The Symbolic Power of Architecture

The architecture of the Gläserne Manufaktur was designed for the production of a luxury sedan. Today it is also a place to explore mobility of the future – with one exception.

The architecture of the Gläserne Manufaktur is a symbol of openness and authenticity. It makes production visible, and turns it into an event to which the public is invited. The HENN architectural office in Berlin is responsible for the design.

We visited its office in Berlin for an interview with managing director Martin Henn and Georg Pichler, an architect and a partner at the firm. They explain why architecture conceived around 20 years ago for the production of a luxury sedan now also works as a place to explore future approaches to mobility.

You created the Gläserne Manufaktur about two decades ago. What were the requirements for this future-oriented production site?

Martin Henn: We formulated the requirements back then in together with the clients. We discussed questions about the location in Dresden, and to what extent the production processes should be set up for customers to experience. In contrast to conventional delivery centers in the automotive industry, the Gläserne Manufaktur makes not only the handover of its cars into an experience, but also and especially the production itself. The most important points of the design were transparency in the sense of interaction between the customer and the product, and between the building and the city.

The interior of the Gläserne Manufaktur is of a very high aesthetic quality. Martin Henn, Managing Director, HENN Architects
Did the concept for the Gläserne Manufaktur work right from the start or were adjustments needed?

Martin Henn: One of the aims was to impart additional cachet to the Phaeton luxury sedan which would enhance the brand’s appeal. Moreover, the experience was to be anchored in a city like Dresden that is steeped in history, and not on the outskirts as is usually the case but right in the center. That brought yet another new aspect to the design –a factory that opens itself to the city in terms of both its location and its function. The concept has proven to be very successful. And the Phaeton was made there for around 15 years.

Aerial approach to the Gläserne Manufaktur

The Gläserne Manufaktur stands in the middle of Dresden, right next to the Großer Garten park.

The straight and rectangular lines of the production hall contrast with the organic forms of the vis

The transparent facade was built with 27,500 square meters of glass.

Today the Gläserne Manufaktur stands for electromobility and digitalization, serving as a think tank for start-ups and a place to explore future approaches to mobility. To what extent do these new uses still fit the design?

Georg Pichler: The new uses do in fact fit in very well with the original concept. The interior was of course designed with the Phaeton in mind. The first big step now is to adapt the customer tower to the new visitors. The refined wall surfaces that were installed for the Phaeton product are being replaced with new, modern, and innovative materials. Basically, the entire project is being renewed to convey an even greater sense of openness. The existing relations and processes in and among the customer tower, assembly facilities, restaurant, and showroom continue to work well. There is no need for these to be rebuilt.

Martin Henn: Moreover, the aesthetics, technology, and transparency of the existing production facilities make them very conducive, perhaps even more so, to electromobility.

Is the Gläserne Manufaktur a symbol of industry returning to cities?
It would have been unthinkable to build a conventional production site with a paint shop and metal works in such a prominent location. Georg Pichler, architect and partner at HENN

Martin Henn: Yes, and that’s because production processes are becoming much more compatible with urban settings thanks to digitalization. Manufacturing sites are nothing unusual in city centers. Members of all kinds of professions, from shoemakers to jewelers, generally sit behind a window in their shops and work on their products. You can observe the care and skill that goes into their work. The same is true when you walk through the Gläserne Manufaktur and watch how automotive products are made. To provide a suitable framework for this valuable creation process, the interior of the Gläserne Manufaktur is of a very high aesthetic quality. For example, you won’t find a car manufacturing site anywhere else in the world with parquet flooring.

Spacious and well lit

The Gläserne Manufaktur is the only automotive production facility with parquet flooring.

The building’s many rounded elements are also found inside.

What do the people of Dresden think of the Gläserne Manufaktur?

Georg Pichler: The inhabitants were not very happy with the idea at first. That was a difficult situation. After all, part of the Großer Garten park, even though it’s a relatively small part, was to be developed. And the term “production” triggered understandable fears. It would also have been unthinkable to build a conventional production site with a paint shop and metal works in such a prominent location.

Martin Henn: When I speak with residents today, they are very proud of the project. By opening the high-grade production processes and the building itself to the public, we have given something back to the people of Dresden.

We held the conversation in June 2018.