Interview with designer Franziska Kessler

Franziska, what is the role of Kessler Kessler at AchtBerlin? 

Daniel and I are the creative building consultants. That means we are mediators between the architects, planners, project managers and owners/developers. As we play a major role in each construction phase, we serve as a constantly well-informed point of contact for the building owners and can really capture their wishes and needs. Daniel is the one to go to for everything technical and structural, while I focus on aesthetics, design and communication.

AchtBerlin is the operating company of No. 8 Schönhauser Allee, with the film company DCM at its core.

Yes, DCM is basically the nucleus of the complex. DCM has an emotional connection with the history of AchtBerlin – those guys have been in their office space at No. 8 Schönhauser Allee for a long time and they now own the property. Being a new property owner raises a lot of issues. The project developers embraced these issues and decided to take a very personal approach to the project – to let it grow structurally and intellectually.

What is special about AchtBerlin?

The synergy between old and new, past and future.

The building at No. 8 Schönhauser Allee was built 100 years ago and was a residential and commercial space; the rear wing housed a soap factory.

And it is one of the few remaining dilapidated gems that can still be found on the border of the Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte districts.

The old building faces the street and welcomes tenants and visitors at the front, while the new building connects to it at the back.

The two commissioned architects are creating a dialogue of form, material language and content between the old and the new sections. Incidentally, the exposed concrete of the new building is a subtle reference to Switzerland, where it is currently a popular building material in modern architecture.

The Swiss founders of DCM must like that!

Exactly! In any case, we see it as our job to let a harmonious unity emerge from the styles and architectural features of the old and new sections.

How does that manifest itself?

Take the courtyards, for example, with the new atrium and the impressive bicycle ramp. These dominant architectural interventions create an exciting connection between old and new. And we see similar connections inside the buildings, for example with the flooring. The pink natural rubber floor in the new building would be an equally fitting material for the historic rear wing – albeit in a different colour. In the front building, the plan is to retain and restore the old wooden floors as far as possible. But certain areas can also be designed with a different material – perhaps even natural rubber. So, the flooring material throughout AchtBerlin is a good example of where we can create cohesion and a common theme.

What issues do you have to consider besides aesthetics?

This is an office and residential building – and that combination of public and private gives the project an interesting character. The pandemic has drastically changed working environments and the way we view work. What are the new working practices? What are the needs and requirements, but also the opportunities and sensitivities of each individual today? Many employees appreciate being able to choose whether to work from home or at a temporary work station. As a result, employers are asking themselves: How many fixed workplaces do we as a company want to have, knowing that they might not be used on a daily basis? This results in new, more flexible and interesting room set-ups, furnishing concepts, and working environments. We and the building owners have also tried to rethink how co-working will look in the present and future.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

Fewer fixed walls – instead using moveable wall elements and flexible sound screens. The design concept is about “dissolving” the fixed workplace to an extent. A dynamic sense of communication and mutually beneficial encounters will suffuse the building, so one can choose to work in the seating niches in the atrium, or to hold a conference in the library, for instance.

The new building will house a cinema with 70 seats.

A room that also has room for 100 people during a standing conference, and where the screen can also be used for presentations.

So this cinema plays an important role at AchtBerlin?

Very important! In the initial concept of architect Thomas Kröger it is envisaged as a “presentation cinema” for DCM. But over time the room has developed into a multifunctional space for professional and public events. The idea is that it can be used to host a curated cultural program of readings, screenings, panel discussions and even dance performances.

The idea of a cinema as an institution that unites modernity and the past also fits in very well with the project as whole.

Yes, there is something nostalgic about a cinema these days. At AchtBerlin, the cinema stands first and foremost for emotion. It is a fundamental part of the project because it invites people to come in, establishing a flow of movement through the building. It opens up the entire building – as does the fourth-floor library with its access to the rooftop terrace, as does the ground-floor bar, and as does the architecturally intriguing basement-level atrium, which can be used in a variety of ways by the tenants or hired by external parties. And let’s not forget the food and drink establishments on the ground floor, where we have the The Barn café and the Fleischerei, a well-known restaurant in the city.

What is your personal background?

I worked as a journalist for many years, including for German Vogue, Männer Vogue and Elle. I was already involved in design, art and architecture back in the 80s and 90s, which was an exciting era internationally, and especially in Germany. During that time, I worked with German designer and interior architect Herbert Jakob Weinand on my first design project – the design hotel Bleibtreu, which is truly a Gesamtkunstwerk. At the time, it stood out because of its holistic concept, which included everything from choice of materials to architecture to art and the human aspect.

With my husband Daniel Kessler, who is a photographer, I then founded design studios in Paris and Zurich in 1995.

How has your background in journalism influenced your design work?

Through my journalism and my husband’s photography, we developed an eye for concepts – and we always try to translate this way of seeing things into the spaces we address. We take the same fearless approach to every project – be it a room or an apartment, a restaurant in Moscow, a bar in Tokyo or a Swiss art and design collection, a private house by the sea or a museum. We are interested in stories and the people they concern. AchtBerlin is the quintessence of all its many stories.