An interview about design and architecture.
Make things! This seems to be the simple maxim behind the more complex work philosophy of Berlin-based designer Werner Aisslinger. A conversation about progressive design, the 25hours Hotel project and of course, Berlin.
Studio Aisslinger is located in an independent building complex on Heidestraße, where not much of the planned “Europa City” that is said to be sprouting out of the ground soon is currently visible.
Our arrival at the sprawling factory in which the studio is located is, at first, unimportant. Far too many objects vie for attention. Furniture prototypes and other everyday objects, architecture models, and countless design plans peek out of full order books. Werner Aisslinger is in a hurry, but he’s over it.
Werner, you’re originally from Bavaria. Did design bring you to Berlin?
I came to Berlin before the fall of the Wall. I already wanted to come to the city and applied to the liberal arts program at the Hochschule der Künste – at the time it was called the HdK, now it’s the UdK. It didn’t work out. At the recommendation of my then-girlfriend, I applied for the design program instead. Again at the HdK. This worked out right away. After one year I moved to London, where I worked for two “upcoming” designers, Ron Arad and Jasper Morrison. Then, as I was about to graduate I went to Milan again for a year to work with Michele de Lucchi – one of the Memphis veterans. Memphis is a group from the 80s that revolutionized design. De Lucchi was the trailblazer. After I graduated, Berlin began to take off. At the time though, it wasn’t such a design city. Music was important, and, as always, club culture.
How has the city changed? As a designer, did you prefer it to today?
To be honest, no. That’s why I worked almost exclusively in Italy for the first seven years, for Italian labels that set the tone in design and continue to do so today. Berlin had so little relevance, that often Italians didn’t know where I came from. Even after three years their only thought on the matter was t: “Werner – Germany.” They couldn’t have cared less that I came from Berlin.
It seems that at the moment everything is moving towards the West. At Breitscheidplatz you have designed the interior of the 25hours Hotel in the Bikini House. There, the raw, improvised character in which you’ve set collage-like objects is apparent. Could this be understood as an institutionalization of the experimental “90s Berlin look”?
I hope my activities and work do not repeatedly refer to a socialization phase that took place in the 90s. If that were the case, I’d really rather jump out of the window. I hope that one constantly learns and evolves. Of course one has formative stages in life, but I don’t believe that the 90s were so important in Berlin. Needless to say, with the 25hours project we attempted to capture the Berlin way of life, because when someone comes from Tokyo or L.A., they’re always seeking this unfinished, improvised, collage-like mix. I believe it’s much more important that the hotel is actually rather revolutionary in the industry. So much happens there that in fact has nothing to do with staying overnight.
Firstly, the concept is based on a story that we’ve called “Urban Jungle.” There are a number of different references. For example, the legendary Dschungel Club, which was located around the corner on Nürnbergstraße and was the coolest club in Berlin from the 70s to the early 90s. Of course, it’s also about an “urban jungle.” If you look from the front of the hotel out of the windows, you can see the center of West Berlin. In contrast, in the back one encounters the “real jungle,” that is to say, the zoo. Furthermore, we’ve tried to bring the city into the building. Often hotels are like abandoned UFO’s in the context of their city. Hotels are places in which guests hang out and travelers come together, but no one actually gets any feel for the city. You can change this by either going out, or by bringing the city into the hotel.
With the help of a glazed sauna wall, for example?
(laughs) Yes, but I mean something different. For example, we work with a group of young micro farmers that I got to know through the Prinzessinnengärten at Moritzplatz. Plants will be cultivated at the top of the hotel to be processed in the kitchen. We’re creating a kiosk with the publishers Gestalten. We’re devising numerous points of reference to Berlin and its creatives. The idea is to bring entities into the hotel with the potential to amaze guests, but also to serve a very practical purpose, such as the cultivation of plants. There’s definitely more going on here than just check-in, sleep, breakfast.
This is the Berlin context. Are there also references to the areas directly surrounding the hotel, Charlottenburg and the City West?
The connection to Charlottenburg actually takes place through the architecture. The building itself is a designated historical building and has dominated the surrounding area since its construction in the 1950s. The hotel is in a small high-rise surrounded by open space. From the new tenth floor you can see in every direction. This means the whole project is connected to the restoration of Bikini House, which is a windfall for Charlottenburg.
The Schimmelpfeng-Haus, a protected historic landmark from the 50s, was still in the immediate neighborhood until just recently. It was torn down to make room for a new high-rise project. What are your thoughts on that?
The new high-rise with the Waldorf Astoria in it isn’t really my thing. Perhaps it fits better in Frankfurt. I think that there are lovers among investors. For architecture to survive you have to find an investor with a passion for architecture, someone who is presented with the concept and believes you can make something of it. With Bikini House this seems to work.
This article is part of a new collaboration with online magazine Freunde von Freunden.