40 years of BMW Headquarters and Museum


40 years of the BMW Tower and Museum. 
BMW Tower: the “Four-Cylinder”.


During the 1960s, BMW went through a period of unprecedented expansion. Spiralling production figures necessitated extra space for administrative functions in addition to more production facilities. While the manufacturing side was expanded through the acquisition of Glas Automobilwerke in Dingolfing and Landshut in 1966, in Munich there was a shortage of office space for administrative staff. Although the existing office buildings at Plant 1 in Munich/Milbertshofen were added to and more space was created immediately adjacent to the factory, there simply was not enough scope for the requisite expansion. As a result many administrative departments had to be relocated off the plant premises. Office buildings in and around Munich were rented to accommodate staff, which meant that administration was dispersed across the city. This situation ultimately forced the company to recognise the need for a dedicated office building on plant premises in order to recentralise and expand administrative organisation.

Tender and competition Wilhelm Hermann Gieschen – board member for production from 1961 to 1971 – presented the first plans for a new administration building in Dostlerstrasse to a meeting of the Board of Management on 14 June 1966. Gieschen was therefore the initiator of its construction and from that point on became the board member responsible for all arrangements associated with the new building.

A site for the new administration building was identified to the south of the BMW plant. It had an area of 28,210 m² and was located on Dostlerstrasse and therefore adjacent to the main entrance to the BMW plant. The site earmarked for this new office block was undeveloped at the time of planning and used as a car park for the workforce at the BMW plant until 1970.

The BMW executive management launched a competition with a view to choosing a design for the new head office and invited eight architects with a proven track record in similar projects. The tender document issued in April 1968 specified that the new complex of buildings should include – in addition to the office block – a separate pavilion for an electronic computer centre and a multistorey car park. The architecture of the administration centre, computer centre and multistorey car park was to be closely integrated, in addition to creating an architectural synthesis with the existing administration Buildings 71 and 80 on the periphery of the plant site and outside it.

Spatial planning for the new office building also had to take account of technological advances in administration and production and the continual changes these brought to workflows. So BMW was looking for a design in which usable space could be reconfigured and adapted at any time to meet current requirements. In addition to stipulating conditions for the spatial design of the new BMW building, the executive management was equally concerned that it should have architectural merit. In particular, the promotional appeal of the building was dependent on a generous and visually impressive façade. Moreover, access to the Headquarters, featuring a forecourt, was to be similarly imposing in its layout. The jury appointed to judge the entries was united in the view that the new administrative complex required dimensions and a design that would not only reflect the importance of the company, but also blend in with other architecture around the BMW plant. This consisted of residential buildings, the BMW plant, major traffic junctions and the future Olympic facilities.

Following the presentation of the designs on 10 October 1968, the competition shortlist of two comprised a rather conventional “seven-storey high-rise slab block”, submitted by the engineering and planning company Aktiengesellschaft für Industrieplanung, and an almost 100-metre-high, futuristic “suspended structure” with four cylindrical main elements, designed by the Viennese architect Professor Karl Schwanzer. In the jury’s view, both designs had advantages and drawbacks, but BMW sales director Paul Hahnemann recognised in Karl Schwanzer’s technically bold design the potential for it to become an architectural landmark for BMW and for Munich, and he championed its implementation internally. In order to convince the BMW Board of Management, Supervisory Board and major shareholders of the merits of Schwanzer’s design, Hahnemann had a functional model of one complete cloverleaf storey with open-plan office erected on a 1:1 scale at the Bavaria film studios. His efforts were rewarded: in December 1968, BMW management awarded the commission to build a new Group head office to the Viennese architect Professor Karl Schwanzer.

BMW Tower: architecture and design

Karl Schwanzer’s design drafts for the BMW Headquarters reveal the influence of his teacher, the architect Oscar Niemeyer, who in the 1950s had been responsible for urban planning for Brasília, the new capital of Brazil. The BMW Tower site benefited from Niemeyer’s architectural landscape and it reveals the extent to which Schwanzer borrowed from the architectural concept of his mentor – the sculptural element of both the BMW Tower and Museum Bowl would have been inconceivable without Niemeyer’s spectacular ensemble in South America.

The tower has a cloverleaf floor plan and forms both the high point and centre of the ensemble of new buildings. Its height of 99.5 metres was within the maximum stipulated by Munich’s inner city planning regulations in 1968. This restriction was based on the height of the towers of Munich’s Frauenkirche, which rise to 98.6 m. The height of a building could not exceed 100 m. Its 22 storeys were divided into 18 office floors, including two for the Board of Management, four technical floors, the ground floor and a basement.

