Double-curved concrete façade by BIG bows to its nautical inspiration

Three of the elevations remain vertical while the fourth has a closer relationship to the Central Green park on the east side

PHILADELPHIA – In a development on the south-east border of Pennsylvania, where the Philadelphia Navy Yard basin feeds into the Delaware river, architecture firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) has completed a modern and considered office building with a twist. Attentive to the plans for the neighbourhood, 1200 Intrepid Avenue is an eye-catching centrepiece integrated into its surroundings, inspired by the site’s historic naval links.

The Navy Yard masterplan describes the area as an ‘urban campus for business on the Philadelphia waterfront’. A significant number of new buildings are planned, each unique. With this in mind, BIG designed the office to correspond with the overall scheme for the surrounding environment: three of the elevations remain vertical – a feature relating to the rectilinear aesthetic of the masterplan – while the fourth has a closer relationship to the Central Green park on the east side. BIG partner Bjarke Ingels imagined the volume as being ‘shaped by the encounter between Robert Stern's urban master plan or rectangular city blocks and James Corner's iconic circular park'.

To this end, the eastern façade leans towards the pavement like the bow of a ship, looming over the park, progressively tilting as the building’s height increases. In the distance from the base to the roof, the precast concrete panels reach outwards at an angle of 20 degrees. The double-curved façade appears to fit together effortlessly, thanks to the technological know-how of precast concrete specialist High Concrete Group. In engineering the adventurous front to the office building, each piece was designed individually to a slightly different shape; an unusual situation for precast concrete, for which bulk production and repetition are key selling points. The sand-blasted white panels – each 1.5 m in width and 4.5–6.0 m in height – are alternated with aluminium framed, high-performance glass in a basket weave pattern.

It is not only the twisted façade which highlights the relationship between the building and its surroundings. At the internal core of the design, an intriguing installation creates a link between the interior and the ships docked outside: a giant periscope. Acting as an atrium to maximise the exposure of natural light to each of the four storeys, the periscope penetrates the centre of the offices. An angled mirror at the summit reflects the view of the docked ships in the Navy Yard which can be viewed by looking up from any of the office floors.

Bjarke Ingels Group partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann commends the building’s ability to connect with its surrounding and describes the project’s success: ‘We like to think about a building beyond its borders and look at how it interacts with its neighbours and the open spaces around. You would really be hard-pressed to place this building anywhere else other than where it is.’

Photos Rasmus Hjortshoj

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