From the SEGD Archives, circa 2014.
On the Move
At Adidas' new research and design building, Büro Uebule uses turbocharged typography to express the essence of sports.
Adidas’ new research and design center in Herzogenaurach, Germany, is the place where 1,700 workers develop new products for the world leader in sports equipment and apparel. It’s nicknamed “Laces” to describe the suspended walkways that crisscross its vast atrium, connecting departments and bringing employees closer together for collaboration and creativity.
Andreas Uebele, principal of Büro Uebele Visuelle Kommunikation (Stuttgart) took inspiration from the word “Laces”—as well as the spirit of movement intrinsic to athletics—when he designed a system of environmental graphics and wayfinding for the building.
Movement defines the design language Uebele and project manager Carolin Himmel adopted: turbocharged, superscaled typography runs through the building, reflected in the corporate typeface (a variation of FF Din) that leaps and bounds across walls and walkways, through meeting rooms and hallways, and into employee lounges.
Addressing the brief
Uebele’s “official” client briefing was to design a signage system that supports the Adidas brand as well as the unique architecture of the 62,000-square-meter research and design center. Designed by Kadawittfeldarkitektur (Aachen, Germany), it is a ringlike building with a huge atrium and crossing bridges (“laces”) that end in informal meeting areas, lounges, and department offices.
Uebele focused on his “internal brief”: developing a distinct atmosphere for the design center that responds to the Adidas brand and focuses on the key architectural features—the laces and lounges.
“A design solution should always respond to architecture, landscape, brand, history, visitors, and employees,” says Uebele. “In fact it is a mixture of all of these parts but some are more important, some less. In this case we wanted to react to the specific characteristics of the architecture and thought that especially the 28 lounges should be designed to a higher level than just signage.”
Uebele also “reacted” to some critical elements of the architecture, creating graphic interventions where it seemed appropriate. For example, screens made of slender metal tubing, which the architects chose to cover the glass interior facades of the building, seemed “a bit raw” to Uebele. At ground and atrium level, he transformed them into dramatic placemaking elements and wayfinding aids by painting superscaled letters on them. Visible from all points in the atrium, they serve as department identifiers while adding motion and energy to the space.
When developing sign systems, Uebele says he and his team work closely with the architects. “They can be your partner, honestly criticizing and accompanying the designer through the project. We have had very good experiences with architects, even though we have made massive interventions in their work. We try to read their specific architectural language and respond to it. We discuss with the architect if our design is appropriate, or sometimes, if it is too weak.”
Go big or go home
“Too weak” was clearly not an issue in the Laces building. Uebele went bold, rendering the names of Adidas products in huge-scale typographic reliefs, bold wall paintings, and sculptural letterforms that add drama and a sense of motion to the black and white space.
The building was designed as a neutral backdrop for the company’s colorful products, and Uebele followed the monochromatic scheme in public spaces. In the entrance, the word “Information” becomes a dramatic sculpture and beacon when rendered in 8,280mm by 1,110mm white Corian letters. The large-scale alphabetical department identifiers anchor the atrium space in black and white. In other locations in the building, letterforms march across corridor and meeting room walls, solidifying into bold abstract surfaces.
Uebele reserved color primarily for the 28 employee lounges, which serve as important informal meeting zones for the product design process. On the lower levels, relief-style typographical murals in bold, contrasting colors give these rooms their own distinct identities and also serve as wayfinding aids through interior glass facades. The wall paintings bear the names of iconic products, inspiring those who will create the company’s next big successes.
Lacing a path
Uebele’s biggest wayfinding challenge was communicating to users that the “laces” are quick and short connectors between departments and meeting spaces, and that they are more comfortable to use than the staircases. He again chose a typographic solution, embellishing the walkways’ glass balustrades with letterforms. On the glass, the names of meeting spaces look as if they have been stamped into super-fine, transparent gauze. The outlines of the letters are made of highly reflective film, creating a shimmering, mobile effect that attracts the eye toward the walkways. The outlines of letters and arrows are shifted vertically and repeated rhythmically, creating a dynamic, sporty effect.
To augment the huge department identifiers visible from the atrium, Uebele incorporated an overview of the building’s functions in vinyl text on the white Corian “Information” sculpture. At key hubs and intersections throughout the building, tone-on-tone white typographical reliefs draw users’ eyes toward simple (and colored, for emphasis) wayfinding text incorporated into the MDF reliefs.
Adidas employees have been happy with the program, and Uebele is convinced his signage and environmental graphics system does what it set out to do: express the energy and excitement of a sports brand while playing well with the architecture.
--By Pat Matson Knapp, eg magazine No. 07, 2014
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This project was a 2014 SEGD Global Design Awards winner. See the complete Design Awards archive.
Location: Herzogenaurach, Germany
Project Area: 62,000m2
Open Date: June 2011
Design: Büro Uebele Visuelle Kommunikation
Design Team: Andreas Uebele, Carolin Himmel project manager
Interior Design: Zieglerbürg
Fabrication: Eicher Werkstätten, Dieter Ertl Inneneinrichtungen
Photos: Christian Richters, Werner Huthmacher