Fifty years of BMW’s iconic Munich headquarters

This year marks the fifty-year anniversary of BMW’s iconic headquarters in Munich – showcasing that pioneering innovative design can stand the test of time

Half a century has past since the Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer designed the iconic corporate headquarters for car manufacturer BMW in Germany’s Bavarian capitol, Munich. To this day, few auto HQ’s have the levels of architectural aplomb and visual brand synthesis as BMW’s.

The aluminium-clad building stands as a towering symbol of technical sophistication and forward-thinking design in Munich. Over the decades, the campus has been added to and enhanced, but the central components – the four-cylinder tower and rotunda – have stayed consistent.

When completed, the curving aluminium facades towered over Munich’s ring road, across from the city’s Olympic Park built for the 1972 games and designed by the celebrated structural engineer Frei Otto. The 101m tower formed a striking backdrop for the Olympic coverage, instantly giving the skyscraper a global audience.

The tower is accompanied by the ‘bowl’ of the BMW Museum, an inverted dome that houses an ever-changing display of the company’s extensive collection, with the famous BMW roundel painted on the roof.

‘The design used a Japanese process that hadn’t been used in Europe before…’

Schwanzer won the 1968 competition for the tower with his cloverleaf-shaped design, said to reference the cylinders of an engine. Up until this point, the architect was best known for his work building exhibition pavilions – he designed the Austrian Pavilions for the 1958 Brussels World Fair and the 1967 Montreal Expo. The former structure was demounted and repurposed as Vienna’s Museum of the 20th Century.

The complex was built between 1970 and 1972, a swift process for such a substantial building. Schwanzer’s design incorporated 3,000 aluminium façade elements, pre-cast using a special Japanese process that hadn’t been used in Europe before. The construction process was also novel; the central reinforced concrete tower was built first, with ready-clad floors jacked into place from the top downwards.

BMW has continued its commitment to high-quality corporate architecture. In 2005, the BMW Central Building in Leipzig was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, while two years later the BMW Welt opened alongside the Munich HQ, a dramatic piece of deconstructivist design that serves as an event space and customer centre for the brand.

The design of BMW’s Munich headquarters not only serves has a beacon of pioneering architecture and innovative design in Bavaria, but it is a testament that great workplace design can be flexible, robust, and stand the test of time.

This post is based on an article written by Jonathan Bell and published by Wallpaper Magazine on 25 July 2022.
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