A city walk with architect Steffen Werner

For a better life

Club, hotel, bar, café – In reality, Steffen Werner is an architect and designer, but he's even more renowned in Munich for the numerous gastronomic projects he has undertaken in the course of the last two decades together with his business partners, Sascha Arnold and Niels Jäger. What's really special: They didn't just design the venues, many of them are also run by the trio. A visit to his favourite locations.

One Wednesday morning, shortly after nine. The Bob Beaman is normally closed at this hour. Steffen Werner stands on the empty dance floor and claps his hands together. He wants to test the noise sensors for the lighting system, which have only recently been retrofitted. The club is bleak and the walls are covered with dark, perforated wood. The real eye-catcher is the light ceiling, which consists of milky white Plexiglas, and which can shine in all manner of different colours – and which since most recently has been able to react to noise. One of Werner's staff switches on the system, and the ceiling lights up in pulsating fashion, changing its colours, and giving you the feeling that you're standing under a gigantic kaleidoscope. When the club opened almost ten years ago, it became an institution in Munich virtually overnight. Today, it exemplifies the way in which Werner and his colleagues work: always in search of a new challenge and always one step ahead of the next mega trend.

Many legendary parties have been celebrated at the Bob Beaman Club, quite often until late in the morning. When was the last time you were here at nine in the morning?

(laughs) I'm too old for behaviour now, but of course I check it out on a regular basis.

Along with your business partners, you also run the James T. Hunt Bar and the Flushing Meadows Hotel, in addition to this club. In the meantime, you've also added a café, a restaurant and a smoothie shop to your repertoire. In actuality, you're an architect and designer. How does it all fit together?

It was never really envisaged that we would take on so many projects in the gastronomy sector, it just sought of happened that way. During our studies we worked together with restaurateur Rudi Kull at the bar and regularly organised our own events. This was followed by the ZKV, a temporary club located on Maximilianstrasse, and thereafter it wasn't long before we opened our first place, Edmoses Bar. When the day came that we finally had to get out of there, we went looking for something new and found this location here. In all of our projects, however, it's always been the aspects of fun and general interest in the topic that have taken centre stage. As an architect, it is simply really exciting to design a club with a perfect sound and lighting system or to set about designing a hotel. But we only ever ran the places alongside our actual jobs.

"If you can go in to your own place and meet up with your friends, life in the city is more fun."
Steffen Werner

Is it really so easy to design a club or a hotel without any practical experience?

Of course, when you're doing something for the first time, surprises are inevitable. This can sometimes be quite exhausting, but it's also fun because you're constantly learning. For example, we assumed that the light ceiling would run automatically, but then noticed on the first evening that it did not, and so we ended up hiring a Lightjockey. At first, the lighting system was very fragile and needed a lot of maintenance, and the bass literally ate through the material. We had to make quite a few adjustments there. The overall concept was immediately well-received. The club was even copied.

You're saying there is a second Bob Beaman?

Yes, in South Korea. Somebody just rebuilt our place. The photos from the club look almost identical, if it weren't for the fact that you can only see Koreans on the dance floor.

Werner doesn't sport the look of what you might imagine to be a typical middle-aged architect: He wears neither horn-rimmed glasses nor a black turtleneck, but rather a blue bobble cap with "Edmoses Bar" emblazoned in large letters. Over his shoulder hangs a green and yellow jute bag with the logo of Arnold / Werner, his feet are encased by sneakers. On the way out he describes the building's unusual construction with great enthusiasm, which today is home to the club. It was built by Baron von Branca, who was also behind the design for the Neue Pinakothek (art gallery). A special environment for a special club: to Werner, the overall package was just right. Just like our next stop at an office building situated just across on the other side of Oskar von Miller Ring. This building was also designed by a famous architect, but this time by Richard Meier, and once again it is home to a project by Werner and his colleague Sascha Arnold. We enter a well-lit foyer complete with a Carrara marble reception desk, over which hangs a gigantic installation consisting of hundreds of metal bars.

