The Sony Center, an American-sourced “ufo” designed by Murphy/ Jahn Architects and PWP Landscape Architecture, wellknown U.S. based firms that “landed” in Berlin in 2000, is a mandatory pilgrimage destination, a must-have, for any tourist. As soon a person enters, the gaze rises skyward and culminates in a membrane, stretched like the one of a circus tent, and the show begins. A post-modern technological symphony of iron and glass, colored lights, a crystalline 100 m tower, the repositioned Kaisersaal, an impeccable floor of “Indian black” stone and shiny perforated stainless steel strips, reflections and monumentality. One leaves Berlin behind and allows himself to be amazed. If this is its strength, it is at the same time its limitation. A UFO that has never really been part of the city and Berliners, except as an orientation point visible from afar.

It is rare for a resident to go to the Sony Center, just as those who work there do not stay after work. Two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and the absence of tourism, as well as the rise of “smart working”, have doomed the awe of open mouths to ajar. Yet, the Sony Center has not only been masterfully designed and built, it has been beautifully maintained without a wrinkle. Why intervening if the space is in excellent condition? What has changed is not the place, but the user. Twenty years later, the themes that once excited people are no more doing it. Stiff, graphic and symbolic poplars and boxwood hedges, squared and tamed, almost baroque, do not satisfy today’s need for nature, disheveled, diverse and spontaneous. The chromatic and formal monotony of domesticated and topiary essences, always the same all year round, are diametrically opposed to the spirit of a society in a state of climatic emergency. Biodiversity, seasonal changes and colors are meant to be the bearers of hope. The monumentality of 40-meter-high glass facades demands a new intimacy on a human scale without which the purpose of diverse enjoyment and vitality will not be achieved.

To this end, the Sony Center’s new owner, Oxford Properties Group, decided to invest in and reprogram existing spaces. In a quick and targeted first action, it has involved the multinational company Nike. Together with the urban strategy consultancy Blossity, Nike and the landscape architecture firm capattistaubach a first transformation site was born in mid-year 2022: a “space making”. At first glance the site is unrecognizable: a colorful surface and a dense forest of sculptural and recurved trees come to replace geometric flowerbeds and a few poplars. But a closer look reveals that the apparent tabula rasa is a reprinting of the existing. A “beamed” memory logo or rather a pop art screen print with color stratigraphy. What were once boxwood hedges have become pavements or areas planted with trees. The geometry of the space remains faithful while its content differs. Stainless steel flag poles have been transformed into poles with floodlights that theatrically illuminate an area dedicated to physical activities. A 12-meter-long, half-moon-shaped bench in bright orange grating traces the ventilation grate below. Inside the sports surface, a 6-foot (about 2-meter) container entirely covered with mirrored stainless metal panels intrigues any visitor who finds himself looking at himself and the context behind them. Everything fits but nothing matches.

Each week Nike offers free workouts that anyone can take part in, opening the door to the container that houses all kinds of training equipment. The sports field is framed by a natural stone block that serves as a seating area to calm the marked inclines and create a flat surface. The latter was covered with a layer of soft rubber (Nike grind), made from crushed shoe soles in granules and epoxy resins. The adjacent shady grove of Amelanchier lamarckii is home to numerous squared oak trunks, some scattered seating of varying sizes. Starting next year, a café with a long stone table will provide an additional place of refuge and rest. The space created turns out to be an ambassador of future ambitions, an “appetizer” that satisfies the first hunger and hints at the arrival of the “new courses”. Waiting for dessert and schnapps, Nike Stage invites everyone to burn calories and exercise on the spot.

Architecture offices involved in the design:
Blossity – Urban Strategy Consultancy

Location: Kemperplatz 1, 10785 Berlin, Germany

Design year: 2021

Year Completed: 06/2022

Fotocredit // capattistaubach: Plan and rest of the images


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