architecture : urban : visual culture

The Elisabeth Office Building - Groupama Headquarters

The Elisabeth Office Building - Groupama Headquarters with reference designators ‘A’ and ‘B’ consists of a separate wing of the office buildings and a 34-m long bridge with glass facade joining the different masses of the building complex, designed for pedestrian use exclusively. The project was designed by Mihály Kolba

Building ‘A’ is located next to Hungária Ring Road and it has the height of a basement + ground floor + 6 floors with a floor space of 10 thousand m2. Building ‘B’ has the height of a basement + ground floor + 6 floors with a floor space of 10 thousand m2. Buildings „A” and „B”, erected at the beginning of the 1960s, were built in the brutally modernist style of that age. Today, the incredibly ‘simple’ huge, monumental, cuboid mass of Building ‘A’ may seem to us ‘boring and schematic’; however, it truly reflects the unlimited enthusiasm of modern architecture in the 1960s as if it were the icon of those times. The subtle, asymmetric mass of the ‘B’ Building that is ambitiously rising upwards 'appears to be more acceptable to us nowadays’ and it is more imposing than the other one.

In 2006, the building complex was bought by its present owner, ELSBET Kft. in 100% ownership of its mother company, Warimpex AG., which is registered in Austria. The condition of the buildings was so deteriorated that they could not have been made suitable for their original target with partial renovation.
Preparatory Phase, Aims and Concept of Property Development:
In London, perhaps it would not have been a question what to do with the two buildings in the 2000s, most probably they would have been totally demolished. From architectural and cultural-historical aspects we are really lucky that Buildings ‘A’ and ‘B’ were kept by the owner of the building complex as it is demanded by our concern about the protection of our environment and about the future of our children and grandchildren not to demolish all of our existing buildings and build new ones instead of them. Nowadays it is on our agenda not to demolish those old buildings that are still useable because we are able to save huge material and physical resources by the transformation - renovation of these, while we can also prevent our Earth from being affected by further natural disasters.

The members of our Designer Team were given a hard lesson by having to plan such modern office buildings, which suit the requirements of today, while they were restricted by the architecture of the existing buildings - the physical parameters of their remaining structures - skeletons and having to create a cost effective investment, which was a rightful demand towards them. The greatest challenge we had to face was how to conjure a contemporary building complex from the remaining architectural icons of the ‘marvellously brave 1960s, whose people were also able to step on the Moon’ in the last century, parallel with the preservation of the architectural icons we got as the legacy of those years.

1. The Concepts of Architecture and Urban Design

Building ‘A’

From structural point of view and from the aspects of the renovation, the large, upper canopy designed in the direction of Hungária Ring Road, as well as the vertical rib elements appearing in the middle of the facade bring minimum changes compared to the size of the building, however, the main facade and the entire composition from Hungária Ring Road will significantly change even by this slight reconstruction thus making the new office building more representative, designating the main entrance on the huge facade of the building, which can be seen in the landscape of the city from a large distance, and further increasing the significance of the building in the urban design when it is lit in the evenings.

The vertical ribs designed to the middle of the facade looking to Hungária Ring Road are the visual elements that join the main entrance in the middle and the large, upper canopy - ‘hat’, and divide the long, monotonous plane of the facade as well as the brutal architecture of the huge, cuboid mass of the building.

On the side facades, the formation of the porcelain ceramic cladding reflects the gate-like motifs of the old stone layout.

On the rear facade, the facade with old ‘stone grid’ decoration was made from the same stone porcelain ceramic cladding as the one on the main facade, however, here the porcelain ceramic sheets were glued on the wall structure of the facade.

As the orientation of the rear facade is south-west, the size of the openings of the windows was reduced, the height of the parapet was decreased and the lintels of the existing openings were ‘filled in’ with sheet covering which has heat insulation. Perhaps this reshaping of the openings of the windows symbolizes the best way how we were trying to create by these slight, but characteristic architectural changes such architecture, which suits the requirements of our age.

