what could be improved. A major benefit of this project was that we already knew the team and Ergosign’s working methods well, due to designing the first building.

We see communication within the team, as well as externally as the most defining characteristic of Ergosign. A team that works together and that is in constant discussion – with one another, clients, and other businesses. The main design approach for the new headquarters included a large central room where the whole Ergosign family could come together."

„Architecture is good when it is perceived without having studied architecture.“

"Another thing was clear too. The new Ergosign II building must make a bold statement in its external appearance. The almost black metal façade, with port holes on the sides, is reminiscent of a ship. The Ergosign steamer can only be accessed via a narrow jetty (in this case the consciously small entrance).
To me, architecture is good when you perceive it without having studied architecture. A building is welcome to polarize too. I think this aim has been achieved successfully with the Ergosign II building,” says Mario Krämer, FloSundK.

South and east view of our office building (Source: FLOSUNDK architektur+urbanistik GmbH)
South and east view of our office building (Source: FLOSUNDK architektur+urbanistik GmbH)

Ergosign was founded in 2000 as a pioneer of UX Design in Germany. Today, we are one of the largest digital agencies focusing on User Experience, and a market leader on the DACH market. The decision to choose a location in the Eurobahnhof district was made back in 2007.

A brief look back: what were things in the new “Quartier Eurobahnhof” district like in 2007? And why did we opt for this location twice?

„We were pioneers in the district too!” said founder and CEO Professor Dieter Wallach, laughing. “In 2007, we broke ground at the Eurobahnhof district — thereby driving the development of what is now a flourishing neighbourhood. FloSundK already designed our first company building, which was awarded the developer’s prize by the Chamber of Architects in 2010. Our constant growth meant we needed more space for new team members shortly after moving in. Just one year after the move, additional rented space opposite in the QBUS building was not intended as a permanent solution.

By 2017, it was clear that we would build a new, larger company building — Ergosign II. Luckily, we didn’t have to search for long. We quickly found our new building plot, also on Europaallee, just a few numbers down.
The location is unbeatable: very central and close to the city with plenty of options for our lunch breaks, great infrastructure and perfect connections to public transport. We even developed a solution for the rather tight parking situation with our app xPark xPark which makes it possible for everyone to drive to the office spontaneously and find a parking spot easily.“

Ergosign was able to fall back on its own construction experience. There must be lots of learnings that were applied to the construction of the new, second company building?

"Absolutely! There’s a lot that we have learned and done better this time,” says Dieter. “Including that some ideas might sound impressive in a meeting and even on paper, but they’re just not practical in everyday life. We discuss, call and Zoom a lot. We especially wanted a solution that would save us the effort of looking for a free meeting room. The first building had a “telephone cubicle”. A square of sturdy red fabric secured to the ceiling with steel cables floated in the open-plan office. It contained a small workplace that offered sound insulation and privacy to make telephone calls. And it was a real visual highlight. Although it was sadly impractical in practice, so never used. We have learned from it. The new building has a “room within a room” as a telephone box in the large offices. Complete with windows, sound insulation and air conditioning, it can play host to ad hoc meetings — even when these conversations are not intended for everyone’s ears.“

Designing the perfect company building can be compared to our approach in UX projects surprisingly well. We typically begin our client projects with a research phase. Before a concept can be established, we accompany, observe and interview the eventual users to understand their needs and conclude requirements for the design concept from these. Designing our building without involving the users was unthinkable for us.

„Design balances user requirements, technology and economy.“

„Design balances user requirements, technology and economy” is one of Dieter’s guiding principles. Requirements can often contradict one another — a collaborative approach helps us find the optimal balance.

A team plans together. That sounds exciting and a little complicated.
What does “collaboration” mean when constructing a new company building?

Markus Schwetje explains, “it was exciting and very productive. We first founded internal task forces, with all departments and experience levels represented. Interim results were introduced and feedback collected. With the help of regular meetings and digital boards, the group developed ideas and specific suggestions that were then discussed with the architects.
Of course, the roughly 100 other team members at the Saarbrücken site were also constantly informed about the plans and, later, construction progress. We were actively involved in each phase of construction.”

„We don’t want open-plan offices“

What was the most significant change wanted by the team?
And would we do it again?

„There was a clear message: we don’t want open-plan offices,” says Christian Grieger, Head of Site at Saarbrücken. “Design and Development sit next to each other. Splitting up the space into offices with two to five people — depending on size — allows quiet yet still collaborative work and encourages the exchange of expertise. Even the introduction of temporary project offices proved popular.
We’d make the decision to move away from large open-plan offices again, any time!

Another requirement we realized was the design of dedicated creative rooms. Spaces to give the mind room for innovative ideas, far removed from utilitarian meeting room setups. Each room was designed to a particular theme by the employees themselves — from a markedly comfortable, cozy room with carpet and a velvet couch to an industrial look and even a room completely without technology and screens.“

Creative room Ali Farka Toure and one of the many sitting bunks
Creative room Ali Farka Toure and one of the many sitting bunks

From outside, the building is a real eye-catcher with its iconic look and feel. The dark metal facade, round port holes on the sides and the large window front facing the train station.
How did this unusual façade come about?

