Why Gonzalez Haase AAS is telling a story to storytellers

BERLIN – There have been countless adaptations of Alice in Wonderland in the century-and-a-half since Lewis Caroll wrote his much-loved story of a girl who follows a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole, and finds herself in a strange and wonderful world full of fantastical characters and magical surprises. The book has inspired movies, ballet productions, comic books, videogames, and cartoons –now, for advertising agency fischerAppelt, Gonzalez Haase AAS creates a corporate space with playful fantasy elements from Alice’s Wonderland.

Founded by architect Judith Haase and scenographer Pierre Jorge Gonzalez, the ‘AAS’ in Gonzalez Haase AAS stands for Atelier Architecture & Scenography. The office may know how to set a stage, but this was its first time translating a story into architecture. So why did they choose Alice in Wonderland? ‘Well, it’s a fantastic story to work with,’ enthuses Judith Haase. ‘The design tells fischerAppelt’s story – and of course, they are storytellers – taking you through the different chapters of the company.’

Haase takes me through that story over the phone, whilst construction workers saw and hammer away in the background. ‘At the entrance to the space, you have the entrance to the story. You see the rainbow progression on the walls, and on the floor there is a grey mirror that represents the hole that Alice falls into. So this is really the entrance to Wonderland – the entrance to an agency that tells stories and leads you to another world.’

The rainbow colours represent the spectrum of design choices available to fischerAppelt’s clients when crafting an advertising campaign for a brand or product, according to Gonzalez Haase AAS.

‘And then you have the Caterpillar on the 5th floor, where you have the reception desk,’ Haase continues. ‘The Caterpillar is the wise character of the story; he gives advice to Alice and tells her about the bits of the mushroom that allow her to shrink and grow. Similarly, the reception guides you and gives you an overview of everything.’

There is no literal sculpture or drawing of the Caterpillar anywhere, of course. Rather, the character is given abstract shape – the irregular segments of the white reception desk look very much like a segmented caterpillar bending and arching its body as it walks.

‘Not only did we design the reception desk and all the other desks in segments, the form of the Caterpillar, we also played with shading,’ explains Judith. ‘The Caterpillar is smoking a hookah when Alice meets him, so we did all the conference rooms with a smoky film on the glass windows in different opacities. So sometimes you can look in and sometimes not, simulating that smoky atmosphere.’

The translucent privacy panelling on the windows is emphasized by opaque white surfaces that alternate with mirrors in the column panels, a distinctive signature of Gonzalez Haase AAS.

The third and fourth floors house the advertising creatives: here, ideas are generated, concepts are developed and tested. The third floor is kept black, with mysterious mirrors mounted in corners at an angle so one’s reflection appears and disappears as you approach.

‘The black reflective surfaces face in different directions so from one side, you see yourself up close, but if you look from the other side, you can see through it and your reflection disappears,’ says Haase, invoking the power of the Cheshire Cat. ‘It’s a play of seeing and not seeing inside.’

The fourth floor is dominated by red, the colour of the Queen of Hearts. I fight the impulse to ask Haase if she’s added any white roses dripping red paint here, but it seems nothing is unimaginable for this space – apparently Tweedledee and Tweedledum live here.

‘The mirror effect is everywhere on the red floor,’ she tells me. ‘You have the totally mirrored ceiling, and you have these red seats where you sit back-to-back or right next to each other, and facing you is maybe a mirror, so you’re mirrored with yourself and also with the person you’re sitting with. The mirror installations are also arranged in triangles facing inwards, so when you look into them, you’re mirrored two times.’

The motif of twins and duality continues to the small cinema theatre for company talks and presentations. ‘The little tables are shaped like eggs,’ says Haase. ‘So you can put them together and it becomes two conjoined eggs – one side is flat.’

Several times throughout our conversation, Haase refers to Tweedledee and Tweedledum as ‘one-egg twins’ or ‘two-egg twins’ – initially, I assume she must be referring to the rotund, egg-like appearance they have in some adaptations of Alice, most notably the Disney animated film. It’s only while transcribing our interview that I realise that in German, identical twins are called ‘one-egg twins’ while fraternal twins are ‘two-egg twins’. Much more scientific than the English terms, and probably making the significance of the egg shapes immediately obvious to the people at fischerAppelt’s Berlin office.

‘There’s a meeting room with a big table: one part is wooden and one part is brass, and here again two eggs are put together’ – Haase continues blithely telling me about eggs during the interview

Finally, Haase takes me through the sixth floor, the attic storey. It’s an open plan space for recreation and informal meetings, with different seating areas to accommodate a range of events.

‘The ceiling was inspired by the “green screen” used for special effects filming,’ Haase explains. ‘And you have the long sofa that runs through the space, made up of 25 different green tones that develops into a table where you can sit and talk. It suggests movement, a journey, progression from sitting alone to gathering together.’

The colour scheme extends to the hanging plants by the kitchen area, which Haase says is to create a feeling of magic spells; brewing something from nature, even if it’s just brewing tea.

All of this is amazingly rich storytelling through architecture, I tell Haase. But why follow any script at all? ‘Because it was fun to do,’ Haase answers immediately. ‘It’s good for the client, because they can explain to people why their office looks so different to how an office normally looks. They can take them through the story, which is present everywhere – like one meeting room has a little clock on a chain that turns backwards, representing the White Rabbit, and each of the chairs have a different design in black and white, representing the different characters at the tea party.’

‘Our purpose is to work with materials so that the people who are using the space can discover something different every day,’ Haase continues. ‘So they see the space in a different way. It should be inspiring and not too loud, but open up possibilities – like surfaces that change from a wall to a mirror depending on the angle of reflection. Maybe you see something in the space which you didn’t see before, because it’s reflecting something new. Perhaps just the sunlight at a special time of day, or even something else.’


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