Designed by architect A-Lab, the group of buildings has been designed for maximum flexibility. Intended for use by information technology companies, the four office blocks offer entirely uncluttered space. Supported externally by diagrid structures, the five-storey office blocks have external circulation cores. All services internally come down from the ceiling, giving each block a total of 3,750m2 of uninterrupted column-free area. ‘We wanted the working floors to be without any impediments,’ explained Odd Kleb, partner at A-Lab.  

The external structural diagrid is in steel and the office buildings are clad in glass and metal sandwich panels. The circulation towers are in stone, and metal bridges link the blocks.

All four office blocks were deliberately designed to look the same. Since they were intended to be used by multiple tenants, there was no need to give a specific identity to any one block. Instead, the ‘personality’ of the scheme comes from the central block. The idea, when the architect was designing the project, was that this would serve as a ‘mega hub’, a place that would draw visitors and act as a gateway to the old airport as well as a way into the entire new complex. It would also house an exhibition space. In the end, such was the popularity of the scheme, that it has been taken over by one of the tenants, who is using it as a control room.

The role of the building as a gateway to the airport had two effects on the design. The first is that it is raised on stilts, so that visitors come up stairs and pass beneath it. The second is the use of a strong colour so that its position is clear to first-time visitors. Supported on inclined circular steel members, it has a steel and concrete structure which in fact is relatively rectilinear, but it is wrapped in metal cladding with a double curvature to create an intriguing, sensuous form with tilted ends containing long windows. ‘We were really concerned about the curvature,’ said Kleb. ‘At that time we didn’t draw in 3D [the building was designed in 2003] and we knew that some of the plates would have to be adjusted on site. Most were pre-defined in Germany, but we did the final cutting of some of them on site.’

This may have been nerve-racking but, says Kleb, ‘It turned out more precise and more accurate than we hoped. We are really happy with the precision. The firm who did it saw it as their ultimate achievement. It’s not easy to build a free form. It’s easy to draw, but not easy to build.’

The colour of the ALUCOBOND® façade is very smooth and very shiny – measuring 60 Gloss Units. But how did the architect choose it? Kleb can’t really remember. He knows that they wanted a bright colour. ‘We wanted the development to have a shape and focus point that was different’ he said, but as for the particular hue thinks ‘probably on one of the late nights working on the competition somebody painted it that colour.’

Having picked the colour on paper, it was necessary to ensure that the hue was exactly right at the large scale at which it would be used. The architect ordered a number of large samples before settling on the precise shade of orange which was ALUCOBOND® no 307 mandarine orange in the end. ‘It’s a nice colour’ says Kleb.

At the time of designing, sustainability issues were not as high on the agenda as they are today, and this collection of buildings is not self-consciously green. But insulation standards are high, and it uses external solar shading and reflective coatings on the glass to minimise the build up of heat. Kleb believes that it also scores in terms of economy of materials and of structure. The practice carried out detailed analyses to show that using the external diagrid and separating the cores from the office floors would maximise the usable office space. In addition the structure itself is, says Kleb, ‘optimal’, using as little material as possible. And since a very high proportion of the embodied energy of a building is in the structure, this is a valuable saving to have made.

The other aspect of sustainable design that should not be forgotten is sustainability of use. A great deal of embodied energy goes into making a building and this will be wasted if it is not occupied. By designing the buildings to be as flexible as possible, the design team has ensured that they should fit not only current but also future users. And by having such an eye-catching centrepiece, the buildings will certainly not be ignored by future tenants.

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