Instead of resting on foundations, the BMW Tower’s four cylinders were designed to be suspended from a cruciform steel beam construction on the roof. There were only a handful of examples of this type of “suspended building” worldwide, and none had ever been built to the height of Schwanzer’s design for BMW. In construction terms this meant that rather than being built conventionally from the bottom upwards, first the upper floors of the almost 100-metre-high building were completed. The four cylindrical elements were initially constructed at ground level, before being raised hydraulically and completed in several segments. Each cylinder comprising 19 floors – including a technical floor (to provide visual segmentation) – was suspended from four giant “crane arms” positioned in the shape of a cross at the building’s central core, a tower shaft made of reinforced concrete and resting on very solid foundations. The huge tensile and compression forces were absorbed by lattice girders made of reinforced concrete on a mezzanine level in the top third of the building and by vertical ties and compression columns running along the exterior façades – lending the entire design stability. This approach to design and construction gave the BMW Tower a light and distinctive silhouette, despite its impressive height and a suspended weight of 16,800 tonnes.

Moreover, in urban planning terms the cloverleaf tower was very much in keeping with its surroundings and at the same time proved an extremely effective way of promoting the company. Thanks in particular to its distinctive shape, Schwanzer’s tower was to become a memorable landmark and important focal point for BMW. The architect himself described it as a modern and unique office tower with a characteristic access road and closed forecourt. The design made use of clearly defined forms that conveyed precision, technical perfection and aesthetically appealing contours. As such, it perfectly represented the successful image and high aspirations of the BMW automotive company.

But the building was not all about the appeal of its spectacular exterior: in terms of interior design, Schwanzer accorded a high priority to the issue of functionality. What the directors initially regarded as too futuristic, too far removed from practical applications and too experimental, was ultimately considered the best solution: a circular floor plan of four office segments on each level, created by the four individual suspended columns of the tower. These four circular segments form the cloverleaf shape of the external floor plan of the administration building. The architect himself based his reasoning for the shape of the building exclusively on the compelling logical rationality and functionality of a circular floor plan for the modern organisational approach to office work. One of the determining factors for Karl Schwanzer was to optimise communication flows within a team. In his view the cloverleaf floor plan resulted in the following characteristics for modern office design: short routes to optimise lines of communication and office organisation between the individual departments, and maximum flexibility in configuring available space. Even today the four circular segments of each cloverleaf floor are mainly used for open-plan offices. At the core of each floor are two intersecting corridors which link the individual team offices. This architecture fosters close cooperation through short lines of communication. And this approach to office planning in the tower reflects the BMW principle of a flat hierarchical structure. Virtually every member of the department, from trainees to head of department, sits in a team office – individual offices are few and far between.

BMW Tower: the construction process

The period of construction for the new Group Head Office and outside areas was scheduled for 26 months. Since 70 per cent of the site was affected by the building work, construction had to be carried out in stages. Excavation work on the site of the former car park for the BMW plant began on 16 July 1970. The official groundbreaking ceremony followed on 28 July 1970. Two and a half months after the start of construction, the foundations of the tower and two floor levels above the basement were in place. Four months after the start of construction, the core of the tower had been raised to the full height of almost 100 m using the Simcrete slipform process. Next came the mighty load-bearing cross at the top of the tower. Even while this work was in progress, the seven uppermost floors and adjoining technical floor were being prepared at ground level. Then these floors were suspended from the load-bearing cross using prestressing steel tendons and raised by a hydraulic press at a rate of four metres per week. In the space vacated beneath these now suspended floors, a new floor could then be prepared each week and hoisted up to the completed ones above, with glazing and façade work progressing at the same time. In this way the four cylindrical segments of the building rose uniformly from the ground at the same pace.

Already protected from the elements, the completed floors were now ready for interior work to begin without delay. Installations were fitted, followed by floor, wall and ceiling linings in a meticulously preplanned rhythm, unimpeded by skeleton construction work at ground level. Thanks to prefabrication, the tower’s architecture went up with enormous speed – as an approach to construction it was elegant, efficient and quick. After 16 months, lifting operations on the floor segments came to an end. The shell of the administration tower, the façade and the glazing were complete and work on the interior was already well under way.

The topping-out ceremony to celebrate completion of construction was held on 7 December 1971. By July 1972, just two years after the start of the building programme, the outer profile of the entire complex of buildings, the outside areas and the landscaping were complete. When Munich played host to the world at the 1972 Olympic Games, the BMW Tower was finished and could be seen in its full glory for the first time. The end of the contractual construction period was 30 September 1972. However, before the move into the building could begin on 22 January 1973, additional work had to be carried out and the interior design needed to be completed. An open day was held in mid-December 1972 to enable staff to see what their future workplace would look like. The official opening ceremony for the new complex of buildings with a price tag of DM 109 million was held on 18 May 1973.

