Witschaftsvereinigung Stahl, Internationaler Architekturkongress, 15.01.2020

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Internationaler Architektur Kongress

Neues Bauen mit Stahl – EPO New Main
Text by
Diederik Dam

Last week Diederik Dam gave a lecture on the EPO New Main building at the Internationaler Architektur-Kongress in Dusseldorf. The EPO New Main in Rijswijk is the new main office building of the European Patent Office (Office), and is designed in collaboration with Ateliers Jean Nouvel. A short version of the lecture can be found below:  

“On behalf of Jean Nouvel and myself, thank you for the opportunity to showcase our international collaboration to you here. We have known Jean for a lifetime, from summers we shared in the same village in the south of France. Meeting each other on the village terrace Jean would joke: “finally, when do we work together?” So for us, our Dutch-French architectural collaboration began with friendship. And it continued in that spirit of mutual respect and the sheer joy of designing together.

What is the European Patent Office?  EPO is Europe’s second largest intergovernmental organisation and their core business is innovation. By granting legally robust patents, they ensure that companies, institutions and individuals can protect and market ground-breaking technologies. There are currently some 1 950 people working at New Main, which opened in June 2018. To explain you the design, let me first start with its context.

The context of the EPO site in The Hague in The Netherlands is far larger than its immediate surroundings. We find on one side the characteristic Dutch polder landscape, stretching as far as the skyline of Rotterdam.  It is a horizontality of sea turned to land; all below sea level. It is a man-made landscape abstractly ordered to suit the needs of its users. At the same time, the characteristic Dutch polder landscape also means a context of endless greenhouses; of modernity. Its produce will travel far and wide.

On the other side, we find the context of the sea. The coastline of The Hague with ships in line; international vessels awaiting their call to dock. So we could say, our context is the horizon. And the biggest structures line up like ships on the water. It is here that we discover the specific magic of this place. Our proposal was to introduce into this context, a flagship of noble scale and proportion. Its materiality unsettling and its geometric abstraction, total.

A New Main for the EPO. What we are seeking are feelings of privilege and pleasure. The privilege of the sky and the horizon as the primary materials of architecture.  The pleasure of working in a clear, open, exact world. Protected, closed, friendly. All this located within this rectangle of sky. A large body of water, a mirror pond, complements the existing landscape. On it we introduce New Main and connect it to the existing buildings.

In essence it is a very slender and transparent building, thus allowing maximum daylight to enter the offices. An inner and outer skin has been created to achieve the high levels of comfort required inside. Towards the polder landscape, the buffer to the adjacent highway is green, visually extending the interiors. Towards the sea, undulating louvres introduce reflections of the pond in the interior.

New Main was built on an extremely limited building site, with the surrounding existing EPO offices in full use during construction. Architecture, structure and installations were integrated to an extreme level, simply because we had to.

Glass is the most prominent feature of the building. The total area of glass measures 1 million square foot, equalling the size of 12 football pitches. The specifically developed low-iron coated glass achieves the delicate play of light, reflectivity and transparency of a built piece of sky. 

Another prominent feature of the building is steel. The EPO’s New Main was constructed using 10.000 metric tonnes of steel, making it the largest steel structure of its kind and quality to be built in the Netherlands. As steel is light in weight it allows for exact, relatively rapid and low-noise construction. Six custom made frames provide the rigidity of the tall slender building of approximately 108 meters high, 155 m long and just under 25 m wide from outer facade to outer facade. 

Photo of the EPO’s new main building in The Hague. ©Ronald Tilleman for European Patent Office

The striking two facades of inner and an outer skin form a climate buffer between the interior and exterior of the building. Inside, we tried to create the ideal environment for doing different types of work. We designed a building that offers high-concentration areas, meeting rooms, shared offices and collaborative areas. In other words, we made the work space flexible and modular, so that the users can customise it to satisfy their changing needs.

Furthermore, we created a smart building featuring active control for its users. It’s in the active climate ceilings and in the ventilation through the slim line steel floors. Its flexibility in possible office layouts makes it ready for the future: part of a sustainable life cycle. The very, very efficient energy performance criteria were based on combined international eco standards, including German BNB methods. We also tried to bring nature back into the office by flooding it with natural light and introducing plants wherever possible. Our central plant room, in section located in the middle of the building, can switch orientation. Preheated air is taken in from the sunny southern cavity in winter and from the cooler northern cavity in summer.

More than a quarter of the Netherlands’ surface is below sea level. We played with this perception in dynamic ways.  At New Main careful water management is essential. We recycle rainwater, wastewater and groundwater. We use it to water all our gardens. We have an ATES system heat exchange with ground water for heating or cooling. We make use of the temperature fluctuations of the water of the pond. 

We came up with our design as the best way to address the EPO’s needs for a new Main building. To house its staff in an inspiring and open new environment.  To provide a new landmark for an organisation that has innovation at its very core.  Innovative not in a single aspect, but innovative as a whole. We did this, whilst building upon friendship.”

Witschaftsvereinigung Stahl, Internationaler Architekturkongress, 15.01.2020
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