Commissions to design prominent new buildings in the city centers of Swedish towns are not common. Since the days of the large urban renewals during the middle of the last century, new developments in downtown areas have been taboo. All the more special then to get the opportunity to design a new office building inside the old moat in Gothenburg, complete with interior design. But with the special task also comes several special conditions. A strictly regulated zoning plan is opposed to a client’s desire for areas and the physical fact that the new building is being built in connection to the area’s oldest house means that the question of the relationship between new and old requires an answer.

Finally, the office building as a form is in many ways predetermined. Building depths, floor heights and floor layouts that provide the most efficient and flexible offices have been tested over and over and crystallized into a more or less formal standard. At the same time, many of the basic constructive elements of architecture such as structure, systems, materials, proportions and light, are engaged more directly in the office building than in most other buidlings. Consequently, office architecture still largely leads architectural innovation.

The design of Merkurhuset was largely influenced by the conditions of the zoning plan and the irregular shape and limited area of the plot. As a consequence of the maximum allowed building height, the outer wall of the top floor was angled in like a studio window, but by allowing the intermediate pillars to rise up through the glass, the building got its signature.

In SOM’s classic Inland Steel Building in Chicago, built 1958, the vertical systems of the building were detached from the horizontal floor plans in a separate building volume. In this way, open, rational office plans were created without shafts or pillars, but also an exterior where the frame, elevators and stairwells formed the shape of the building.

With reference to SOM, Merkurhuset’s stairwell and elevator shaft were placed at each end of the building, maximizing the open office plans. The vertical structures were shaped like masonry cylinders built in Danish Flensburg brick, as a salute to the Rosenlundsverket heating plant next door and the rounded bay windows of the old Merkurhuset. At the same time, the sculptural elements meant that the plot could be utilized to the maximum.

The interior design was developed in close collaboration with the tenant, advertising agency Forsman & Bodenfors, and takes inspiration from the aesthetics of industrial buildings with clean materials and a visual simplicity. The result was an ‘outside, inside’, where the character of the built materials was emphasized and where added surface layers were minimized.

A concept for the furniture was created with reference to Donald Judd’s ascetic design, where geometric wooden structures become seating and tables. Beech was consistently chosen for furniture as well as fixed furnishings and interior parts, an undeservedly untrendy material that is both robust and beautiful, and it felt like a statement to highlight this material in the interior.

The project was awarded the Kasper Salin Prize in 2022, the oldest and most prestigious architecture prize in Sweden.

TypologyOffice building
Size8000 sqm
ClientPlatzer Fastigheter / Bygg-Göta / Forsman & Bodenfors
TeamBornstein Lyckefors Architects: Per Bornstein, Johan Olsson, Andreas Lyckefors, Fabian Sahlqvist, Viktor Stansvik, Johan Häggqvist, Ergin Can, Joel Gödecke, Johanna Engloo, Edvard Nyman, Viktor Fagrell
LocationGothenburg, Sweden
PhotographyMikael Olsson

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