Where are we?

The lobby is one of our most recent projects. In the city, we are mainly known for our projects in gastronomy, but we also design offices, sales rooms, apartments and houses. Here, in what is the former Siemens headquarters, we were commissioned to redesign all publicly accessible areas. Every ounce of our professional experience went into the design and execution of the chandelier we christened "Zabriskie Point".

"In the city, we are mainly known for our projects in gastronomy, but we also design offices, sales rooms, apartments and houses."
Steffen Werner

Zabriskie Point?

Named after the film by Michelangelo Antonioni, which in turn is a tribute to the hippie movement of the late 60s. The chandelier consists of 1,200 stainless steel rods, and at the top of each one an LED has been installed. The LEDs can all be controlled individually, which creates a kind of three-dimensional projection surface with 1,200 light points. Theoretically you could have the reception area shining really brightly, but I think the staff working there would be less than impressed. The ceiling construction weighs almost 15 tons. It is probably one of the most elaborate chandeliers in Europe.

It is noticeable that light plays a critical role in every project you do. Where does it come from?

I became very focussed on this topic during my studies, partly because I also studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts, in addition to architecture. It was there that I experimented with light sculptures and learned to appreciate the freedom that art has to offer. I really wanted to preserve that. That's one of the reasons why our projects are very focused delivering an outstanding lighting concept. After all, the boundaries are also fluid: The chandelier could also be described as a sculpture.

Back on the road, we saddle up on our bikes and ride towards the Flushing Meadows Hotel. Steffen Werner is making his way on his favourite means of transport: an old folding bike by Di Blasi. He collects the tiny bikes, which remain at the guests' disposal during their stay at the hotel. Once we arrive on Frauenstraße, we head up to the fourth floor to enjoy the hotel's Rooftop Bar. On the way up, Werner explains to us that the elevator's copper interior walls consist of the old bar from Edmoses Bar. A reminder of the place where Werner's career as a restaurateur began. The The elevator doors open, and we enter a room that feels more like a living room than a hotel bar: The floor boasts a colourful Persian rug, a fire crackles in the fireplace, the floor to ceiling windows offer a fantastic view of Munich's rooftops. It is here that light plays a key role once again: The expansive windows provide the maximum amount of natural light, and the ceiling features dozens of flat lights in copper look.

We find ourselves in a hotel – the bar is not only a hit with tourists, Munich's residents are also extremely happy to come here. Why is that?

We took great care when planning the hotel to include the city. Eleven of the 16 hotel rooms were designed by different Munich personalities, including bar owner Charles Schumann and Helmut Geier – aka DJ Hell. This has contributed to ensuring that we are not simply perceived as a hotel, but also as a place where the city's inhabitants love to meet. This is not something many hotel bars succeed in doing, so you can imagine that we're particularly happy.

What criteria do you use when deciding on a new project?

Today we find ourselves in the luxurious position of being able to choose the projects. Therefore, we don't do anything twice, but rather seek out new challenges. For example, if something comparable has been absent from the city to date, we are more likely to opt in favour of a project. We are currently planning the new roof terrace café for the Deutsches Museum.

Many architects strive to leave behind something permanent with their buildings. Does that matter to you?

I see it as something relative: In the long term, everything will eventually disappear. It's nice to keep things for a while, but ultimately it's not up to me for it to remain so forever and ever. I am more concerned with making the life we have good: If you can go in to your own place and meet up with your friends, life in the city is more fun.

Werner makes his apologies, and has to get going. But first he climbs on to the counter: He has a new light bulb with him and wants to see whether its light is better than the previous one. He swaps it out, looks at the result for a moment, then tears himself away. A staff meeting has been scheduled, the breakfast buffet needs optimising. What was the opposite just a moment ago, the architect is now once again restaurateur.

 

 

Text: Wolfgang Westermeier; Photos: Frank Stolle