As the latest phase of its masterplan for Sto's industrial plant in southern Germany, Michael Wilford and Partners' new building is distinguished by strong forms and colours, and well-handled scale
Pictures of Wilford's K Building for Sto (AJ 21.1.99) cannot prepare you for the reality: pictures never quite capture a building. At Wilford's second Sto building, though, there is another dimension: time. Sited above the valley-side road, integral to the design, is the important drive-by experience along the valley, different from either direction; the building is aligned at 45infinity to the road, and scaled for shifting perspectives as its distinctive form leans towards you on approach.
The K Building retains its lone landmark role, signalling the presence of the region's largest employer. It is only when close to the plant that the extensive, flat, valley-side site is revealed. This building complex, like the K Building, is based on Wilford's masterplan for the site, first set out in 1994.
Michael Wilford got to know Sto's nowchief, Jochen Stotmeister, in the US when Wilford needed render and colour, such as for the Performing Arts Centre at Cornell University.Wilford subsequently worked on a private house for him. And when Stotmeister took over Sto, Wilford was invited to masterplan the German site for 15 years of development.
In part the masterplan was occasioned by improvement and realignment of the valleyside road, leaving the Sto site that had straddled the old road (now to the north of the new one) with potential to integrate the site as a whole. The K Building was phase 1.
The new building, comprising a just-in-time factory and silo tower, has become phase 2.
Once on site, the experience is of transition. The K Building steps down in scale with a series of terraces to meet the last vestiges of a small village, with its winding street and some traditional houses, now used as offices but eventually to go. Immediately to the north are purpose-built low-rise offices and the new building. And beyond these the large bulk of existing industrial processes within two metal-clad cuboids, their stark simplicity of form drawing attention to their size.One ofWilford's achievements has been to scale the new building, including its silo tower, to the lower-rise heart of the site while making links to these larger forms.
At the site's heart will be a semicircular garden opening the prospect toward the south (with Switzerland across the valley). A new north-south axis, already partially in place, bridges the realigned road leading south to landscaped car parking before you reach the Wutach river.
Other near-future plans include a secondary, east-west axis terminating the first, connecting Wilford's new building with the existing purpose-built offices, which are destined for re-cladding, and divesting of their concrete balconies. Between these two buildings, where the axes meet, will be a public and customer entrance (the cloverleaf building) and a display space (the glass cube). The clover leaf will provide customer-meeting facilities - much needed as factory-visiting is a German family day out.
These two buildings were to have been part of the current phase, but the downturn in the German economy has delayed them for a year or two. All you see today is a slight set-back in the render on the new building's southern facade, as if something had been removed, where the clover leaf will meet the new factory, with the cube behind.
Wilford is fortunate in having a client interested in modern architecture and the use of strong colour, and a maker of highquality building materials. Sto is also interested in investing in architecture to raise the company's profile and getting across the idea that the company is focused on colour as much as materials and systems.
The planning authorities were also supportive, pleased to see industrial development in a region that, like the UK, is increasingly moving its manufacturing to cheaper countries. The only point of contention was over acceptable building heights.
On plan, the new building comprises two offset rectangles - the silo tower and just-intime factory, sharing some functional connections, though different in broad purpose. The tower contains 62 bulk dry-powder silos for paints and plasters with an 11,000-tonne capacity, plus bulk batching equipment for the feedstock market. In contrast, the just-in-time factory has the automated capability for producing one-off batches ofpaint in quantities as small as just one 2.5litre pot every 30 seconds. Its high level of automation means relatively few people will work in the building when production gets into full swing this month; that's the shape of future manufacturing employment here.
The K Building provides the long-term architectural context of the site. Although this flagship building has often been likened to a ship, Wilford says there was no nautical inspiration. The liner-like descending terraces were, in fact, to relate the K Building to the lower-rise heart of the site and to provide fire escape (plus smoking areas) without another external stair.
The new building has no architectural metaphor, nautical or otherwise. The silo tower is essentially the wrapping of an industrial process. The factory is more room-like, but still largely a few unspecific spaces. It does not have the potential for the formal composition of the K Building with its plinth, entrance and offices. Wilford has dealt with this by articulating each functional zone in form and colour, as he did for Sto's office and distribution building in Hamburg, completed in 1996.
The essential palette at Weizen is folded elements against a background of render or metal sheet, with glimpses of glazing (except for the extensively glazed north side of the factory). Wilford's characteristic magenta articulates the main structural elements; the colouring of the silos is architectural rather than functional.
The silo tower is set back to the north of the new building, keeping its bulk away from the heart of the site, but not denying its presence.
