A Surprising microclimate, bursting with life
As one of the world leaders in financial and business services, Deloitte is also a trailblazer when it comes to innovative, contemporary working culture. It’s no wonder, then, that their new building at the Brussels Airport site in Zaventem would become a reflection of what the company stands for. It’s an international melting pot, where work and leisure go hand in hand and where flexibility, communication and versatility are key words.
Jaspers-Eyers Architects, which has extensive experience in designing contemporary work environments, took up the challenge for developers Codic and Immobel. The challenge was to transform abstract concepts into tangible architecture that is firmly grounded in the present and future. Architecture with respect for the existing complex, which is partially renovated. The result is both sober and imposing, a modern giant with one eye on the landing strip and the other on Zaventem.
Towards the future with respect for the past
The original building complex, which housed Sabena, among others, was erected in the run-up to Expo ’58, just like the adjacent Sky Hall. Architect Stefaan Van Acker has forged a bridge between past and present, dramatically altering the structure while respecting the existing space.
Stefaan Van Acker: “The existing building was worthy in various ways, an excellent basis which we’ve respected to the greatest extent possible. The goal was to add value to it, and I believe we’ve succeeded in doing that. We have renovated two wings and built two, turning the original U-shape into a closed O-shape. The building is integrated into its surroundings in an understated way, but with all the modern technology this project required.”
Anyone who looks at the exterior of the Deloitte building will see that it is as sober and tranquil as the airport’s surroundings are lively and active. Even so, the building fits right in, as though it has been there forever, new though it may be.
John Eyers: “The design radiates simplicity, but not one-dimensionality. We played with open and closed, with depths and recesses. In addition, the way the materials work together, the contrast between the solid elements and glass, create movement. The awnings, the play of light… Those are the elements that breathe life into the building’s exterior, despite its sobriety. And there is, of course, its integration with and into the airport. The control tower is visibly integrated into the design. The antennae are hidden behind lattices, but they are there.”
Another feature that is not immediately visible, but is there, is the 350-space parking lot under the building. It was created using the three-story height difference between the front of the building (Zaventem) and the back (the landing strips).
A lively microclimate
The Deloitte building might make a modest impression from the outside, but inside, it is bursting with life, which makes sense, given the 2,000 employees and 200 visitors who cross the threshold every day. Still, the atrium, the large, central hall, serves as a breath of fresh air to all those who enter. It’s as though the employee or visitor is entering a microclimate, where light and room to breathe create a unique atmosphere, complete with greenery and patios. It was a conscious decision on the part of the architect, who in a sense, turned the building inwards, to a surprising oasis in an arid environment. Amid islands made of oak, which also serve as benches, ficuses add a natural, green flourish. The trees are monitored and watered automatically.
Covering an area of 40 x 30 x 25 meters, the atrium is an impressive space. The glass ceiling reinforces that effect, even if 25% of it is composed of closed panels, to limit loss of heat. Those panels contain light fixtures, which also shine above. The meeting rooms are located on the ground floor and second story of the building. Office space can be found on the six stories above that. At the very top, rooftop terraces can be found. The offices set at different heights throughout the atrium are striking and add a three-dimensional character to the space.
A connected community
The ground level and second story are connected by a broad staircase in slate, the same material used as flooring on the ground level and used to decorate the towers which stretch all the way to ceiling in the four corners of the atrium.
Stefaan Van Acker: “With the texture of the floor, the stairs and towers, we wanted to invoke the atmosphere of a covered square, something between indoors and outdoors. The slate works with the wooden islands and the white of the upper stories and offices.”
The lively atmosphere in the atrium does, indeed, remind one of European market squares on a clear day. Nowhere is that impression as striking as from the cafeteria, which looks out over the atrium on one side, and over a landing strip on the other. The cafeteria boasts a structure all its own, defined by the booths at the tables and the ceramic tiles on the floor. To the right of the large restaurant, there is a smaller space for those who prefer to eat in privacy. To the left, there is an old-fashioned bar, which can be used for various purposes and which brings work and leisure together.
John Eyers: “In a building like this, each area is a workspace, even the restaurant. The variation in possible workspaces is significant, and continuous communication is possible. The atrium alone invites communication, with the offices installed in the space, the glass elevators with a panoramic view and all the floors, which connect to the central hall. Communication is possible everywhere, from the rooftop terrace to the fitness center.”
