Making a hill for the BP office

by Edwin Larkens on May 18, 2011

The imaginary and the real; designing and building the BP office – [part 5]

A big artificial dune covers the BP office building. Even though the location is nearby the real dunes next to the sea, the reason for the enormous hill is not aesthetic. The dune is designed to create a safe environment for the offices. The building is part of the BP oil refinery. In such an environment with hydrocarbons there is always a very small risk that an accident could trigger an explosion. In this case the hill will protect the office building from the direct impact of the blast. A slightly less intense shock wave will follow the initial explosion. It will roll over the building and hit the other sides of the offices (comparable to an explosion under water). The facades and roofs, including the glass atrium roof are reinforced to be able to direct these forces to the concrete skeleton. The main shape of the office building, a curved boomerang like form, is designed to withstand these forces. Just like an arch is stronger than a straight beam, the curved form makes the concrete structure able to withstand the power of the shock wave much better than a rectangular building could.

Since we needed a huge pile of sand, we took this chance to shape the dune into a beautiful landscape in which the building and the body of the dune flow into each other. We studied the form of the hilly landscape with both physical and virtual models, in which we tried to achieve a fluent transition between dune and building. The result is a dynamic shape which reacts to the curved shape of the adjacent raised highway and plays with the appearance of the nearby natural dunes.


One hundred thousand cubic meters of soil was needed for the hill. The Port of Rotterdam is continuously expanding its surface by creating new land in the sea. For this purpose they keep huge supplies of sand. They provided the soil for the BP project. Over five thousand truck loads of sand were emptied onto the BP site. Bulldozers slowly transformed the flat landscape into the shape of our models. The dune will get the same vegetation as its natural counterparts. Real dunes are created by the natural forces of land, sea and wind. The man made BP landscape looks like it is created by the forces of the nearby highway, the train tracks and the canal.

Many people will see this building from their car, as the N15 highway curves around the site. While driving along, the building slowly disappears behind the dune to later reappear on its other side. The enormous transformation of the terrain makes driving next to the BP offices a great spectacle.

Photos Edwin Larkens, 13-5-2011

Building completion: May 2011

Links to other posts in this series about the BP office:

Post 1 – Introduction: the exterior and the interior

Post 2 – The origins of the atrium wall

Post 3 – Geometric puzzles

Post 4 – Bridging the atrium

Post 6 – The office habitat

Post 7 – Reflections and refractions

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

gador May 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

hen hao!


Ben May 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I am very impressed by these pictures. The futurustic entrance cut into the dune slope is really fabulous!


Cristina January 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Great architecture! Innovative and immaginative.


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