How the logo found its way onto the roof of the tower

Schwanzer’s concept proposed the installation of corporate emblems on the load-bearing cross on the roof of the tower. However, the Munich city planning authority considered the impact would be too striking in nature. Effectively, the city planners were saying they were against the installation of a company logo – and a legal dispute ensued. Despite this, to mark the start of the Olympic Games, Eberhard von Kuenheim, chairman of the Board of Management at the time, had BMW emblems printed on canvas screens and displayed at a height of nearly 100 m on the east and west sides of the roof superstructure for “trial purposes”. Mounting the logo on the west side was particularly important for promotional reasons, since the emblem was visible from the Olympic Stadium – the intention being to attract the attention of visitors to the Games. By displaying the company logo in breach of city regulations in this way, BMW incurred a fine of over DM 110,000. But after lengthy negotiations with the city authorities, the Board of Management was finally granted permission in autumn 1973 to display BMW logos permanently on all four sides of the superstructure.

BMW Tower: renovation and modernisation 2004-2006

After over 30 years of service, by the turn of the millennium the BMW Tower was in need of thorough renovation and modernisation. The contract was awarded to Hamburg-based architect Peter P. Schweger and work on structural and technical aspects of the building began in 2004. However, the building’s external appearance remained unchanged throughout the renovation: the cleaning of all façade elements, the new insulation and soundproofing, and the replacement of 2,304 windows were only noticeable on closer inspection. The colossal load-bearing construction on the roof was encased in a well-ventilated housing to prevent damp penetration. And the roof itself was sealed with welded plates of stainless steel. Great thought was given to the updated fire protection system, which used pressure ventilation of the stairwells with airlocks situated at the entrances, and included a specially integrated fire service lift.

Furthermore, conditions for those working in the BMW Tower were improved. The fresh air supply was optimised and complemented by a system to control window opening. Natural daylight in the workplace was improved thanks to a redesigned louvre system and supported by the use of daylight-controlled circular luminaires. Following the removal of the Tower canteen in the adjoining low-rise building to the west, a replacement was built in the adjoining building to the east, which featured a large cafeteria in high-quality contemporary design. The Four-Cylinder’s entire lift system also underwent renovation. Instead of the original eight cars in eight lift shafts, now two cars travelled one above the other in four of the shafts, with a single car in two of the other shafts and a fire service lift.

The BMW Tower today

The BMW Tower was state-of-the-art in 1973, a symbol of cutting-edge architecture and a test site for new, pioneering ideas geared to in-house cooperation. After 30 years of service, the building needed to be adapted to the changing technical and architectural requirements of a global company. Today the Four-Cylinder is virtually unchanged in terms of its external appearance and on the inside remains as spectacular and futuristic as it was 40 years ago. The renovation work preserved its character as a building of innovative, forward-looking technical design and further developed and refined the basic principle of transparency, which had been an aspiration from the outset. Thanks not least to the development of an energy and resource management system, the overhaul also achieved a reduction in operating costs of 50 per cent. In 2013 the BMW Tower provides a unique working environment for 1,500 employees of the BMW Group.

BMW’s architectural philosophy: “ Built for communication”

With his innovative exterior and interior design for the Four-Cylinder, Professor Karl Schwanzer laid the foundations of an architectural philosophy at BMW that began in the late 1960s and is still regularly applied today. In line with the “built for communication” principle, this philosophy influences internal workflows and helps to convey the public image of the company.

Since then, outstanding architecture with a high degree of functionality has been a trademark of the company. The Research and Innovation Centre (FIZ), built between 1984 and 1990, is a spacious ideas factory, whose interlinking segments were specifically designed to put into practice the guiding principle of team- and communication-based work. All specialist units involved in vehicle development and pre-production are based here. Developed by HENN Architekten of Munich, the project building is integrated into the processes of vehicle production. Here, too, communication between the employees and teams involved in the various projects has been a priority since 2004.

Zaha Hadid Architects of London designed the central building of the BMW Leipzig plant, which opened in 2005. The structure features a unique open spatial concept, designed to support communication and human interaction. It interlinks the key production areas using the shortest possible routes. The design was awarded the 2005 German Prize for Architecture.

The spectacular, award-winning architecture of BMW Welt, designed by the Viennese team of architects Coop Himmelb(l)au and opened in 2007, is now Bavaria’s most popular attraction and draws millions of visitors each year. As the brand’s “shop window” it surprises visitors both inside and out with its unconventional design aesthetic and functionality.