AI Projects

Pilot Project Propeller

Witness Report
Ulrich Zünkeler

Without wanting to go into more detail about myself, I will now tell you a little true story that is not written down anywhere else. But be assured that I was deeply involved in the whole thing from the beginning. In addition, it must be mentioned that the client may not be named for security reasons and will simply be called “client” in the following to protect her anonymity.

It all began with a commission from the Cologne Trade Fair for the last prepandemic Orgatec in the fall of 2018, which, as is well known, is one of the world’s largest trade fairs for everything to do with offices, with exhibitors coming from around the globe. The brief was to design a special area of approximately 600 square meters as an alternative inspiration area and to give the visitors a better understanding of the power of art in the office sector beyond the usual decorative ideas. Taking the role of a deliberately aggressive and disruptive trendsetter was fully successful, also when retrospectively assessed against the expected headshakers. Were there only headshakers? No, certainly not. The client in question was the most courageous and open-minded. An invitation to her office followed, with a request to develop ideas for creative solutions for a trial area during general remodeling work. More about this in a moment.

Initially, a small cooperative group of people was responsible on our part: the management consulting firm Detecon, the architectural firm as-if, the Freeters cooperative, and two brothers who were still at that time managing partners for the agency Orange Council, which acted a marketer for Freeters.

The whole process up to the awarding of the contract in summer 2019, in summary: two design concepts were in the running, of which the Propeller project, a room-within-a-room installation, was ultimately chosen alongside other installations in the space. What was behind it?

The client’s own internal IT department, until now a staff scattered across the company’s premises, was finally to be given a home base. It should be inviting to everyone in the company who needs their services (in other words, everyone!), inviting for interdisciplinary collaboration with product development, inviting and functionally calm for concentrated programming, invitingly open for agile work in temporarily assembled work groups, inviting for informal encounters and exchange, as well as identity-creating and inspiring surroundings with a high feel-good factor. All this was to be realized on an open T-shaped 800-square-meter space in a completely renovated old building. Does this sound like a pie in the sky kind of project? It was, more or less, if it weren’t for the Artistic Intelligence, particularly in the loving attention to the smallest detail.

Let’s get to the eponymous heart: the propeller. The Irish would perhaps sooner associate it with a cloverleaf, because its construction consists of a central part and three wings or blades projecting into the T-shape of the base. The wings give the 800 square meters rhythm in an organic way: they divide the Quiet Area for concentrated programming from the Agile Area for flexible use and from the Welcome Area as an informal meeting place including a kitchen area. The Propeller houses three workshop and meeting rooms with everything you need (from huge magnetic whiteboards and projectors to individually combinable table and seating situations), plus a technology and materials room. And in the center, an experimental space called the “permission room.” All of this under highly effective, artistically designed acoustic sails to dispense with noisy ventilation systems. The entire Propeller is a modular structure that can also be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere. It consists of insulated wall elements and standing frames that provide indestructible stability.

Plan of the 89 individually designed, acoustically effective ceiling panels, coordinated with the floor plan of the Propeller.

1:10 model of the room in room sculp-ture “Propeller” Concrete, wood and plexiglass.

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Parallel to the design development of the Propeller, a kind of “treasure hunt” took place on the client’s premises. With the request to “give us everything you want to discard that is rooted in the history of your company,” two truckloads’ worth of furnishings made the journey to the Freeters’ workshops in Bonn for artistic upcycling. This resulted in countless objects, some extremely functional, with a humorous connection to the client’s old and new DNA. Because identity is best established not with the dictates of branding, but with emotion, authenticity, humor, and surprise as esteem, gained through listening lovingly and genuine joy in the matter.


In addition to the large-scale installations Propeller and Kitchen, a total of around 700 individual works were created for this pilot project: from furniture to wall-transforming artworks and many accessories to completely new inspirational tools for workshops of all kinds. Not all objects and ideas made it into the space. The better is simply the enemy of the good.

The pandemic has prevented a real evaluation so far as the company has been generally working from home since then. Everyone hopes that this can take place soon. A full report will come later, perhaps in the next book.


Thanks for the interest and extra thanks to the client for her courage and patience, especially to all involved from the facility and IT. Everything is going to be fine.

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