“The Meaning of Space”, a commentary by Christoph Rohrer, 2019

Today, it’s more important than ever for brands to show their stance and convey messages – even in architecture. “The Meaning of Space” has been driving me and Blackspace for 20 years. In projects like #untaggable or #newspacesforart we’ve questioned places, redefined them, loaded them with content and meaning. Read on to hear my take on the Space Identity paradigm shift – and the solutions we recently developed for Lufthansa, Genesis and Goldkammer Frankfurt.

The Meaning of Space

Humans are visual creatures. They tend to first create a visible shape before thinking about the content that will fill it. In architecture, impressive buildings are often created to show presence and influence. Most palaces, monuments and stately homes were created primarily for these reasons. Versailles, for example, was nothing but a constructed symbol of power. The same long applied to corporate architecture. Just think about the distinguished headquarters we saw in the last century: the Frankfurt bank towers, glass and marble palaces of ‘90s-era German corporations. The aim here was to express a brand’s image through impressive spaces and large logos, and to leave as large a footprint as possible. Stance and messages often took second place or remained invisible entirely.

High time to question and redefine places

In my view, this has become outdated. In fact, speechless, rigid architecture doesn’t work at all anymore. In times of radical change, when society and business models evolve so quickly that they won’t exist as long as architecture carved in stone; when younger generations only want to commit themselves to companies they really believe in; it is more important than ever for brands to show their stance. They do so by answering the question of meaning both to the people outside on the street and to their own employees: by defining their purpose and developing an approachable identity. To fulfill this need, we developed our own approach: Space Identity® – the development of identity-creating brand spaces.

From the headquarters to a meeting place

In an increasingly virtual world, people and brands use physical places differently than in the past; face-to-face exchanges especially significant. This paradigm shift, from representative architecture to a place of encounter, can be seen wonderfully at the Lufthansa Aviation Center (LAC) in Frankfurt. Originally, the building was designed by ingenhoven architects especially for Lufthansa. Since this year, LAC has served as headquarters of the entire Lufthansa Group.

In order to create a Space Identity that does justice to such a change, many questions have to be answered in parallel. What happens when all roads intersect in one place, with different partners wanting to communicate at the same time, and how do we deal with it? How do we give space to the aura of a brand as well as the latest news? And how can we facilitate communication and mutual exchange, both internally and with external partners and visitors? In response, we developed a media installation that seamlessly integrates into the existing award-winning architecture: semi-transparent, intelligent LED surfaces with the character of an art installation, but designed for individual use. From content we developed for the Lufthansa Group and real-time information to presentations, vastly different themes can be transported into the room at any given time. Allowing Space Identity to shape and change the architecture as required.

From a global stage to a local interpretation

An example that further advances this thought, and clarifies the paradigm shift from representative architecture to changing messaging, is the Genesis Studio in Sydney. The luxury car manufacturer recently opened its first studio outside Korea, in the heart of Sydney. In the building designed by our partners SUH architects, we implemented for the first time a technology that can change the meaning of rooms within minutes – worldwide, at the touch of a button. Though we have developed communication for Genesis since the beginning of our collaboration, only now can we also centrally control from Munich which content should be visible at which Genesis location. Stories around the brand can be easily adapted to local requirements – and, at the same time, we can ensure the Space Identity reflects Genesis’ character.

From a walk-through story to a flexible platform

The paradigm shift from a walk in history to a flexible platform can be seen at the Goldkammer Frankfurt, which opened in Frankfurt this May as one of the most modern museums in Europe. It features a spectacular underground chamber system designed by the architects at hg merz. The newly opened museum not only wants to show gold in all its facets, but also wants to open itself up to the outside world and offer a place for the broader public to exchange ideas.

In order to anchor this platform’s character firmly in the identity of the museum, we created an immersive exhibition space in the heart of the Goldkammer Frankfurt. With over 300 elaborately staged exhibits from the Rothschild Collection as well as a specially produced film, it tells the narrative of gold’s beginnings, following it into the present day.

Space Identity can no longer be solved through imposing reception halls, spectacular museums and large illuminated logos. What brands need are flexible, intelligent formats that fill rooms with messages, giving companies and institutions not only a geographical but also an intellectual home.