Pioneering urban resilience: Floating Office Rotterdam redefines architectural innovation

Cities worldwide are trying to balance growth with keeping their habitats safe, livable and pleasant. Low lying delta cities like Rotterdam face the extra challenge of dealing with their watery environments which can, due to climate change, easily become a threat. We spoke to Stefan Prins, partner architect at Powerhouse Company about their self-designed HQ Floating Office Rotterdam, a beacon of climate change adaptive architecture and about Rotterdam as city of urban resilience.

Rotterdam’s famous architecture attracts visitors and journalists from all over the world who come here to marvel at the bold architectural and urban planning statements. Many of the city’s architectural icons are designed and realised by local, internationally renowned architecture firms. Famous examples include the Martkthal, Rotterdam Centraal (Central Station) and De Rotterdam. Now we can add the Floating Office Rotterdam, the largest floating and fully sustainable office building in the world to this list. The Floating Office is home to the UN Centre for Global Adaptation (GCA), restaurant Putaine and to the architectural firm that designed it, Powerhouse Company.

Photo: Stefan Prins standing in front of the Floating Office Rotterdam

It is no coincidence that Rotterdam is the home for this innovative floating building. Stefan Prins of Powerhouse Company explains. “Everybody knows that the world is undergoing major changes. Climate change brings with it the need to adapt, to come up with important and innovative answers to new challenges, like rising water levels. This is not something we can postpone dealing with, we need to come up with answers now. We see the impact of climate change and the risks associated with it to an extent in our city. The Noordereiland in Rotterdam can flood during the wet months, sewers can hardly cope with the heavy rain showers. The temperatures in cities are higher on average and a stony city is no longer pleasant. It is therefore simply necessary to include mitigating measures in urban development projects. We actually experience the city’s location on the water every day. Due to the tide in the Rijnhaven, the Floating Office goes up and down approximately 2 meters daily. A very special experience. In some periods of the year, at very high tide, the office is well above the quay level. It always provides a moment of reflection on the larger challenges we face.”

What is also special is the scale of the building. The integrality of technology specific to this typology and of course the wooden – demountable – supporting structure. We spent a lot of time and attention on the floating foundation during the development phase of the project. This consists of concrete prefab containers that are linked together. Although concrete has an impact on CO2 emissions, we have provided a maintenance-free basis on which to subsequently build the structure for the office floors using a lightweight wooden construction. The advantage of the concrete base is that we have been able to pour our heat and cold storage pipework into the floor. This allows us to use the energy of the water in the Rijnhaven for cooling and heating the building. The containers are also dimensioned for floating capacity, which means that all (large) installations are placed in the basement. All of these elements and solutions are in line with our integral and progressive approach to designing and realizing buildings that are at the forefront of sustainability. We see in our projects that these types of learning moments are always further developed in new projects.”

Rotterdam’s strong ambition to make the city better

Conceptualising and realising this innovative architectural design and beacon of urban sustainability and resilience is illustrative for the city that is its host, emphasises Stefan. “In Rotterdam we work a lot with the municipality and the urban development and sustainability departments. I think that Rotterdam shows an extremely strong ambition to become a new kind of city, especially through the large city projects such as the Rijnhaven, with the future tidal park that will create a unique new living environment around the water and at the same time a nature reserve.”

“What makes Rotterdam an international model city is its unbridled perseverance to always make the city better. This happens in fits and starts, but in the long term you will see a huge improvement in the living, working and living environment of the city. This works because we have a city that we can improve from within so that major changes in the field of climate adaptation can become a truly integral part of this city. The Rijnhaven with the future tidal park that will create a unique new living environment around the water and at the same time a nature reserve is also a fantastic example.”

The power of collective intelligence

“We love this city! Our agency consists of a team of talents from all directions. Multicultural and diverse. Just like the city. We believe in the power of our collective intelligence and do so with an approach that fits the mentality of this city: we are doers and stick our necks out. You see this in many of our projects, such as the Codrico project, where we, as the initiator, are also creating a new part of the city at the Rijnhaven, with a wide diversity of functions and homes for all target groups, so that we are really building the city and I mean that in more than just a physical sense. The same also applies at RISE at Hofplein. A project in which we look back at the original reconstruction ideas that formed the basis for this area and provide a completed Hofplein on which we design new open and lively plinths that contribute to better connections for this part of the city.”

Header photo and photo of Stefan Prins: Rotterdam Partners

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