The middle part of the rear facade was significantly changed. If we had used heat insulation on the old architectonic elements (the single wired glass would have been replaced by glazing with heat insulation and the thin pillar grid structure would have been covered by heat insulation), the form of this part of the facade would have changed in a grotesque way, thus, we have decided to plan a completely new part for the middle of the facade taking the original architecture of the entire building into consideration.

The large canopy over the patio suits the architecture of the rear facade planned for Building ‘A’ ; its steel load bearing structure composed of three parallel columns and the ‘three-pier structure’ of the bridge are in harmony with the parallel, ‘laminated rib system’ designed to the middle of the rear facade. The third pier of the bridge and the third foot or beam in the middle of the rear canopy are ‘unnecessary’, these have no role in load bearing, they are for ‘decoration’.

Building ‘B’

It is a determining visual element of the City Park and the Hungária Ring Road, which stands out from its environment with its more than 40-m cubical mass. The owner of the property and the experts of the Heritage Office together with the designers made the decision to preserve the original architecture of the subtle, asymmetric mass of the ‘B’ Building that is ambitiously rising upwards and was built in the 1960s during its alteration and modernization. As it is shown by the attached photo, the beautiful, original, slim, reinforced concrete structure was first made completely bare, and then it was clad again according to our plans. The limestone blocks from Süttő were transported from the same quarry, naturally from another stone mining area; the new stone cladding received heat insulation underneath; sheet cladding was designed over the heat insulation between the window strips, the division of which suits that of the existing-remaining strip windows. 

The imposing windowless side facade of Building ‘B’, which has lime stone cladding and is rising towards the sky, is awe-inspiring; it reminds passers-by staring at it of the monolithic block of the film entitled ‘A Space Odyssey’.

Bridge

Why has the bridge been designed like this? This is an exciting question as the architectural design of the bridge was influenced or more precisely, ‘restricted’ by several conditions. In architectural terms, planning a bridge is a completely different job, where each tiny detail - ‘component’ has its influence on the whole bridge, however, our designers intended to ‘conjure’ such an engineering work, which goes beyond the correct engineering of the structure of a bridge and its physical beauty, thus becoming a jewel between the two buildings with the ambience of a HOUSE. (A BRIDGE is usually considered as a structure or engineering facility, however, such categories are not used in connection with a HOUSE, in the worst case it is called a building...)

The bridge with a span of 34-m has a line that is broken at the right angle; its bottom slopes due to the height difference of 80 cm, however, its top is horizontal so the inner height of it is not the same and the size of the vertical elements of its load bearing structure and that of the vertical structural parts of the side facade (glass panes, frames) are constantly changing. The bridge is supported at one point from the surface-ground, and it is supported by the reinforced concrete wall of building ‘A’, planned by us, which is joined to the existing load bearing structure to share the load. The pier of the bridge consists of three columns; two of them are load bearing columns, while the third one in the middle is for ‘decoration’. The three piers of the bridge reflect the ribbed architecture in the middle of the rear facade of Building ‘A’.
The unique features and the light structure of the bridge are emphasized by the cladding on the steel load bearing structure that was made translucent by transparent glass stripes. The internal steel load bearing structure can be seen via the continuous glass walls on both sides of the bridge so it is transparent from inside and outside as well. The rhythm of the division of the glass, which reflects that of the structure, is further enhanced by the placement of bluish-green and white glass panes. The glass strips that are designed by us to the facade have metal standing seam plate covering; the direction of the metal seams being identical with the division of the glass panes.

The views - perspectives from inside are interesting: The spatial perspective from the direction of Building ‘B’ is strengthened by the pseudo-perspective of the decreasing sizes, thus, the bridge seems to be longer, while from the other direction, the real perspective is increased by the continuously widening spaces so the bridge seems to be shorter from the direction of Building ‘A’. The internal spaces are made exciting by these interesting ‘pseudo-perspective distortions’ besides ‘being physically affected by’ the rising and sloping levels of the floor.

In our view, in spite of the several restrictions caused by geometric factors, a light bridge was prepared between the two buildings, which ‘seems to balance on one pier’. Its external geometry is probably unique with the 3% slope of its bottom plane and with its shape that is bended at the right angle, as well as with the composition of its piers from three asymmetric supporting columns.

