The headquarters for German shoe company Birkenstock “ticks all the boxes” in terms of sustainability.
There’s a substantial amount of recycling and green principles are adopted throughout.
Materials such as timber were sourced from local plantations.
“We see our practice as both contemporary and sustainable. We couldn’t provide one of these without the other,” says architect Marc Bernstein, director of Melbourne Design Studio (MDS).
The design won an architecture award in the category of sustainable architecture from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter).
From the street, the Birkenstock Headquarters in Queens Parade Clifton Hill appears not dissimilar to other large stores selling shoes, with front-of-house simply decked out with trestle-style tables of shoes.
However, great design isn’t always obvious at first glance. Let’s start with the front fa??ade.
The previous shop front, added in the 1950s, has been replaced by two sets of glazing on either side of the front door.
Rather than the usual single glassed fa??ade, MDS created two wind-locked chambers that can respond to the season.
Hermetically sealed during the colder months of the year, this glazing system that contains the shop’s front window displays can be opened almost like a veranda.
One of these double-sided systems even includes a patch of grass, almost suburban with the weeds proudly displayed.
“Our ideas were partially informed by our approach to sustainability, but they also reflect Birkenstock’s philosophy, with our clients using the words ‘craftsmanship’, ‘quality’, ‘health’ and ‘slow fashion’ from the outset,” says Bernstein.
As well as exposing the building’s past and revealing the original brick walls, MDS inserted a fascinating glass-topped channel in the timber floors.
Old bottles discovered during the renovation are beautifully arranged, as are children’s lasts, tape measures, ticks and tacks.
There’s also a range of shoes from Birkenstock, forming almost a “timeline” of the company’s designs.
One of the criteria initially given to the architects was to create a domestic feel to the store.
As well as the patch of lawn as part of the shop front, there’s an open fireplace and a galley-style kitchen where clients are served tea.
“It was also important to create connections to the various ‘arms’ within the headquarters,” says Bernstein, pointing out the workshop at the rear of the building, beyond the courtyard (an entirely new building), as well as the warehouse and showroom for retail clients.
“All staff walk through the front door but head off along the different paths,” he adds. As Birkenstock has a philosophy of repairing customers’ shoes, having an accessible and visible workshop in sight was paramount.
The workshop has a slightly Japanese-feel, with recycled sugar gum timber battens forming a sliding screen on the outside.
“The screen can be pulled back on warmer days or ‘closed down’ during more inclement weather,” says Bernstein.
One of the magical design features is the black steel spiral staircase that leads to the main open plan office space on the top level.
Simply juxtaposed to the raw red brick rear fa??ade and new steel-framed windows, it’s been “pierced” with the word “Birkenstock”.
“Everything that’s new has been crafted in black steel so there’s a clear delineation between the past and the present,” says Bernstein.
The office at the top of the building comes with its own terrace, offering impressive views of Melbourne’s skyline.
The staff kitchen, leading the terrace has been as thoughtfully considered, with recycled bamboo used for the kitchen joinery and plywood.
The kitchen’s splashback, a scene taken from the village in Germany where Birkenstock began its global journey, adds a quirky touch.
Birkenstock Headquarters doesn’t scream for attention from the street. However, even if you don’t come to get your Birkenstocks mended in the workshop, take the time to traverse the courtyard!
It’s certainly worth each of the handmade stiches!
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