Kickstarting a Regeneration

Wroclaw, a city in western Poland had seen a recent development boom with many of its empty building plots being developed and attracting international owners and tenants.  One of the last remaining plots became available for development next to the city’s old town perimeter canal.  Not only would the development be located on one of Wroclaw’s main arterial routes into the centre, but there was also the opportunity for the building to be the starting point for a wider masterplan regeneration of the area – connecting several key focal points in the city together.

AD-Studio was commissioned to design the new office building but also study a wider masterplan solution such that the new building would sit comfortably within its current context as well as any potential future development that would be built as the area is upgraded. The project itself was a destination in its own right but also a gateway to further developments beyond.

The fact that the plot is enclosed on three sides with public roads meant that the building was highly visible and when we factor in the future development the building would have 4 equally important front elevations. Unique as an architectural centrepiece – but challenging to service – and to budget for.

Sculpting and Sustainability

Due to the complexity of the site and its visual exposure from all directions the design process involved many potential massing solutions being studied. The use of foam models was very useful in this process as we could easily analyse the key viewpoints and the massing within its context. This was done by the whole team working together – including the client who was very hands on and enjoyed the process of engagement thoroughly.

The three-dimensional sculpting of the final form was derived from several sources.
Firstly, it is based on gaining maximum sun exposure onto the public plaza at ground level in front of the main entrance – it could be very dark and unwelcoming if this wasn’t given priority. Secondly, the form was also generated by maximizing the area within the fewest floor levels but by rotating the facades away from facing directly south to minimize the heat gains. Thirdly, the soft form was also a direct response to a very prominent Wroclaw old town building that can be seen from our site that had beautiful, rounded feature windows which acted as a very relevant reference.

A balance had to struck between cutting the building away, giving it a more sculptural form versus keeping it more regular in footprint and potentially reducing the quality of the urban realm. We convinced the client that the more sustainable approach would yield later benefits in a reduction in operational costs – even though this did incur some immediate capital cost increases

Flexibility – Designing for the Future

The final design which is currently under construction includes 7 levels of above ground space and three levels of parking basement.  The building although appearing as one building can operate as two separate buildings if desired, for example if a company wants to use one half as a headquarters.  There is a shared entrance hall from which you can be directed to either lift core.  As base build the floorplates are all combined into one large building.  The floorplates themselves offer flexible shallow rentable area with the circulation cores occupying the darkest parts of the floor. The floor plate is easily subdivided into different tenant areas with minimal need to introduce non rentable corridors. The ground floor has been designed as office space but as it is taller it can easily be converted into retail or food functions.  There is even flexibility in the first level of basement to create additional revenue by adding a supermarket with its own independent ground floor entrance and delivery. 

Technical Expertise – a Hot Topic

There were a number of technical challenges with the project that needed unique solutions. One key challenge related to designing a building within the strict city centre location – in a very historical city. Whilst we were lucky not to have any major historical structures on our site – this also meant that the plot had in the past been chosen to have a city heating main running thorough it – approximately 2m below ground level. Without the pipes there, we would be able to comfortably fit the required parking numbers within three levels of basement. Sacrificing the plot area where the pipes are located, we would create the need to build 4 levels. In the end a solution was found whereby only level -1 basement perimeter pulls back from the pipes however levels -2 and -3 extend to the plot boundary beneath the heating pipes. This solution although more complex to build, saved the developer from having to build an extra level of parking.

Responsive Facades

As we had generated a soft form for the building, we wanted to wrap the same façade continuously around all sides of the form. However, we were cognisant that a different façade performance was need on each side of the building. We had an acoustic (traffic) and solar heat gain issue from the southern direction but a privacy issue from the eastern direction where our building was close to an existing residential building. To achieve the different performance for each side of the building we need some flexibility within the façade concept – a solution that would allow us to increase and decrease the quantity of glazing without it affecting the overall appearance adversely. To achieve this we proposed that that the proportions of glass versus solid change on each side of the building. We could then have more glazing facing northwards and less southwards – which would resolve the acoustic and the sun exposure issue. The façade facing the residential block would be able to have less glazing to increase privacy and to deal with acoustics.

Keeping it Green

The masterplan constraints for the plot included the need to retain 10% of the plot area as biologically active (landscaping).  This was challenging especially as we were also trying to stay within 3 levels of parking which meant building the underground car park right up to the plot perimeter on all sides. By very careful internal planning of the car park we were able to shave enough space from the basement footprint to achieve a 12% green area whilst retaining the same parking numbers.  This was a complicated process as the column grid from the organic form of the office building above meant that the car park was far from a standard grid to work with. Smart planning also meant that the green area could be located in the position where an existing tree at the plot’s perimeter of the plot could be retained – something that was not considered feasible at the project’s outset. We felt that grabbing the opportunity to save it was important and allowed to create around it an amenity space for the future tenants.

Designing for the wellness

A building is so much more than its function.  Employers concerned about the wellness of their employees expect far more than flexible tenant areas when renting office space in a modern office building. In order to promote a healthy working environment office buildings need to provide supplementary services and amenities for their tenants.  At Infinity the client and the design team welcomed the opportunity to create a generous entrance hall that doesn’t only function as an arrival and reception area.  The entrance hall at Infinity is an amenity space that tenants can use as an extension to their own office space 24 hours a day.  The spacious hall is divided into a number of defined zones that can be used for meetings, relaxation, working, waiting or simply taking a phone call.  Ground level retail and food outlets will further expand the offering.  The entrance hall will be the focal point of the building and an opportunity to meet and interact with other tenants.  The pedestrian plaza outside with its benches and landscaping will extend the amenity space in the summer months.

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