Sustainable concept for office buildings

On March 11, as part of the series of public lectures on sustainability organised by Rotterdam Academy of Architecture, Paul de Ruiter presented a number of sustainable projects by his office to an audience of architects and students. Architectenbureau Paul de Ruiter has been working on sustainability since 1994.

De Ruiter started his office for architecture, product development and project development back then on the basis of his doctoral research. Sustainability has been a priority right from the start. The ultimate aim of De Ruiter was to make a building that generated energy. That seemed close by at the time but turned out to be difficult to achieve. Media attention for sustainability was almost zero, even though there was some sustainable building activity in the margins. Saving on energy consumption was not interesting in the office development sector. There was almost no demand for sustainable architecture. That changed when Al Gore was awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary on February 25 and, especially, with the publication of the book Cradle to Cradle by McDonough and Braungart. Sustainability has become an unavoidable issue ever since.

Sustainable buildings cost more than traditional buildings, but if energy demand drops then investment can rise, and so too can the architect’s fee. The proverbial penny has dropped among those who commission buildings. Financers want to invest in sustainable buildings and there’s even a shortage of projects. Architectenbureau Paul de Ruiter is currently designing a building for TNT post, a company that deploys sustainability as a marketing tool. And De Ruiter is designing a CO2-neutral head office at Schiphol Airport for Transavia. (About time that airlines started to make up for their sins in the sky).

Sustainable building can be achieved through using 'natural' materials, or by making buildings biologically decomposable ('cradle to cradle'). Another way is to completely seal the building (i.e. no energy loss) using current energy norms. De Ruiter opts instead for intelligent architecture. The first thing is to create attractive buildings with plenty of light, air and space in combination with state-of-the-art climate-control technology. 'People should want to stay there for at least fifty to one hundred years.' Perhaps that costs more than a closed building, but avoiding demolition is truly sustainable. The same is true of recycling by the way.

So it begins with a nice glass box. Then adapt this to the conditions. Daylight is the starting point more than ever before. An office should not heat up too much, so close it to the south and open it to the north. The addition of brises soleils makes the east and west façades translucent. A dwelling, by contrast, needs to be open to the south. Adjustable blinds mean the building can be altered as the weather changes.

Paul de Ruiter is the Renzo Piano of the Netherlands. Research or product development is uncommon in Dutch design, but Paul de Ruiter is an exception. His first discovery was a climate façade with translucent screen. Simple, but never before accomplished in the Netherlands, since it was deemed too expensive. The façade devised by De Ruiter was perfected further in recent years. In 2004 De Ruiter was commissioned by Government Architect Wytze Patijn, a big supporter of sustainable building, to design a huge office for the Dutch Department of Public Works in Middelburg. The slats in this office tilt at different angles depending on the angle of the sun. The office features a lot of extra vertical space because all installations are sandwiched into 30 cm of concrete. That height and the slats at different angles mean that a lot of indirect light enters the building, yet this does not create problems for the interior climate.