Welcome to the office jungle

Green projects
Recent technological advances are opening up previously unimaginable possibilities for architects when it comes to the green aspects of office design. They are now able to dream up ever more daring concepts and so developers are vying with one another to bring to life the most spectacular ideas. ‘greenery in the office’ is no longer the right way of thinking about this – it’s now more a case of ‘offices in the greenery’

Huge trees, shrubbery on the terraces, vegetable plots in the car park, green walls that go on and on, and tropical gardens within the office space itself… greenery is now part and parcel of every company’s social and environmental responsibility policy. It is no longer just a decorative element – it’s an integral part of how a building functions.

“Green facilities don’t just mean a lot of plants, they also include water retention systems, green energy, energy efficient lighting and, in the end, intelligently designed buildings, with window systems, reinforced roofs to support green electricity generation, greenery and water recovery systems,” explains Marek Solnica, the architect behind the Zielony by Synergia office project in Łódź.

Green synergy

“Greenery can take care of itself without human intervention, but no one can survive without greenery,” he observes. Synergia Hub, which forms part of the Zielony by Synergia complex, uses plants as part of a sustainable, environmental and energy efficient concept. “We’ve devoted around 20 pct of the building’s space to greenery. We take the climate crisis seriously so we believe that it’s not so necessary to have fancy construction and architecture, it’s more important to get back to first principles: to define a building’s purpose and examine the effect it has on its surroundings,” he insists. His design includes vertical gardens watered with rain collected by the retention system. “It’s a green wall. There’s no granite or marble here to add prestige. Together with the management of the Synergia Business Centre and the investor behind the project, we came to the conclusion that greenery is the real luxury of the 21st century,” adds Marek Solnica.

The Virginia creepers that will cover the walls of the building protect it from overheating, while the trees and other plants in the courtyard will also serve the same purpose. As a result, the air conditioning costs will be lower during the summer –and for office buildings this outlay can be even more expensive than the heating bills over the winter. Plants also create a pleasant micro-climate and can be used to improve the acoustics, absorbing noise from the outside and reducing the echo in large rooms.

This kind of design is not just limited to the office complex itself – it could also extend away from it: “The project is still being developed, so I have proposed a green passage comprising a series of pocket gardens. This will literally cut through the surrounding allotments to create a beautiful passage within them – a green zone for relaxation and recreation that will also be open to the local residents living nearby,” explains Marek Solnica.

Marketing with a green touch

A green wall has also been added to the Concordia Design building on Słodowa isle in the heart of Wrocław. This is the largest structure of its type so far in Poland, covering an area of 360 sqm with more than 20,000 separate plants that have been selected and planted by specialist company Demiurg. The top floor of the building, which was designed by MVRDV, has neither typical walls nor a roof; instead it is covered by an openwork frame that is partially filled with glass, so the plants have excellent access to natural light. It also has an open air terrace in the building with a bar – a great place for people, such as those working in the building, to relax in. The design is even more astonishing because the building is a converted 19th century town house.

“We wanted to have a lighter building, so we removed the façade from the top floor. This seemed to be a great opportunity for us to create something exceptional, so we put in a green wall,” explains Mateusz Wojcieszek, an architect at MVRDV. “The investor appreciated how much greenery there was in our design. Greenery grabs people’s attention – especially on social media,” he adds.

Within the steel structure of the wall, a watering system has been installed, which is only activated when the temperature stays above 10°C for about two weeks. Smaller walls overgrown with plants have also been placed inside Concordia’s offices.

