Bornstein Lyckefors is a Gothenburg-based architectural firm specialising in “experience-based architecture”, working with public, private, and commercial buildings, such as Polestar Headquarters. We spoke with architect and founding partner Per Bornstein about accent colours, repurposing buildings, and central European licence plates.
Can you start by briefly introducing yourself?
My name is Per Bornstein and I’m an architect from Gothenburg, and one of the three founding partners of the firm. We began in 2011 with two people, and now there are 25 of us. We felt that there was an opportunity for a smaller, high-end, architectural firm in our city. And apparently there was, because we’ve been busy from day one.
How did the collaboration with Polestar come about?
Do you want the long version, or the short one?
That’s up to you.
It’s a wonderful story. A friend of my wife’s sister’s friend moved here from the Czech Republic. Her husband is an architect. So, my wife’s sister asked me if I could meet with him because he wanted to pick my brain about getting into the architecture world here in Sweden. He came over to our office, and he started working for us the next day. After a while, he told us that he’d seen a car in his neighbourhood with Czech registration. There aren’t that many Czech people in Gothenburg, so they started talking, and it turned out the Czech car belonged to Thomas Ingenlath. When Polestar was looking for an architect for the new office, Thomas was very clear that he’d prefer to have a smaller local firm. So, they approached us, and that’s how it began.
So, it all started with a Czech license plate.
That’s a life lesson. You just have to keep your eyes open, because you never know when opportunities will present themselves.
What makes this design distinctive?
Thomas became something of a legend in our office because he stood up for our ideas as much as he did. For us to get that kind of empowerment from a client was amazing. We had a lot of discussions around how we should do the interior. We were working with more materials, but Thomas wanted it more minimalistic, and I think he was right. It’s one of my favourite interiors that we’ve done. One thing we took from Polestar were these accent colours, like the brake calipers and dampers on the cars themselves. We thought that was a really nice touch. Therefore, the lamps in the kitchen are orange. There’s an orange seam on the dividers between working areas. We wanted to use the same design language as Polestar did: a simple colour palette with tiny touches. We wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t for this specific project.
Why was this particular site chosen?
It was available, but it also fits the purpose very well. There’s a very industrial take out in Torslanda. We don’t build monuments here, we build cars, and the buildings are tools for making the cars.
Was it more difficult to repurpose an existing building that to build an entirely new one?
I would say so, yes. In this case, we had a structure and we only had twelve months. And that structure, it’s safe to say, was the ugliest building in Torslanda. We needed to make something new of it. Technically, it was fairly difficult to clad the whole building in a new skin. We got some really good sketches from (Polestar Head of Brand) Pär Heyden. They were so good, in fact, that we thought “how will we do something better than this”, and the idea came up wrap everything in glass. The glass courtyard of the cube existed before, but all the interior walls were closed. We decided to remove all these walls, replace them with glass walls, and let the light come from the inside. I think that was the key point for the whole project. In most buildings, you have windows and walls, and they’re separate. But on your building, it’s a single sheet of glass with transparent and semi-transparent areas. It came out beautifully, I think. Despite an impossible schedule, the builders really pulled it off.
Would those sheets of glass be your favourite detail, or do you have another?
That’s definitely one of them. I’m also really like the staircase, because that was there before. The stairs had this inelegant plexiglass railing, so we had a blacksmith make a railing of steel which speaks to Gothenburg’s industrial and shipbuilding heritage. There’s so much materiality in that staircase that if it wasn’t there, the building might be like a lot of other minimalistic glass buildings. I think it balances it out.
It’s like a visual and literal anchor for the building.
It is! I think the façade and the stairway together are great. If you took either one of them away, it wouldn’t be as interesting.
If you could describe the Polestar HQ in one word, what would it be?
Elaborate. It’s not fancy per se, but everything is given that extra thought.
What makes Polestar a brand that Bornstein Lyckefors wanted to collaborate with?
Polestar is a company that wants to be part of the future and part of the green revolution. And as an architect, to be able to be involved was fantastic. We’re so proud of it.
Speaking of green, are there any aspects of Polestar HQ which are particularly environmentally friendly?
There are some details. Thomas was very clear that he didn’t want leather upholstery, for example. It could be said that repurposing an existing building is more environmentally friendly than tearing it down and building a new one in its place.
Any final thoughts?
Sometimes people ask us what kind of projects we want to do. We have realised that the only real answer is that we want to work with the best clients. Whether they want a summer house or an airport, I don’t care. Polestar has been a wonderful client all along. The way they both empowered us and challenged us. When the project was done, Thomas asked me to come to Polestar HQ. We took a stroll around the building, and he asked if I was happy with it. And I said that considering the time constraints, I was very happy. We stepped outside and looked up at the Polestar symbol on the façade, and he said: “don’t you think the star is about one decimetre too low?” I looked up, and…yes, he was right. To have a client with that level of engagement and eye for detail is amazing.
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