BMW launches its Mini Cooper in a sporty Berlin showroom by Plajer & Franz
Sophie Lovell -- Interior Design, 7/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Nestled among the likes of Hermès and Escada on the Friedrichstrasse, Berlin's smart shopping boulevard, BMW Group's flagship Mini Cooper showroom makes a strong statement about image. And well it should. The original Mini Cooper, a 1960s British automotive icon affectionately dubbed simply Mini, has been a collector's item ever since Twiggy, John Lennon, and scores of other Swinging Londoners first bought the tiny, buglike vehicle. BMW acquired the rights to the car in purchasing Rover Group in 1994 and introduced a brand-new Mini last year. To create an interior worthy of the hype, BMW wisely chose Berlin interior designers Alexander Plajer and Werner Franz, whose Plajer & Franz Studio is known among Berlin's fast set for Universum and Barlounge 808, two of the coolest watering holes in town.
The brief from BMW was clear. The showroom should reflect the image of the Mini without being so far out that the ordinary customer would get scared. (The target market may well be hip, but that's not to say that BMW wouldn't mind appealing to the odd granny or accountant as well.) Add a no-frills budget for 8,800 square feet and only four months from planning to completion, and you've got a tall order. Nor is it always easy to have a vast corporation as a client. "As soon as we got, say, three people to authorize something, another person in another department would have a different opinion," recalls Plajer. "Luckily, the deadline was so tight that they often didn't have time to say no. "
Plajer & Franz concentrated on producing a cool, stylish space that wouldn't feel alienating and exclusive. The waxed concrete floor appears warmly textured in comparison to the black felt panels on a sidewall. These panels, comprising vertical strips that go from wide to narrow to wide again, are not only graphic representations of velocity but also soak up sound and conceal a large loading dock for the cars.
Against this overall gray and black, the main highlights come from the lively Minis themselves as well as from the 26-foot-long, 9-foot-high multi-Mini mural that serves as a backdrop to the display, as viewed through the street-front glazing. In addition, along the front window and beneath a large central skylight, computer-controlled light installations—which evoke traffic signals with their alternating red, yellow, and green, among other colors—relieve the austerity of the surfaces.
Setting great store in acoustics and textures as tools to shape atmosphere, Plajer and Franz realized this goal to particular effect in the four customer booths set into one side of the main space. Plajer again: "There was the problem of where people sat to talk money. BMW originally specified booths in the center, the salespeople asked us for sealed rooms, and we didn't want to break up the space." Ultimately, the four discrete "boxes," although completely open-fronted, are as acoustically isolated as if they had closed doors. The two designers created each sanctum by slightly elevating the floor, installing perforated acoustic wall and ceiling panels, and laying commercial carpet. Gray cabinets and Philippe Starck's Hula-Hoop chairs round out the furnishings. It is, one imagines, a comfortable ambience for easing customers' burden in parting from their cash.
Without leaving the needs of the paying customer out of the equation, Plajer & Franz is especially good at creating mood. The uncluttered, highly flexible showroom easily allows for the parties, events, and launches of which Berliners are so fond. This balance is one of the secrets of the young team's success.
In addition, Plajer explains, the firm's creativity is coupled with a sound technical understanding of materials—physically, acoustically, and visually. The ceiling dramatically illustrates this point. The large central skylight, which admits diffuse sunshine, is framed by a suspended black sheet-metal expanse laser-cut with a grid of large circular holes. This tempers the acoustic disadvantages of the glass skylight while concealing the power cables and sprinkler system. The treatment also facilitates a pleasingly adaptable lighting setup: Spotlights click into any of the circular holes to allow showroom reshuffles with minimum fuss. "We don't go down conceptual tracks—all that spiritual stuff is banal," says Plajer, who has little patience for the feng shuis of the world. "What we do comes from the gut. When you go into a space and notice something, it's usually because it's not good design. Good design makes you feel good, but you don't know why."