Reflections and refractions, the façade of the BP office

by Edwin Larkens on March 27, 2012

The imaginary and the real; designing and building the BP office – [part 7]

In this final part of the series about designing and building the BP office facilities I will focuss on the skin of the building. The BP office stretches out of a big dune. The horizontal lines in the façade emphasize this movement. The façade of the curved building gradually runs from open to closed to react to the changing orientation towards the sun. The big glass planes on the north side let in as much daylight as possible. The narrow strips of glass on the southside still allow daylight to enter the building, but minimize direct sunlight as much as possible to avoid heat gain and disturbing light reflections. The horizontal profiles on the northern side gradually transform towards the south facade into overhanging louvres to block out the sun.

The façade for the BP office plays an important role to protect the people inside in the event of an explosion on the refinery. (more information about this in part five of this blog series.) At the start of the design process we were struggling with these enormous horizontal forces. We were trying to make an extremely rigid structure with large vertical elements. The great dynamic forces of such an explosion need very different structural measures then the forces of gravity and wind which you usually deal with when designing a building. We discovered that the structure of the façade needed to be much more flexible, in the same way as buildings in Japan are built with a flexible structure to withstand the large dynamic forces of an earthquake. For this purpose curtain wall systems are available which are developed for buildings like embassies. With these reinforced systems we could relatively easily make a façade which would be blast proof, cost effective and where possible open and transparent.

The opaque horizontal strips in between transparent bands of glass are made of textured relief glass to create a interplay of light with the curved shape. The relief glass has a horizontal printed pattern behind. It creates an illusion of a three dimensional structure of fine horizontal lines vibrating optically when the viewing angle changes. It is reminiscent of high dune grasses in the wind.

The curved shape of the building gives the façade great beauty with different materials dramatically changing character depending on viewing angles. In the façade you see a collage of sharp and diffused reflections of the building, its environment and the people in and outside the building, becoming a kaleidoscope of reflections and refractions.

Building completed: May 2011

Links to previous 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 5 – Making a hill

Post 6 – The office habitat

 

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