Perched atop a corner of the industrial building in Plagwitz that houses the canteen of crane manufacturer TECHNE KIROW GmbH, from the outside the spectacular Niemeyer’s Sphere looks like it has just landed from outer space. But what’s it like on the inside?
The sphere’s upcoming open days on the weekend of 16 and 17 September 2023 provide the opportunity to experience the award-winning creation of the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer from the inside. Having explored the sphere one sunny Sunday in spring, I can only say the opportunity is one not to be missed.
For me, venturing inside the tennis ball-like object that unnervingly appears as if it may drop and bounce away at any moment (!) was like being transported to another time and place.
After paying the 10 Euro entry fee, I climbed the stairs from the industrial canteen to the lower level of the geodesic dome comprised of small triangles. As the centuries dramatically fell away, I was delighted to be served a bright orange fancy drink from the bar there.
Sipping and stepping around and up into the sphere’s main space, soothing Brazilian sounds from another era—think “The girl from Ipanema”—created a very cool vibe. This, combined with the incredible light, panoramic views, and modernist interior design of the bubble-like environment gave the whole experience a James Bond-like quality.
I half expected the man who prefers his drinks shaken and not stirred to appear at any moment. While he didn’t, to ensure the other visitors and I didn’t cook under the brilliant sun, the triangular panes of glass that surrounded us darkened automatically in a feat of electronic engineering that would have impressed 007 himself.
Crossing the floor, an automatic sliding door opened to reveal a brilliant white roof-top terrace. Enclosed by glass panels, the terrace provides an unobstructed view over the contrasting industrial landscape. From above the sphere appears as a giant eyeball watching over its surroundings. It was one of Niemeyer’s last projects before he passed away in 2012 aged 104.
From Leipzig to Rio and back again: The story behind Niemeyer’s Sphere
How the sphere came about is an inspired and inspiring story. It almost goes without saying that Ludwig Koehne, Managing Director of TECHNE KIROW GmbH (formerly Kirow Ardelt GmbH), is a fan of Niemeyer’s architecture. Delivering a crane to Rio de Janeiro on one occasion, Koehne took a couple of days to visit Niemeyer’s buildings there.
Back in Leipzig, in conversation with the chef of the business’ canteen, the idea of creating a space for fine dining and small celebrations began to take shape. It was to be intimate but have great character, and Koehne had just the spot in mind atop a corner of the canteen building. A letter to Niemeyer followed, convincing him that his architecture, specifically a round form that would test the boundaries of what is physically possible, would be just the thing. Niemeyer, who was himself attracted to free-flowing sensual curves, corresponded agreeably and the resulting sphere opened in 2020, at a cost of 3 million Euros.
In that same year, Koehne received the Karl Heine Prize, awarded by Industriekultur Leipzig e.V, for the sphere. The prize honours the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and social commitment of medium-sized industrial companies.
On receiving the award Koehne talked of how the sphere advances the urban triad of “working, living and relaxing” that characterises Plagwitz/Lindenau today. He said it also invokes the power of the human spirit to do the unbelievable—where there is the will to progress, and a sense of beauty and humanity.
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Niemeyer’s Sphere during the open days planned for the 16 and 17 September. Check the website for further details closer to the time.
The sphere is home to the restaurant “Céu Dining” (“céu” means “sky” or “heaven” in Portuguese) which takes bookings for eight-course dining experiences on Thursday and Friday evenings.
The canteen below the sphere, Kirow Kantine, is also open to the public for lunch Monday to Friday from 11.15 am to 12.45 pm. The dishes on offer change daily and range from classic canteen food to bowls.
Recent film includes scenes filmed at the Niemeyer’s Sphere
You may be interested in the German film “Im Herzen bin ich unbesiegbar” (2023, 45 minutes) or “In my heart I’m invincible” which contains scenes filmed at Niemeyer’s sphere. It tells the story of actress and kung fu fighter Mai Duong Kieu, who came to Germany from her native Vietnam when she was 5. The film explores her strict upbringing, kung fu training with her father and new life in a foreign place, which meant she had to grow up quickly.