BMW AG has opened a new €250 million ($355 million) double-coned building in Munich to house the company museum, a car pick-up centre for customers and a factory tour. The swirling mass of glass and steel, known as BMW Welt, was designed by Coop Himmelblau, a Vienna-based architectural firm led by Wolf Prix, whose projects include the European Central Bank’s new headquarters in Frankfurt.

“There’s very stiff competition in the industry and this is another instrument to improve the awareness of a brand," said Helmut Becker, the author of two books on the car industry and a former chief economist at BMW. “Within the context of this competitive environment, as soon as premium manufacturer A builds one, then B, C and D must follow."

BMW, the world’s largest luxury car maker, opened a new factory in Leipzig in 2005. The central building was designed by Zaha Hadid, a winner of the Pritzker prize, regarded as the Nobel of the architectural world. Investors say the money on architecture is well spent, after both exports and domestic car sales increased last year, helping carmakers to build up cash reserves. BMW, Porsche and other luxury manufacturers are expanding faster than the market as a whole.

BMW describes its new customer centre as “one of the first of a new generation of communication buildings for the 21st century." The building is designed to give the impression of “suspended motion," a term used by BMW’s head designer Chris Bangle to describe the lines of bent metal and curves on cars such as the 3-Series and Z4 sports car.

There are few straight lines in BMW Welt, which twists into the sky like a tornado about to take off. It contains 4,000 tonnes of steel, the same amount needed for about 12,000 3-Series sedans. The spiralling glass facades and roof also create solar energy to heat the building. Car buyers will pay €450 for a “premium experience" at BMW Welt when they pick up their vehicles, Stefan Krause, management board member responsible for sales and marketing, told a press conference. BMW expects 850,000 visitors a year.

Modern Acropolis

Across the street from BMW Welt stands Karl Schwanzer’s four-cylinder tower housing the company’s headquarters. Like Hadid’s factory in Leipzig and the new centre, the building is cloaked in gray inorganic materials that suggest power rather than warmth. Prix, the architect, compares BMW Welt to the Acropolis instead of drawing parallels with anything on today’s roads.

“The Acropolis was not only a temple, it was an icon for Athens," he said in an interview in the new building. “It was also a marketplace where information was traded and knowledge was transferred. This is the real modern Acropolis of Munich." BMW Welt will be open to the public daily from 9am to 8pm from 20 October.