The designers of Eastland: The architectural innovation of acme
Dec 13, 2016
The name acme packs a double punch: not only does it serve as an acronym for A Company Making Everything, its root Greek meaning is "the highest point of perfection" – an objective that acme founder and director Friedrich Ludewig clearly sticks to with projects ranging from reimagining public urban spaces to creating innovative and thoughtful house designs.

Ludewig launched acme in 2007 just in time for the financial crisis and after a stint working at Foreign Office Architects where, among other things, he led the team responsible for building the Olympic Park in Stratford, London. Now, ten years down the line the company is working on projects all over the world and operates smaller satellite offices in Berlin and San Francisco.

From the outset Ludewig set the bar high with the company’s first project, Hunsett Mill on the Norfolk Broads, garnering accolades including RIBA’s (The Royal Institute of British Architects) Manser Medal 2010 for the best new house in the UK. The design that he conceived for the extension created a series of ‘shadows’ behind one of the Broads’ best-loved landmarks. In doing so they created a sculptural living space, made the remote house almost entirely self-sufficient and solved a historic problem of flooding. acme also took on the garden of the house and planted wild grasses and perennials to add to, with a modern glance, the picturesque qualities of the property.

All of acme’s designs have in common an attempt to imbue their buildings with a strong sense of identity by taking inspiration from their immediate surroundings and locality. “While I don’t necessarily think we are the best designers in terms of having the best ideas, I think we are probably better than quite a few people in forcing ourselves to look harder at the place.” explains Ludewig who grew up in Lübeck, Northern Germany, a city notable for its brick architecture that spans centuries. “For me the one thing I have taken from my background is that we try to find something that is actually special about the place wherever we are.”

“We try to find something that is actually special about the place, wherever we are.”
Royal Institute of Human Development

This idea of place is evident in projects such as their design for the Royal Institute of Human Development in Bahrain where a sun-shading screen, made up of six hexagonal designs varying in complexity, takes inspiration from the traditional mashrabiya screens of the region. These hexagons can be combined in a number of ways, which create different amounts of shade with respect to the needs of the building. acme’s designs for Eastgate in Leeds, England recall the area’s past with contemporary shopping arcades featuring a curved brick frontage that echoes the Sir Reginald Blomfield terraces elsewhere in the city. Their design for department store John Lewis there, also nods to those richly ornamented Yorkstone and terracotta facades with metallic terracotta inserts adorning the skin of the building.

In Southampton, in the south of England, where acme have taken on a larger urban planning project, the main complex, housing a cinema, will be clad in piping whose diameter precisely recalls the underwater cabling of a factory which originally occupied the location, while the open public space, will have the possibility of water playing upon its surface recalling the coastline that has been pushed back. The sloping pedestrian boulevards marry up the discrepancy in building levels and showcase the ancient city walls that once faced the sea. The design also incorporates another of Ludewig’s passions – an aim to create a greater conversation between interiors and exteriors – and here it aims to pull people out of the existing shopping centre and reengage with their surroundings an idea that he has also explored in the Eastland Shopping Centre in Melbourne, Australia. 

The SAB Forum in Leipzig

The SAB Forum in Leipzig, Germany is another good example of acme looking at this tension where they have taken the column, a traditional symbol of a bank, and subverted the idea by creating a forest of columns that shade a new public space behind which will sit the new headquarters of the Sächsische AufbauBank. In more arid regions such as the Gulf and Australia, where acme has undertaken numerous projects, their designs attempt to bring natural light into their buildings while remaining sensitive to the environmental constraints of the areas. The undulating curves of Beirut City Centre’s roof light allow daylight to permeate the entire shopping mall and create an interesting play of light and shadow while creating sufficient shade to prevent excessive heat build up.

acme’s international client base has ensured that Ludewig is able to learn from each location and apply those findings elsewhere. But for the moment, at least, his headquarters will remain in London. “Life here is more uncomfortable than other places and a bit annoying,” he says. “I think it pushes you a bit harder.”