2. Environmental aspects

Location and ecology of the site

It is a brownfield investment, the structures of the two existing buildings were kept, which has decreased the ‘ecological footprint’ of the investment considerably.

In addition, the ecological value of our site has increased because of the larger green area and having more trees between the buildings (in the original condition of the building complex, there were hardly any trees on the site, those who arrived here were welcomed by a concrete jungle, especially in the patios ...). Due to the gravelled surfaces designed by us, less rain water flows into the sewer system.

The most polluted part of the project is located near the junction of Hungária Ring Road and Erzsébet Királyné Road. We have planned a smaller park here with a lot of green plants to protect our site from the adverse effects that are mainly due to the traffic on Hungária Ring Road.

Before this development, the space between the two buildings was occupied by a large, flat building. This was demolished so the space between the two buildings became free, translucent, connected, airy and spacious, which is further enhanced by the view of the bridge situated in the height of the second floor. We have provided the free flow of the air around the masses of the two buildings; it is not obstructed by any building, thus, from ecological aspect, the direct environment of the office buildings is much healthier than when the space between the buildings was filled in by a large, flat building.

Energy and consumption

The gas pipes were dismounted in Building ‘A’, it is not connected to the gas lines, the air of the heating-cooling and mechanical airing systems is tempered by air-source heat pumps, all light fittings at the work stations have energy saving LED lights, the buildings are covered by extra heat insulation, the most up-to-date design of the glass structures of the windows provide insulation for those working inside the building from the terrible load of noise coming from the direction of Hungária Ring Road, as well as the protection of the internal spaces from the heat load of the sun while keeping the best possible lighting of the rooms. Both in Buildings ‘A’ and ‘B’, the transport of people between the different floors is solved by energy saving lifts, which use kinetic energy as well.

The amount of energy consumption has decreased considerably. We have created much more work stations, while the number of energy connections did not increase.

Healthy Internal Environment – Well-Being of the Users of the Building:
The most up-to-date design of the glass structures of the windows provide the insulation of those working inside the building from the terrible load of noise coming from the direction of Hungária Ring Road, as well as the protection of the internal spaces from the heat load of the sun while keeping the best possible lighting of the rooms.

Mobile (pulled up and down), laminated external shade structures were designed to the facade of Building ‘B’ on its south-west side, which is mostly exposed to intensive heat load. Because of the great wind loading, which is due to the 45-m height of the building, the shades with laminated structures are framed by rails on two sides. In order to avoid being damaged by the wind, the motor movement of the lamellas is operated by the Building Management System of the house, however, the structure can also be moved by those working in the offices separately as well. The intelligent control of individually adjustable heat, airing, light and shade switches is provided by the Building Management System. 

It was very important to design minimum one window that can be opened on the facade in each room of the office buildings on each ground plan and setting thereof.

Several internal glass walls were built, e.g.: between the corridor and the reception and between the corridor-reception and the offices of the CEO. The space was completely opened by these glass walls, which makes the spaces – rooms really friendly, pleasant and translucent.

The spaces used for internal communication are made really attractive and homely by the colourful interior design of the internal corridors and by the special lighting of the staircases of Building ‘A’.

Orientation is made easier in the large building by the different base colours of the architectural design elements on each floor, which make the huge spaces used for internal communication friendly, kind and intimate. The system of communication and the functional design are made clear to both those who work on the extensive floors, as well as to the guests who arrive there. We have designed spacious meeting rooms with mobile walls, which can be joined to or separated from each other so they can be used effectively. The view from the meeting rooms on the 13th floor of Building ‘B’ with their panorama in the direction of Pest and Buda provide unforgettable experience for those who work there.

The bridge we designed to join the two buildings, as it is also shown be the slogan of GROUPAMA on it, symbolizes the unity and the renewal of the two global companies as it is floating between Buildings ‘A’ and ‘B like an icon. Besides its symbolic and architectural significance, it also enables walking between the two large buildings on dry ground. Due to the transparency of the built bridge, the space (internally as well) between the two buildings is clearly visible for those who are crossing the bridge as well as for those who are watching it from the external space. The bridge is made really exciting and open-transparent for its users by this.

 

 

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