Laidback environment: new worlds of work at BMW

Over the next few years, the BMW Group’s Research and Innovation Centre (FIZ) will undergo extensive redevelopment to become a spacious future campus with up to 15,000 new jobs. The centre will also trial working models of the future.

Heiko Zwirner
FIZ Future: HENN

With the help of a graphic simulation, visitors can already explore BMW’s spacious new building complex: a giant glass roof spans the plaza in front of the main entrance, and a multilevel thoroughfare flooded with natural light takes the virtual visitor from the atrium of the central Project House to the Future Mobility Lab. From there, the route continues along a transparent pedestrian tube towards the northern part of the research campus in Plant D. Work on extending and renovating the Research and Innovation Centre (FIZ) started in mid-2016. The project’s name – FIZ Future 2050 – provides a clue as to the actual time horizon: this new working environment is due for completion by the mid-century.

The brains and beating heart of vehicle development

With need for further expansion at its Munich home, the BMW Group has set about creating new work environments that are in keeping with the complex processes of future vehicle development. “The key to efficient and innovative vehicle development is to facilitate physical meetings between all staff involved,” says Dr Markus Baumgartner, who oversees redevelopment of the existing Research and Development Center (FIZ) in Munich’s Milbertshofen quarter. The FIZ has been the brains and beating heart of BMW vehicle development for over 25 years. Now the plan is to expand this step by step into an innovation campus with up to 15,000 new jobs. The BMW Group involved the city of Munich in planning at an early stage, since as well as requiring additional land of 500,000 to 800,000 square metres, the campus will need new infrastructure, including a dedicated motorway slip road, extra cycle paths and links to local and regional public transport. Local residents were also invited to play their part from the outset: “We made every effort to hear their wishes and concerns,” says Baumgartner.

The research campus will create a new environment that gives individual staff members greater authority and operational freedom.

“The key to efficient and innovative vehicle development is to facilitate physical meetings between all staff involved.”

Dr. Markus Baumgartner

Inspiration from Silicon Valley

Over 100 architectural offices took part in the anonymous tendering process, with the contract for the winning bid – a flexible and pioneering design concept – being awarded to the Munich studio HENN. The aim of the project was not to create a new city landmark to compete with well-known buildings such as the BMW Tower or BMW Welt in Munich. “The idea was to make the FIZ blend into its surroundings. The campus has to serve as a quick and accessible meeting place for employees from a wide range of disciplines. But it should also provide access to an attractive urban environment.” Local residents will have free access to certain facilities on the premises, including the in-house restaurant and park. “Planning has been specific enough for us to get started now, yet flexible enough to enable us to respond to future developments,” explains Markus Baumgartner.

During the planning phase for the new world of work, the BMW Group also sought ideas in Silicon Valley and applied these to the specific requirements of vehicle development. “Ours is still a physical product – and one which is the sum of many different creative processes,” says Baumgartner. “The hardware aspect is therefore one of the driving factors behind the campus design.”

New working conditions

The research campus will give rise to a new environment that gives individual staff members greater authority and operational freedom. “It’s not just about designing innovative office architecture: we’re concerned with where and how we will be required to work in future,” says Manfred Pernitsch, who as BMW Group Head of Design & Consultancy/Architecture and Construction already has one pioneering pilot project under his belt.

“It’s not just about designing innovative office architecture. We’re concerned with where and how we will be required to work in future,” says Manfred Pernitsch, BMW Group Head of Design & Consultancy for the FIZ of the future.

What is the FIZ?

With the construction of the BMW Research and Engineering Centre (FIZ) in the north of Munich in the late 1980s, BMW was one of the first carmakers to look critically at how thousands of engineers can develop ever more complex vehicles within ever tighter timeframes. Officially opened in 1990, the FIZ optimised the cooperation of all departments involved in vehicle development by using a honeycomb floor plan with short communication routes. With engineers organised into innovative “development project teams”, communication was more efficient, with preliminary prototypes providing the basis for problem solving and discussion. Since designers also worked within the FIZ, they had regular opportunities to discuss their concepts with engineers from the outset. Closed to the outside world, the arrangement of buildings and the hidden network of interior roads also enabled the secure transport of prototypes to state-of-the-art internal test rigs. For there were now increasing demands in terms of safety, aerodynamics, acoustics and emissions. Here, too, shorter distances meant optimised workflows. The focused development carried out at the FIZ, which was renamed the BMW Research and Innovation Centre in the late 1990s, has proved hugely successful over many years. BMW test rigs such as the wind tunnel serve as a reference the world over. BMW is already planning expansion of the new FIZ by 2050.

The new working conditions have already been trialled on a small scale in a converted building at Moosacher Straße 51 in Munich – dubbed Project M51. The office layout here has a loft-like character, with non-territorial workstations used by staff and management alike and capable of individual configuration as required. With a public-access canteen that exudes a relaxed café-style atmosphere, the facility also provides a wide range of private spaces and communication areas for meetings, telephone calls and video conferencing, as well as an attractive roof terrace. Pernitsch sums up the concept succinctly: “The whole place is actually pretty laidback.”

This relaxed environment, which is set for phased introduction to the FIZ, is currently also a testing ground for a new flexible working time model for all employees. A significant part in this trial is played by smart technologies and digital services such as Plaza, the company’s internal social network. But connecting employees in this way also calls for the highest standards of data protection. “We consulted employees at regular intervals,” says Manfred Pernitsch of the pilot project. “Despite a certain scepticism to begin with, people soon let it be known that they were generally very satisfied with the changed environment.”