Whatever your feelings about BP as a company are, keep an open mind while reading about their refinery office building in Rotterdam. Tucked under a green-roofed, man-made dune, the four-story office building takes advantage of the insulating properties of the earth and uses the dune as a shield against potential refinery explosions (yikes!). Rotterdam-based Group A designed the structure to meet the objectives of the oil producing company, which included "providing a sustainable, safe and healthy working environment for the dedicated staff." Daylighting, passive solar design and a highly insulated facade are included in the green building strategies for the youngest and largest oil refinery in The Netherlands.
The arced building is located in the transition zone between the harsh industrial landscape of the refinery and the lush, green wetlands of the Brielsemeer directly across the Hartel Canal. The man-made dune is envisioned as a landscape intervention between the industrial, the office and the wetlands. By earth berming the building, the green roof serves a double purpose – insulation plus physical protection. Being located so close to a refinery, even if it is your own refinery, is not without risk and the earth barrier serves as a shield to protect the building and the employees in case of an explosion.
Beyond the green roof shield, the offices were also designed for energy efficiency and healthy working environments. The south side of the building elegantly curves and takes advantage of the sun. Shade screens placed on the facade optimize daylighting and minimize heat gain. Inside, a canyon-like atrium is lit from above with skylights that emerge from the dune. This daylight reaches deep into the inner recesses of the building even where it is covered by the green roof. Lastly, the canyon is lined with timber slats that differ in size and color and give the feel of geological strata, which is exceedingly appropriate for BP’s work.
Skyboxes situated along the atrium wall provide exciting spaces for meetings and conferences, while sky bridges connect the office areas across the canyon atrium. The office space and its interior design focuses on optimizing an open concept to reduce square meters per employee, while maximizing work and interaction space. By optimizing the space, the overall building size was able to be reduced, thus using less resources and energy. Concrete and stone are used extensively throughout the space and are used to soak up the sun’s energy for use as thermal mass to maintain steady temperatures. Overall, while the design and end result dreamed up by Group A is a fantastic example of sustainable design, somehow knowing that it’s the office for BP’s refinery feels a bit like the oil company is trying to make up for past mistakes…
Images ©Roos Aldershoff and ScagliolaBrakkee