For FRAME Magazine Gunter and Peter recall five not-so-signature projects that define a portfolio purposely diverse in character.

»We don’t think in styles«

FRAME Magazine May 2017 | Text by Oliver Herwig

You won’t find an explicit style, a pat formula or a system for success. Instead, Stuttgart-based lppolito Fleitz Group (IFG) uses collaging – combining ideas and images, atmospheres and feelings – to create situations that are sometimes ambiguous, sometimes straightforward. You might call the members of this multidisciplinary design studio shape-shifters or masters of morphing. From project to project, their work can be described as minimalist, eclectic or even overwhelming. That’s because, says Gunter Fleitz, »we don’t think in styles.« He goes on to say that »building abroad and being international are very important to us. We love to meet other cultures and gain new perspectives. Curiosity is at the core of what our studio stands for.« Peter Ippolito takes up the thread: »It’s a question of telling a story in a way that’s relevant to people. This story may change, as everyone has a different background.«

And what’s changed in IFG’s own story after 15 years of design? Ippolito smiles. »We might be less iconic. I think we’re a little smarter today. And softer. Perhaps we’re even closer to users — depending, of course, on the project.« And there are many of them. IFG seems to be constantly expanding its range. »We’re definitely more international today,« says Fleitz. »Our processes changed as we gained more people.« The two managing partners call their office a ›spaghetti organization‹. Everyone assumes different roles for different projects. A designer may be part of the construction team one day and join a creative team the next. The squads organize themselves every Friday morning when the project managers convene in a sort of stock exchange, bidding for talents. Their flexible way of working can be seen in the resulting projects, each of which adapts to the client’s needs and the project’s location. You won’t be able to recognize a signature design language or unifying factor in the company’s wide­ranging portfolio. And that’s exactly the point.

Our favourite project is the one we’ve never done in the place we’ve never been.

2009: The Palace of International Forums, Uzbekistan

The brief for The Palace or International Forums in Uzbekistan sounded more like fiction than fact: design and build the nation’s most important representative building, with an interior area of almost 40,000 m², in just six months – and in a country in which IFG had never set foot. »We needed to find a way to interpret the wonderful tradition of Islamic architecture in a modern building,« recalls Gunter Fleitz. »The project represented a new way for Uzbekistan to address visitors.« Peter Ippolito continues: »It really highlighted the energy of our studio. We always say that our favourite project is the one we’ve never done in the place we’ve never been.« In that respect, Uzbekistan offered the complete package. »Our altitude was to go for it,« says Fleitz, »and not to ask what will happen tomorrow.«
The identity architects could prove their worth in Uzbekistan, adding a sense of individuality to a country on the verge — neither entirely eastern nor part of the western hemisphere. IFG developed a new visual language: not kitsch, but also not an attempt to romanticize the complex history of a nation comprising dozens of tribes and ethnic minorities.
To tackle a project this size, the designers had to rely on outside resources. »We were lucky to find the right collaborators to work on the project,« says Fleitz. »We needed people who were not only able to translate a different culture, but to understand it. We also required the right contractors to build it in time and to live up to our standards.«
The Palace of International Forums put IFG on the map and sparked an evolution in the studio. A team of just 18 at the time (about a quarter of today’s staff), the group gained self-confidence and attracted international employees, resulting in a valued cultural mix. Convinced that they’d already faced all the odds, »we became fearless,« says Ippolito.

2011: Der Spiegel Canteen

The cafeteria for the headquarters of Hamburg-based media company Spiegel Group is all about layers of design. »The biggest challenge, of course, was the heritage of Verner Panton,« says Ippolito. »We won an international competition to do the follow-up to his famous 1969-designed Spiegel canteen.« The project went to the core of what the principals at Ippolito Fleitz Group define as their roles as identity architects: in this case, to moderate a vibrant discussion of how the revived cafeteria should look and to give the new building a heart.
Panton’s design represented everything for which the weekly stood. It had served as a business card for the corporation at large and as a communication hub for Hamburg’s journalists. But IFG convinced everyone with its renderings, which flaunted a dramatic ceiling comprising 4,230 circular elements in shimmery matte aluminium. Although alterations are generally inevitable during construction, Fleitz recalls that this project — which incorporated numerous bespoke elements —was »built exactly the way we showed it in the renderings.«
»It was a very important project for us, because it’s all about context,« says Ippolito. »The reflections from the water outside are mirrored in the ceiling.« A design based on fostering communication, the cafeteria served as a fresh metaphor for the media giant while leaving enough room for a strong corporate culture to evolve in the new headquarters.

2014: Maisonette P155

A compact apartment in the centre of Stuttgart exemplifies IFG’s modus operandi. The architects provided their clients with a space for collectors that isn’t tied to a single style. Maisonette P155 is a multifaceted collage of different places and experiences — a veritable jungle of ideas in which you could easily lose yourself. »You can’t really describe it, you need to feel it,« says Ippolito. »Working for private clients is still a big part of our work. We love projects of this scale because of the strong relationships that emerge during the very intimate process of identity building. You open the cabinets and discuss rituals, how things are used on a daily basis. We love combining elements that don’t instinctively belong together to create a cohesive end result.«

We don’t want to sell our European version of something. You need to know what a specific society really cares about.

2015: Bolon

Six years after IFG completed The Palace of International Forums in Uzbekistan, the firm solidified its international ambitions with a retail project in Shanghai for Chinese eyewear brand Bolon. »Our approach is to really dive into a culture and understand the local target group,« says Ippolito. »We don’t want to sell our European version of something. You need to know what a specific society really cares about. How do they move? How do they perceive a space?« Again, IFG was faced with a tight deadline and the challenge of finding the right craftspeople to execute their vision. »We designed extremely refined details, but they managed to realize the store in just six weeks!«

2016: Yancheng Urban Forest

Some 300 km northwest of Shanghai lies Yancheng Urban Forest, a series of five high­rises connected via bridges. »The project is representative of what’s happening in China right now,« says Ippolito. »We tried to tackle a couple of problems in the market by starting with high-quality, flexible floor plans that respond to the growing demand for individual expression.« The complex promotes contact with the outside world and signals a shift towards a healthier, greener environment in a country battling pollution. Ippolito sees an interesting future for his company in China, where the firm’s competence in architecture and interior design is well suited to the realization of high-end sustainable buildings. »We cooperated with local partners on this project,« he says, »further developing our network in China’s booming construction market Collaborations like these will open up new opportunities for us — from residential projects to holistic hospitality concepts — and help us broaden our portfolio in terms of both expertise and services.«

Palace of International Forums »Uzbekistan«
Palace of International Forums »Uzbekistan«
DER SPIEGEL canteen
DER SPIEGEL canteen
Maisonette P155
Bolon Eyewear
Yancheng Vertical Forest