“The way we live and work in cities will change fundamentally!”


The transformation of a former industrial complex in the Weststadt area of Ludwigsburg has been underway for years. The former production halls now house startups and new businesses – in spaces that have been implanted into the existing structures. An interview with Max Maier, the initiator and developer behind the project.

There’s good reason why the Urbanharbor transformation project won the Meta award in the Focus Open 2022 competition: ultimately, it addresses such essential aspects as energy optimisation, sustainability, interconnectedness and carbon neutrality. Today the old industrial facilities are occupied by a mix of young businesses and established companies who work alongside one another.

Max Maier, Maxmaier Urbandevelopment 
Photo: MaxMaier Urbandevelopment

If you look closely, you realise that Urbanharbor has a long history. Tell us about its roots.
MAX MAIER: It all started when Ludwigsburg station opened at the end of the 19th century. That gave rise to a very attractive location for industrial and commercial enterprises, and bit by bit they began setting up business there. Over the course of the 20th century, companies that had started out as small workshops grew into major firms and established themselves as famous Ludwigsburg-based enterprises. Areas that had previously been used for farming were transformed into commercial and industrial sites.

Infrastructure and mobility have always been among the most important drivers for this expansion – and the area is just as well connected to the city centre as it is to the prosperous region that surrounds it and the A81 motorway. So the transformation took place on every level.

And at what point did the current, second transformation begin?
MAX MAIER: In retrospect it was all the way back in 1982 when I joined Eisfink, a commercial refrigerator manufacturer. The company had moved from the neighbouring town of Asperg to the Weststadt area of Ludwigsburg in 1972, but 10 years later it found itself in financial difficulties. I was able to lead the company out of crisis and then focused on developing the production facilities. Both then and now, the core aim was to transform the industrial complex to make space for a varied mix of service providers, architectural firms, marketing agencies and large-scale retail. My focus has always been on combining life and work in order to build a city within the city. Vibrant and emotional communal areas are absolutely crucial to that – which is why, in the early 2000s, I started revitalising industrial buildings by turning them into gastronomic and event locations. That resulted in spaces like the Werkcafé and the Alte Werkcafé.
And then?
MAX MAIER: The next milestone on the road to future-fit working and living came in 2016 when we opened the Speisewerk, which is the Rieber flagship kitchen. We transformed the former Hüller Hille hall into the focal point of the Urbanharbor – today we offer carbon-neutral workspaces for young, creative startups, established firms, gastronomy and retail.

Industrial transformation usually means using a wrecking ball. You opted not to – why?
MAX MAIER: The link with the site’s industrial history is the background that shaped my vision. The architecture of a place always conserves the energy of the past, and that makes old industrial wastelands spaces of life. Life is multilayered – that’s why, with Urbanharbor, my intention is to develop the complex into a city in its own right, with its own ecosystem of businesses, gastronomy, retail and entertainment. The goal is to bring nature, people, spaces and technology together to create an urban ecosystem that the new can grow out of. It goes without saying that the cultural responsibility for what is already there, which is rooted in industrial history, precludes demolition – quite apart from the embodied energy within the existing buildings, which demolition would destroy.

Photo: Thunert Fotograf

From an urban design perspective, you’re working outside the core town. And yet you refer to the project as urban development.
MAX MAIER: Classic urban planning has always been dominated by a town’s inner development, but we’ve expanded that context based on our insights after more than 40 years of industrial architecture and transformation. In fact, the outskirts have a considerable influence on the inner zone. Especially when there’s a historical connection. Over the last few decades, we’ve developed Urbanharbor holistically on the former industrial site. First in terms of the perception of design and architecture, by creating modern, contemporary beauty while respecting the site’s origin. And second, by focusing on sustainability and the goal of becoming Europe’s first carbon-neutral, productive urban quarter by 2030.

At the same time, it’s important that our transformation approach is based on functional architecture and only takes on meaning through people. The design has to convey a sense of spatial security, along the lines of: This is a place where I want to work, live, enjoy life and swap views and ideas with my neighbour.

A transformation calls for the right planners too – how did you find SFP, the architectural firm that you collaborated with?
MAX MAIER: We first got together with SFP Architekten from Stuttgart back in 2016/2017 via our tenant Grow, a startup subsidiary of Bosch. For us, this kind of networking was definitely a bonus in terms of new ways of thinking and concepts. Then we partnered with them on the project to create the carbon-neutral Hybrid Loop hall, which was completed in mid-2021.
The energy concept is one of the main pillars – why?
MAX MAIER: With the transformed Hybrid Loop hall, we’ve even managed to become carbon-negative. That means we don’t just compensate for the 400 tonnes of carbon per year that would result from conventional operation, we overcompensate by an additional 63 tonnes. We’d have to plant 5,040 trees to sequester that amount.

And what are the cornerstones of the concept?
MAX MAIER: Essentially there are five factors that permit carbon-negative operation. However, at the end of the day that can only be achieved by working closely and collaboratively with people from all sorts of different trades.
  • Maximisation of renewables through PV and hydropower in combination with heat pumps. We do that in conjunction with our partner, public utilities company Stadtwerke Ludwigsburg.
  • Real-time and predictive demand-based control of building services via sensors and the Smart District platform.
  • Economising on every kilowatt-hour that isn’t needed, keeping consumption during operation as low as possible.
  • Taking energy efficiency into account during the planning and concept stage, for instance by installing a semi-centralised ventilation concept from EBM-Papst. This saves approx. 30-40% of the primary energy required for operation. And building based on the house-in-house concept, which preserves the existing envelope and can achieve a thermos effect by placing a new build in an interior space.
  • Sector coupling across wider areas by integration of e.g. mobility and logistics, the food and agriculture industry, with the energy industry.
You just mentioned public utilities company Stadtwerke Ludwigsburg – how relevant is its role?
MAX MAIER: Stadtwerke Ludwigsburg is indispensable for us when it comes to energy production, storage and distribution. What’s more, they’re joining us on the path to a sustainable future with renewable energies and digital platform solutions that are being piloted in the Urbanharbor complex.

What advice would you give companies who are considering a similar path?
MAX MAIER: First you have to think about it in perspective: what’s the context and what can its use and function do for people? Because you can’t get the transformation underway until you’ve considered and evaluated its function and use for people from an ecological standpoint. That means the architecture and design always have to be derived from the function and use.

Urbanharbor, interior view
Photo: Thunert Fotograf

How will the complex develop from this point on?
MAX MAIER: The way we live and work in cities will change fundamentally: the two spheres will merge. For us, the transformation of the world of work centres on people. Their wants and needs should be taken into account when designing their work environments.

In terms of energy supply, the most important development for our complex right now is carbon neutrality: we’ve set ourselves the goal of making the entire complex carbon-neutral by 2030.

Let me ask you again: would there have been any alternatives to transformation?

MAX MAIER: In a word, no!


MaxMaier Urbandevelopment initiates architectural space, real estate and urban development for Ludwigsburg’s Urbanharbor hub and its people. On an area of approx. 200,000 square metres, the old industrial park blends architectural, economic, ecological and social values into a connected and climate-neutral city of the future.