Different facades of the building play different public roles. The silo tower's foldedplate cladding draws the eye upwards, as does the Sto-yellow top. The 53m-high tower is a match for the existing nearby brown industrial box of a building, which Wilford is itching to paint. On the north side of the silo tower the apparent scale increases, with the full height of the building clearer, emphasised by a canopy large enough to shelter a tipping truck and by the yellow steel framing carrying external escape stairs and pneumatic delivery pipes to the top.
The low-height areas of the north side of the silo tower and south of the factory use the same faceted cladding framing for windowed areas - a short jutting downslope from ceiling level and then a long near-vertical return to the floor below (see Working Details, p36-37). On the silo tower (north) the downslope is solid and the return is glazed. On the south of the factory, solid and transparent are reversed: the short downslope is glazed and the return is clad in three bands of Vetrotec, a Sto product made from pressed recycled glass cullet, here finished in opalescent metallic paint that intriguingly shifts colour with the weather. The long layered run of these panels, with the shallow glazing strip, all emphasise the horizontal, domesticating the building's height below its actual 20m on this south side.
Despite the glazing of sky-facing southerly downslope of the cladding, its small area (compared with the factory volume) meant than even last summer it did not overheat.
Only the offices, labs and computer suite have artificial cooling; the rest has space heating and natural ventilation.
Contact with the outdoors - a bonus rarely delivered in industrial buildings - is most marked on the north of the factory, where a fully glazed wall provides views to nearby trees and the sloping valley side. The lowest level uses the concrete base of a former warehouse, housing workshops and setting the factory footprint. Above is the double-height production space with a floor of smaller-scale powder storage overhead, all glazed floor-to-ceiling, reminiscent of Owen Williams' D10 factory for Boots in Nottingham, though less transparent - it uses vertical glass troughs rather than panes.
However, despite its haziness, it seems easier to see into the building and the magenta steelwork and production machinery than it would through the reflective blackness of sheet glass. On the south of the factory, outdoor contact is provided by a glazed ground-floor level opening on to a terrace.
This zone will form part of the forthcoming east-west pedestrian axis.
Either end wall of the building is designed to look temporary, extendable, with the roof oversailing it and simple, removable wall cladding of profiled metal-sheet.
What and when the next phase will be remains to be seen, but there is little doubt it will fall to Wilford. Good relations continue between architect and client. The practice is committed to working in Germany. Its German office - a branch office, formalised in 1992 under the name of Wilford Schupp Architekten, with Manuel Schupp the leading partner - provides local expertise and day-to-day project contact with Sto.
When the K Building was completed, Jochen Stotmeister said that it was both highly functional and demonstrated 'the special significance of architecture within our organisation. We aim to continue this successful operation with Michael Wilford and his team in the future.' This new building is but the first encore.
PLANNING START DATE September 1999 CONSTRUCTION DATE Spring 2000 to winter 2003 GROSS FLOOR AREA 20.545m 2BUILDING STRUCTURE COST Ç21,440,000 CLIENT Sto ARCHITECTS Michael Wilford and Partners: Michael Wilford, Chris Dyson, Claudia Murin, Paul Mullin, Daniela Sorgen Wilford Schupp Architekten: Manuel Schupp, Stephan Gerstner, Joachim Carle, Matthias Igel, Martin Braun, Gerald Franz, Gabriele Mettenleiter, Rainer Nowak, Carsten Philippin, Kirstin Schmidt PROCESS ENGINEER OTB SITE SUPERVISORS Ingenieurgruppe FlösserWilford Schupp Architekten (facades and roofs) STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Ingenieurgruppe Flösser FIRE ENGINEER Herr Drescher SERVICE ENGINEERS Ingenieur B³ro f³r Technik Gebõudeausr³stung Ingenieurb³ro Manolla CIVIL ENGINEERS Unger Ingenieure Claus Hofmann ELECTRICAL ENGINEER Ingenieurb³ro Schnell SOIL ANALYSIS Prof Dr Ing E Vees MAIN CONTRACTOR Urspr³ngliche Nachricht SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Metal facades, windows Dilger Metallbau (tower), Mundal Metallbau (factory); metals cladding of walls and roof KH Wagner; factory steel framing Schweeingen; structural concrete AG Stoll; electrical EGT; silo tower and process facilities Doubrava Sto products: facade panels Verotec with StoLook metallic paint; external render on insulation Thermacell;
staircase wall finish StoLook Piccolo (factory); office suspended ceilings StoSilent Panel 2000;
industrial floor covering Sto Pox, Sto Pur
Stowww. sto. com Michael Wilford & Partners www. michaelwilford. com Wilford Schupp Architekten www. wilfordschupp. de OTB www. otb. ch Unger Ingenieure www. unger-ingenieure. de Ingenieurb³ro Schnell www. ib-schnell. de Ingenieurgruppe Flösser www. igfloesser. de