Or on the islands around the trees, where electrical outlets are provided, so that people can work there unhindered. One – conscious – side-effect of the building’s design is the way in which clients and visitors are also absorbed into the whole. Everyone finds himself in the same atmosphere, in which fixed desks and closed cubicles have given way to a natural flow, where work and leisure are interconnected.
Flexibility put into practice
By doing this, Jaspers-Eyers and Deloitte are responding to an increasing demand for flexibility at work. Anyone who enters the office spaces from one of the two corner elevator bays will immediately see a concrete application of that. There are no permanent desks, but loads of lockers for storing things. The open work islands create a sense of space, and the sporadically integrated cockpits – closed workspaces – don’t alter that. The vast amount of glass even means that those spaces contribute to the general impression of openness. That atmosphere is even present on the lowest level, where the meeting rooms can be found. Spacious hallways guarantee breathing room and privacy. Alcoves breathe life into the space and provide a change of pace.
An important place in the building is the auditorium, which one can enter through the atrium. It, too, carries on the theme of flexibility. With 200 seats, all the necessary technological facilities and precisely calculated acoustics, it is a meeting place suitable for all sorts of purposes. That also goes for the atrium itself, which can be adapted, as needed, and can be used for various kinds of events. Lounge chairs, bistro tables… it is a multipurpose space.
Technology with a capital T
To say that technology played a major role in this project would be putting it lightly. The building offers all available modern facilities and comfort, but there were also many challenges specific to building near an airport. And they were not insignificant.
Stefaan Van Acker: “Before building, two years of extensive studies were conducted. We had to take many things into consideration. With the radars, for example, and the control tower that is integrated into the design. For that reason, all cables were run through the basement of the building. Fire safety and safety in general played a very important role, as did, of course, sound insulation, given that the building is adjacent to a landing strip. But there was also the very practical problem of the crane, which could not exceed a certain height. Therefore, delivering materials wasn’t easy.”
For sound insulation, Jaspers-Eyers worked with an agency specialized in acoustics. The glass was installed based entirely on sound requirements, and the ventilation system contains special mufflers. And sound wasn’t the only consideration: special filters were also used to keep kerosene fumes out of the building.
In terms of energy efficiency, the Deloitte building is also with the times. With a BREEAM Excellent certificate, the building scores very well in terms of building management, health, energy, transport, water, materials, waste, land usage and eco-friendliness and pollution.
The advantages of an unusual location
When designing the building, John Eyers took three important pillars into consideration.
John Eyers: “First of all, the urban planning aspect is, of course, important, the environment, the integration of the building into its surroundings. In addition, there is the architectural aspect, the renovation of the building, whereby we respected the original building to the greatest extent possible. Finally, there is the living environment we’ve created. The environment inside, with the atrium, the various stories, and the visual relationship with the airport.”
The relationship with the airport is tangible in various ways and forms a common vein running through the entire building. It’s no wonder that the atrium connects directly to the airport and the train station.
John Eyers: “That fits the company’s image perfectly. Deloitte works with various nationalities and needs a basis from which it can branch out easily. Plus, the airport is an unusual location, which answers the current trend to do things differently. People no longer want an office in a regular building, on a regular street. What’s more, work is being combined with leisure more and more often, and this building has everything needed to facilitate that. In the atrium alone, the atmosphere exudes optimism and space.”
Stefaan Van Acker: “In addition, the location offers many other advantages, of course. Deloitte can take full advantage of the airport’s infrastructure.”
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About Jaspers-Eyers Architects
Jaspers-Eyers & Partners is a global practice offering full services in architecture, masterplanning, space planning, programming, building analysis and interior design. Michel Jaspers founded the practice in 1960, and today has more than 40 years of experience in all different aspects of the profession. At present John Eyers and his son Jean-Michel Jaspers have joined him as associated partners, and together they make a strong team that will lead the practice to new and forthcoming challenges.
The projects range from corporate headquarters, large urban masterplans, high-rise commercial structures, public and governmental buildings, cultural, leisure and residential facilities to manufacturing and historical refurbishment. The work of the practice has been widely exhibited and honored and at present a team of 120 people are practicing from three locations: Brussels,
Leuven and Hasselt. Use of the latest technologies and international cooperations make it possible to serve clients all over the world, as is shown in the large expansion of ongoing international projects located from Warsaw to Tokio.