Slow Offices in Sant Cugat: Urban Frictions and Health and Climate

BAILORULL ADD+

Architects: BAILORULL
Location: Sant Cugat, Spain
Area: 15,000.00 m2
Year: 2021
Photography: Duccio Malagamba and José Hevia

Cities are formed from urban frictions, from street corners. In his book Cities, Corners, Manuel de Solà Morales explains how cities are built at intersections, at the sites of urban frictions. “The corner is the place where lovers meet and the space where barricades are formed. The corners of two streets make a city and the city appears when it is built on the intersection, which is its real support” (Manuel de Solà Morales 2002). 

The design for this office building arises from the urban consideration of its context, while also proposing open exterior working spaces – an advanced solution to the COVID pandemic.

Modification of the Original Planning

The project began with a proposal, presented to the owners and the town hall, showing the need to change the current regulations taking into account the urban evolution of the surroundings. The site where the offices are located has gone from being an old industrial estate on the outskirts of Sant Cugat to being one of the most important entrances to the city. The modification proposal consisted of changing the original three-story industrial warehouse occupying the entire site into a new nine-story high-rise building. The modification proposes this change from a low, compact building to a new more complex volume made up of a series of different buildings set back from the street on the ground floor, presided over by a tall staggered volume that organizes the plot on an urban scale. Without increasing floor area ratios, the planning modification would make it possible to define a new access to the city, recognizing and revealing a new area of centrality latent in the site. The modification would be sensitive to public activity that takes place in the old neighboring building of the Merkantic and would promote the construction of new public routes that will eventually form a pedestrian and commercial network between the inner courtyards of the blocks.

Structure

The Slow office building project is fundamentally defined by the design of its structure. The staggered volumes of the project are supported by a metallic structure that lets the new volume look out over the roundabout at the entrance to the city. Two pillars located at the ends of the building branch out in height into inclined beams to form the truss of the main façade. A three-dimensional structure formed by simple metallic linear elements determines the volume while also anchoring the building in place.

Climate

The modification allows the proposed volume to define an interior workspace with views in both directions over the landscape and cross ventilation from north to south. The building forms a narrow and staggered volume that responds to the solar orientation of the site. A long, almost transparent volume, occupies the full length of the original industrial site, with façades that take advantage of the different sun exposure conditions in defining the interior space. The proposed volume is not treated as a vertical box with uniform façades. The design adjusts each façade to its climate conditions.

The east and west front façades use a material from the industrial context where the building is located. These facades are resolved with a simple solution of a ventilated façade with a metallic finish that gives the project an image of industrial construction. The number and type of openings are set to control reflection on the east façade and excess sunlight on the west façade. The perforated industrial metal sheet helps control solar radiation.

In the southern orientation, solar protection is provided by expanded metal sheet. This solar filter offers a buffer that helps improve the thermal behavior of the building and control energy expenditure during use. It creates a transition space between the interior and exterior, an occupiable space that provides thermal control. This south façade is also outfitted with a series of opening panels to improve the internal visual comfort of the offices.

Regarding the north façade, the design incorporates a glass curtain wall. The north orientation guarantees uniform lighting without reflections, an optimal environment for working. The glass façade without solar protection is open to the views and the garden terrace on the second floor. The curtain wall was built using a structure of wooden studs that improves the comfort of the interior space of the offices.

The tall, narrow building allowed for creating office floors with a large façade area. The interior spaces have views and are thermally regulated through the specific solution for each of the façades. In this building, all users have very good views and, depending on the final interior distribution of the offices, three or four different solar orientations.

The design was not defined to generate compact image, a uniform and indifferent volume cut off from the conditions of the context. Instead, the open volume adapts every façade to the solar orientation and to the urban context. The building dialogues with the site and tries to transform and improve it.

Green Roof and Health

The new volume made possible by the planning modification provides for the construction of a large garden terrace on the roof of the commercial premises on the first floor. This green space for office users offers them an outdoor workspace and generates a relationship with the outside.

How do we imagine office spaces after COVID? What could be better than offices with a large, green outdoor workspace?

The Slow building seems to have been ahead of its time. It appears to have predicted something like the COVID pandemic. The project, which began 11 years ago, was focused on the main idea of offering healthy open spaces for work. The commission began with the proposal of a new volume rising from the ground to harness the best solar conditions, and introducing a new exterior space became the perfect solution for healthy workspaces. The roof garden and the balconies on the south façade have become the best exterior spaces for working. The Slow building is a new type of office building in which every 7 m2 of office surface corresponds to 1 m2 of terrace.

This project has a real modern roof garden – a fifth façade transformed into an exterior gathering space. We like to imagine the occupants of the Slow building doing their morning gym exercises, having work meetings, and organizing parties in the garden.

Health, greenery, exercise, and work!