“The large window front is actually one of the key elements of Ergosign II’s design concept. It reflects the importance of the building’s communicative center that lies behind it. To an extent, the window front opens and illuminates the space where encounters as well as both formal and informal exchanges take place within the framework of Ergosign’s human-centered work culture in the most obvious way,” says Dr. Marcus Plach, co-founder and CEO along with Dieter.

“The dark metal façade and its irregularly arranged slats give the surface a softer or harder texture depending on the sunlight, creating a dynamic contrast to the dark, elegant overall impression. The association of the port holes, i.e. with an object that is constantly moving, is absolutely intended.“

Ergosign II is not just impressive from outside. There’s plenty going on indoors too. Let’s take a look at the interior: what does the building look like inside? What makes it so special?

„In contrast to the exterior, I’d describe the interior as bright and friendly. When you enter the building, an open staircase leads upstairs while the light-flooded forum provides a warm welcome,” explains Marie-Claire Harnasch enthusiastically.

Blick ins Treppenhaus und unsere große Küche
Blick ins Treppenhaus und unsere große Küche

„The large room with open kitchen and stage is the heart and communicative center of the building. Plenty of seating invites you to chat with colleagues over a coffee or tea.”

Each Friday, the forum is transformed into an event location. Everyone meets for a communal lunch and there is a Lunch & Learn talk on the stage, sometimes held by team members and sometimes by external speakers.

Stage in use, whether at the Group Focus Time or weekly Lunch & Learn
Stage in use, whether at the Group Focus Time or weekly Lunch & Learn

„I think it’s great that these kinds of company rituals have impacted the building’s architecture and that space has been created for them,” continues Marie. “The company building’s clear structure is emphasized. In my view, the symmetrical design and clear divisions have resulted in workplaces of equal quality for all employees. Unlike other office buildings, we don’t have long, empty corridors leading to closed rooms. Instead, each floor has a different purpose at its core while additional offices are separated. I like to stretch my legs around the building and constantly bump into a colleague that might be sitting in one of the seating booths located in all of the building’s heavy traffic areas.

„My personal highlight: our roof terrace!“

My personal highlight: our roof terrace! Lots of space, fresh air and a great view of Saarbrücken. Especially in spring and summer, it’s a great place to take a lunch break or have a beer after work together.“

„ External calm and internal variety form the framework for this impressive place of work, on the successful implementation of which one can only congratulate the team of developer and architect. - Jury for the “Orte der Arbeit” Saarland architecture award 2021“

Events and communal experiences define Ergosign’s company culture. That’s why it was important to have sufficient space for events in the building.
They say all the best parties take place in the kitchen. Can our new building keep up with that?

„Communication, discussion and team spirit are essential to Ergosign’s culture. And which is known to be the best place to chat and celebrate? That’s right, the kitchen. Even at our roofing ceremony, a band played in our kitchen although there wasn’t actually a kitchen in there at the time. Our new office building offers great options inside and out, from opening ceremonies to Christmas parties, conferences, Group Focus Time, and events with external guests. Everyone knows how important personal interaction is, especially since Coronavirus,” says Christine Gottlieb, who is responsible for coporate communication and events.

Our housewarming party 2018
Our housewarming party 2018

Good communication needs good acoustics, whether in a meeting, at a talk, or listening to live music. Acoustics played a vital role in our interior design, which was a particular challenge in the forum. Extensive 3D models were used to calculate reverberation time and absorption to ensure that speech can always be heard clearly, everywhere in the long, tall room. The results flowed into the conception of the acoustically effective wooden cladding as well as stage and sound technology. The wood also creates a harmonious balance between steel, glass and concrete.

Fun fact #instafam: the building is regularly used as a focal point for private Instagram photo shoots.
What was your favorite moment?

„Groups of mostly young women in front of the windows can distract some people from their work,” says Anna Polzin of her spot directly in the window on the ground floor. “From checking their makeup in the glass to that ever-popular duck face to sneaker product shoots — it never gets boring! The blinds are a welcome shield to stop you from becoming an unwilling internet star.“

Our resume

Technological change is not an autonomous process — people design it.
A place of work should support people and add to their daily lives, just like digitization. Successful, sustainable change requires a pioneering spirit, a holistic perspective, collaboration and good partners.
Being awarded the architecture prize underlines our values, to which we will continue to remain true in the future.

We would like to thank Mario, Jens, the whole FloSundK architektur + urbanistik GmbH architecture firm, the GUI, the OBG, the Ergosign team and, of course, all those countless hard-working hands that made our plans reality.

We’re already looking forward to the construction of the next building. 😉

Sources: Ergosign und FLOSUNDK architektur+urbanistik GmbH

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