China’s O-tower sends message about the future of R&D space

China’s big push to create sustainable offices post Covid-19 is reflected in a new headquarters building for smartphone maker OPPO in Hangzhou that combines brand values with ecological design

While some companies in the west have been rethinking or shrinking their corporate R&D space amid the pandemic, Chinese firms appear more bullish about the future. Architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has unveiled a distinctively branded skyscraper design for smartphone and mobile communications company OPPO’s new R&D headquarters, located in the district of Yuhang, in Hangzhou, China.

Known as the O-tower building, the 161,330 sq metre structure will be home to the company’s extensive research and development programme, as well as featuring an ‘urban living room’ and green landscape open to the public.

Notable for its looped form, the skyscraper is designed to reduce energy consumption while, architecturally, it symbolises the company’s brand values around ‘endless innovation’.

A new landmark

BIG has been working with OPPO since the start of 2019 to develop the design for the headquarters and a site masterplan. Set between a lake, an urban centre and a park, the O-tower is expected to become a new landmark and entry point to Hangzhou’s Future Sci-tech city. Known colloquially as ‘Heaven on Earth’, Hangzhou is also home to three of the world’s UNESCO Heritage sites.

BIG partner Brian Yang explains: ‘The new OPPO R&D headquarters embodies this notion, sitting with ease in the scenic wetlands of Hangzhou, while negotiating between the dense urban fabric on one side and the natural landscape on the other. It will be an architectural manifestation of an OPPO product.’

BIG sought to create workspaces with an abundance of natural light while, at the same time, ensuring optimal energy use. It chose to lower the building’s southern tip and design it around a central courtyard. This enabled the inner façade to be shaded from solar gain but still benefit from views out and allow for the penetration of natural light.

Fingerprint façade

The sloped roof brought the opportunity to integrate triple-height void spaces and interconnected terraces, where workers in the building can mix and socialise. Thanks to what it calls a ‘fingerprint façade’ of flexible louvres, the architect suggested solar gain could be cut by more than half, thereby lowering energy consumption as well as glare and light pollution.

‘We’ve attempted to imagine the future work environment of OPPO to be sustainable on a triple bottom line: economically, ecologically and socially,’ explains Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG. ‘The compact form folding in on itself provides large, flexible floorplates with the daylight access and fresh air of a slender tower. The adaptive louvred façade omits incoming solar glare and thermal heat gain, enhancing the passive performance of the building. The tilted loop of the warped roof creates a social shortcut for the OPPO employees and their collaborators, connecting the ground to the summit.’

‘The first three floors of the building are designed as an urban living room…’

The first three floors of the building will allow for the hosting of public programmes and events. Facilities include an exhibition area, conference venues, a restaurant, space for outside workshops, and a publicly accessible courtyard. Designed as an urban living room, the courtyard will support a biodiverse public realm with connections to the city.

‘Through this project, Hangzhou will become one of the most important centres of research and development for OPPO in China,’ says Jin Le Qin, senior vice-president of OPPO.

The brand expression of OPPO’s new R&D headquarters is discussed in our latest Design Roundup in Innovation Zone. Catch up on the latest design ideas here.

Andrew Sansom is editorial director of SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange
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