This is the environment that Telenor, Norway's leading telecoms corporation, has created for staff at its £360m headquarters at Oslo's former airport at Fornebu. The location is apt, because the complex upstages BA Waterside, the HQ for our national airline built next to Heathrow Airport in 1998 and hailed at the time as the most advanced office in Europe. The man who designed that building, the Norwegian architect Niels Torp, was understandably chagrined not to win the commission to do a similar job on his home turf. The Telenor job was won by American giant NBBJ and local practice Hus-PKA after an international competition involving Torp and Richard Rogers Partnership.
The office, which has an area of 138,000 m2 and accommodates up to 7000 staff, is more than twice the size of BA Waterside. It shares one central concept with its British counterpart, though – the office space is divided into several distinct wings that spur off a central spine. The big difference is that Telenor has a pair of spines. These curve away from each other in two sloping glass crescents to create a spacious traffic-free plaza raised above a basement car park.
"We wanted a city plaza or public space at the centre, as in Sienna or Florence," says Jin Ah Park of NBBJ, who designed the complex with Jonathan Ward and the practice's doyen Peter Pran.
The plaza brings a generous splash of open air, space and calm into the heart of what might otherwise be a claustrophobic warren of offices. Even so, the open space accommodates two key buildings of its own – a learning centre and a customer centre, the latter taking pride of place overlooking the fjord.
All eight wings are sizeable office buildings in their own right. Each revolves around a large triangular atrium, and contains office spaces no more than 16 m wide, designed to accommodate several groups of 30 staff. Interiors are highly flexible, with relocatable partitions, chilled ceilings and lighting wired up from the floor rather than housed in the ceilings. The building also has strong green credentials, including natural ventilation, natural daylighting and a heat exchanger feeding off the sea water in the fjord, which together slash carbon dioxide emissions by 80%.
The building's openness and abundance of casual meeting places, along with the wireless technology, produces what Telenor dubs "progressive officing", which encourages staff to interact and collaborate, increasing productivity. Chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas says: "The model is built on interaction between people, technology and working environment, exemplified by the fact that our employees can work practically anywhere, anytime with laptops and mobile phones."
The staff were gathered together from 47 premises and presented with unfamiliar wireless working methods; however, they seem sanguine about this. A couple of months after the building was occupied late last year, a staff survey found that 61% of workers believed the building had achieved its aim of being "the foremost working environment in Scandinavia". An even larger majority, 84%, said they were extremely or fairly pleased with it.
Since 2001, NBBJ has set up office in London and is now looking for other corporate clients with the vision of Telenor. Of course, large brownfield sites with neighbouring fjords are more difficult to locate in Hertfordshire …
client Telenor joint venture architects NBBJ, Hus-PKA structural engineer Scandiaconsult mechanical engineer Techno Consult electrical engineer Alfacon Nielsen landscape architects Asplan Viak, Hang Kjaerem Interior designer Spor Dark Design trade contractors Scandiaconsult (structures) trade contractors Veidekke (M&E) trade contractors Arbeidsfelleskapet (glass facades and roof) trade contractors Spenncon (steel and concrete prefabrication) trade contractors Braathen & Torvaldsen (central plaza)