How German architects used steel to translate the iconic Porsche brand into a structure that pushes the boundaries of architecture: the Porsche Pavilion

It took four months to construct, was built only in the dark of winter nights and is now a steel-clad edifice hanging over a pool like a fantastical vehicle frozen in motion. It is the Porsche Pavilion, in Wolfsburg, Germany, and it represents the new spiritual home of the Porsche brand.


Autostadt and Porsche

The Pavilion was commissioned to position Porsche back within the Volkswagen Group. When Volkswagen rebought the car brand in 2012, the decision was made to erect a building that reflected its design heritage right in the heart of the VW’s Autostadt, a VW-themed park that attracts two million visitors a year. German architecture firm Henn was chosen to design it.

“Porsche is literally the nucleus of the Volkswagen Corporation,” says Klaus Ransmayr, head of Henn’s Berlin studio. He points out that the two companies share part of their history, as Ferdinand Porsche designed the very first Volkswagen car, a VW Beetle. In fact, the two iconic cars share an uncanny resemblance. “So the central location of the pavilion reflects this historical connection and the importance of the brand for VW,” Ransmayr adds.

Henn was commissioned to design a building that epitomised the brand’s distinctive aesthetic. “As with every other brand pavilion in Autostadt, the idea is to transport a feeling of the brand’s characteristics without showing a car,” says Ransmayr. “For Porsche, the ergonomic form and silhouette is one of the most significant elements, its USP.”



Monoque steel building

Henn’s solution was a futuristically organic form with dynamic lines, all clad in stainless steel. Its curved asymmetrical steel roof acts as a cantilever 25m over an adjacent pool, sheltering two entrances. The roof creates outdoor seating space for an audience of a few hundred visitors, where lectures, readings and concerts take place, along with presentations of new cars.

Inside, there is 400m2 of space for presentations and exhibitions in the basement. Down here, 25 silver vehicle models are on show, including the original Porsche – a 356 No.1 built in 1948.

As well as borrowing its aesthetic language from Porsche, the building shares some of the brand’s construction techniques. Both the automotive and aerospace industries employ monocoque technology, meaning the chassis is integral with the body.

“For Porsche, the ergonomic form and silhouette is one of the most significant elements, its USP”.

For the pavilion, the curved roof not only forms a spatial enclosure, it also doubles as a load-bearing structure. Stainless steel was chosen because, as well as being strong enough for the task, it looks sensational too, reflecting the changing colour of the seasons.

Zentraal Staal sourced the steel from more than 30 locations, and a shipyard in Stralsund was tasked with prefabricating 620 sheets of cladding with welded ribs. Usually panels of this type would need to be coated, but instead Henn opted to blast the surface with a stainless steel grain. “This process maintains the purity and honesty of the material, while also producing a frosted surface that works without any additional corrosion prevention,” explains Ransmayr.

“The high quality of the material and the superb workmanship of welding the unique pieces together make it very durable against the environment,” says Ransmayr. “The Porsche Pavilion will remain a tourist magnet and an icon for the brand for many years to come.”


Images: HG Esch