Bringing the tropics inside

“The space people exist in should be formed in close contact with nature,” insists Dariusz Malinowski, a landscape architect and the owner of the Malinowski Design studio, which was responsible for the Olivia Garden section of the Olivia Business Center in Gdańsk. This spectacular 800 sqm tropical garden, with 4,000 plants (150 species) opened last winter. The garden has a mezzanine floor (resembling a tree house), a bar and a stage. “We entered the competition in 2016 to design the space between the buildings. It was clear that the heart of the garden was going to be a glass pavilion,” he explains. “Our design was truly innovative and required a lot of testing and that’s why I’m even happier that we were able to work with an open-minded investor. Part of the design process involved design workshops that we held with the residents of the complex, which helped everyone involved in the project to understand the benefits and possibilities of this space. The end result is both inspirational and energising. It’s a real bio-reset. Our plants grow, flower and fruit throughout the year, regardless of the weather,” claims Dariusz Malinowski.

The main challenge was to ensure a stable unchanging microclimate in the pavilion throughout the whole year. “We were able to do this by using innovative technology and the expertise of a number of specialists. Olivia is a tech garden where the light levels are carefully controlled as well as the humidity, the temperature and the air quality. All these parameters are regulated by a single control system that we call ‘Nature Connect’. It’s a combination of man, nature, technology and the building itself. Only by adopting this approach were we able to create a stable and comfortable garden, for both people and the plants,” explains Dariusz Malinowski.

Budgeting for plants

Greenery, just like any other feature in a development, comes with a price tag. The costs are relatively easy to estimate at the planning stage – there’s the design, the purchase of the plants and the adjustments to the construction or the site so that it is suitable for them. Then there’s the installation of a watering system and the waterproofing. “It’s best when the plants form part of the design from the beginning. When they are, you can take into account how the plants and the building will interact. The cost of the plants should therefore be included in the budget from an early stage – but if this doesn’t happen, there’s often no money left for them,” explains Mateusz Wojcieszek.

Plants need nourishment – light, water, minerals – and also someone who knows how to look after them. This means higher running costs for the building. “Greenery and nature can no longer be considered an added extra: they’re an integral part of each project. This is a change that both investors and tenants now understand. People want to work in green space among healthy plants,” argues Dariusz Malinowski. “The greenery in an old-school office is always being replaced – each time a plant pot gets knocked over, it’s thrown away and a new one is bought. If you think about these costs, it turns out that they are really much lower than creating a stable, living, semi-natural eco-system – even if it requires continuous technological support,” insists the architect.

The tropical garden in Olivia Business Center is kept alive by a precise, energy-intensive climate control system. “When we were designing the project we carried out a simulation of the utility usage, including the electricity. After the garden had been open for over half a year, it turned out that the electricity consumption was half as much as expected. And I believe it could have been even lower if our studio had been involved in the project sooner, before the greenhouse had been constructed,” claims Dariusz Malinowski. “But we’ve got more ideas for the future. For example, we are going to replace the air in the green areas with the air in the offices. And, in turn, the air from the green areas could be pumped into some of the offices,” he explains.

But this is just one of the ways that a plant eco-system can employed more widely and as a result contribute to the sustainability of the entire building or complex.

Technology and nature

“These days technology allows us to fill any space with plants,” reveals Dariusz Malinowski. “In an office building greenery can take up any space, even when it doesn’t have access to natural light. We have the technology to build gardens in the most far-flung places in the world and use the full potential of a certain space or building. We are undergoing a genuine green revolution in how we view the relationship between man and nature – allowing both to thrive to each other’s mutual benefit,” he argues.

The fact that plants have a positive effect on our creativity, efficiency and well-being is not something that we found out yesterday. Over the next few years we are certain to see some spectacular uses of plants in Polish office buildings. Soon it’s possible that we might be seeing trees growing on the 53rd floor viewing platform of Varso Tower, the tallest building in Poland. And, the last time Eurobuild visited the building site of the Factory Norblin mixed-use development in Warsaw, trees could be seen on the roof of the office section as well as a steel construction hanging over the internal courtyard. This is to be covered by creepers that will grow up several floors of the building.

The revolution, however, won’t be limited to one or two spectacular projects. The crucial significance of greenery is now being recognised at the design stages of projects across the office market. A well-planned eco-system of plants integrated into both the operations and aesthetics of an office building is likely to become the standard, no matter what class the building is.