BMW Plant

Zaha Hadid provides the connective tissue for a BMW complex by designing a central building that brings people and cars together

Architects can't shake their fascination with industrial buildings. Icons of functionalism such as Fiat's Lingotto factory in Turin, the work of engineer G. Matté Truco (1926), and Peter Behren's AEG turbine factory in Berlin (1910), to name two relics of another era, still loom large in the imaginations of architects romanced by the buildings of manufacturing. But in our postindustrial, information-driven society, few factories manage to create inspired architecture from the exigencies of the assembly line.

In 2002, the German auto giant BMW invested in a high-profile competition to design a Central Building at its factory on the outskirts of Leipzig, a $1.55 billion complex where 5,000 employees can produce up to 650 of BMW's 3-Series sports sedans daily. From a field of 25 international architects, the company picked Pritzker laureate Zaha Hadid, whose sophisticated design turned conventions of factory design on their ear. Blue-collar factory workers and white-collar managers commingle in a fluid matrix of automotive production and administration. Unfinished auto bodies on their way to the assembly line parade silently on cagelike conveyor belts suspended above workers lunching in the corporate canteen or laboring in their cubicles. "Our idea was always to challenge the typology," says Hadid. "It took tremendous chutzpah for BMW to allow us to do this project."

Though Hadid purports to shatter typologies, her building has no real precedent. It functions as a centralized node connecting three production buildings, designed by BMW's own real estate and facility management group and completed in 2004, each of which contains a distinct segment of the assembly sequence: the fabrication of raw auto bodies (645,000 square feet), the paint shop (270,000 square feet), and finally the vast assembly hall (1,075,000 square feet), where painted shells are fitted out and released as finished luxury vehicles.

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