No, your eyes don’t deceive you. This new build in Aarhus by Danish practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen really does have a wonky otherworldliness to it. You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking it was an art gallery or at the very least a hub for the creative industries, but no, it is the offices for NRGi – which is pronounced to sound like energy – a firm charged with supplying power to this region of Denmark.
“The way the building tilts towards the south west in relation to the site means it sits in its own shadow,” begins Stephen Willacy, a partner at Schmidt Hammer Lassen, which won the project to design the headquarters in 2005 after a design build competition with a handful of other firms.
“The facade is clad in a golden colour – we found that it reflects the light and the different climatic conditions as it tilts,” says Willacy. “It slopes away from the Randers Vej road, one of the main routes running into Aarhus towards the north east, and when you drive past the building, the facade changes character. There is an energy to it. We wanted to create a unique building.”
The building is prefabricated in cast concrete, a construction method Schmidt Hammer Lassen has successfully used a number of times before. “It means that we make the main building – the walls and the columns – very quickly,” Willacy explains. “And all the services are in the ceiling – we didn’t have to have a raised floor. We could see the value of reducing the thickness of the floor to ceiling using precast concrete with timber floor on top of that.”
In terms of a workplace design, NRGi wanted a building that would consolidate its 100-plus staff into one location. “They wanted an open-plan working environment in an office building, which would allow them to bring in different groups of people from different branches with room for expansion. Having that flexibility within the business is one of the good things about open plan, and on a human scale, it’s quite a nice sense of space.”
Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s interior design and product development department was responsible for the workstations, where you can have your papers in a storage container that you can move around whenever you move to work with another team. Height-adjustable task chairs and additional task lighting to boost the main low level lighting complete the ergonomic approach.
When not at their desks, staff have the option of small meeting pods and coffee points for informal exchanges. The atrium, located in the centre of the building, is another break-out option. It is designed as a bit of standalone architecture in itself, providing a vertical line of sight running up all the floors, which, together with three open horizontal floorplates, creates a visual transparency and encourages channels of communication among the employees. It contains a series of planters as well as a carpeted seating area to differentiate it in a softer way from the timber flooring used elsewhere, while simultaneously improving the acoustics. The skylight above the atrium is composed of FoilTech, which allows a higher degree of UV light to penetrate through than a conventional glass roof. It can also be thickened by inflating air into it, warding off heat as the sun grows stronger. Willacy sums up this part of the project as “the lungs of the building”.
This particular place of work is billed as the most energy-efficient office building constructed to date in Denmark – no mean feat in this environmentally conscious part of the world. “The building is heavily insulated – we have been doing that for years in Denmark, the regulations are more stringent than in England,” says Willacy. “We have tried to make the building low energy – introducing a lot of measures to encourage natural light. We also tried to source all the materials sustainably. The engineers for the project have worked to develop together with the client, so that the building’s energy use is kept at a minimum. Natural ventilation is located strategically at ground level and uses the stack effect from the atrium at strategic points to optimise the air circulation.
The building’s angular silhouette maximises energy efficiency by orientating it in the path of the sun, as well as providing a crisp contrast to the surrounding undulating landscape and woodland in the distance.
“They wanted it to be light and airy and connected to the outside with extended views,” says Willacy.
There are a number of new office developments surrounding NRGi’s building, which lies on the suburban outskirts of the country’s second largest city, located on the coast of the island of Jutland. A balance had to be achieved between standing out from its neighbours – which vary from an all-glass construction to a curvy design with apertures and a building with a much heavier facade – while still making sure there was some degree of architectural cohesion. From the outside, the juxtaposition of the windows and insulating panels means that the edges of the floors aren’t visible, giving the metallic facade a seamless quality; as if each floor appears to almost float in space.
“Why should it just be the creative industries that have all the visually entrancing architecture in their places of work?” is the sentiment this building seems to espouse, and frankly, I couldn’t agree more. “The project was about the wellbeing of the people, seen in a holistic way, working in harmony,” says Willacy. “This is achieved by trying to work with the building’s design and the client’s intentions, together with the building’s relationship to the site.
“This space is conducive to work and relaxing at the same time and with the views across the different departments and different floors, it feels like one big family.”