Jardin Utopicus has been a unique opportunity to carry out a radical transformation of a derelict 5.600 m2 infrastructure in central Madrid and return it back to the local economy. In the post-covid era, where the virtual and real city are blending, Jardin Utopicus is a co-working space that combines the use of technology with a highly adaptable layout, promoting a wide range of uses that overlap. Sustainability, the introduction of natural light and new courtyards, the careful planning of areas to socialise, and a distinctive design with a bold use of colour and natural plants, are the key strategies that make this space work beyond the office use and become a hub for innovation and social interaction. Background Strategically located next to Madrid’s financial district, the space was built as a shopping centre in the 1970s in-filling the large courtyard inside a city block. The premises, which closed business over 30 years ago, were stripped off and remained in a derelict state since then. The deep renovation now completed brings it back to life and accommodates more than 700 workstations, together with event spaces for over 200 people, a private member’s club and a public coffee shop. The challenges Binom Architects won the competition organised by Utopicus in 2018 with an strategy that managed to turn the numerous existing challenges into the project’s selling points: - The site is a commercial unit where 90% of the space did not have external façade or views out to the street. The design strategy recreates the experience of the “patio house”, designing a sequence of charming outdoor and indoor patio-gardens where all the offices and event spaces look at. - 50% of the area did not have any natural light. By adding 3 new courtyards to the existing central atrium, reaching all the way to the basement of the building, now a 100% of the office space enjoys natural light. This is a unique ratio in a co-working project. - Binom’s proposal gives presence to what was an almost invisible facility by designing the access square and entrance from Paseo de la Habana as if it was a display space. It includes an eye-catching canopy that acts as a local landmark visible from the street, providing an urban scale to the scheme. What once was an outdoor space pocket with no character has become a charming square with greenery and seating areas to be enjoyed by co-workers and locals. A strong design that creates positive social impact: Binom envisaged Jardin Utopicus as a place to boost creativity, collaborative work and the sense of wellbeing. Inspired by the English Pleasure Gardens that back in the 18th and 19th centuries became venues of entertainment enjoyed by all social classes, Jardin Utopicus is a welcoming inclusive social hub where entrepreneurs, start-ups and large corporations could connect. Colourful shaped structures similar in nature to the 19th century Follies-pavilions, but made of contemporary lightweight materials, accommodate all shared programs like printing, coffee points, meeting areas, or spaces to rest or get-away. As a general strategy we have opened courtyards and rooflights, incorporated the rooftop as an outdoor working and gathering space, and grown hundreds of natural plants to provide each office space with an interesting view out into either the city or a garden area. Given the constraints of the site, making the interior feel like an exterior green space and using colour to create a singular iconic design that differentiates the sequence of environments have been the two keys to success. The design turns circulation routes into pleasant walks that meander through green courtyards, while the contrasted material palette and the colour scheme helps with space navigation and the identity of the environment Design innovation to solve a complex urban renovation: Turning a derelict urban shopping mall into an office environment for almost 1000 people is a complex task in terms of providing adequate lighting and acoustic levels, creating an efficient plan layout that complies regulations and implementing construction materials that minimize the overload on the existing slabs. Standard off-the-shelf solutions were not fitted for this purpose and the project has required key elements of innovation to make it work. An example of this are the custom-made glazed acoustic partitions, which incorporate a plinth with sound absorbent foam behind a perforated metal sheet. Binom has also developed bespoke cladding systems for the ceilings and walls of the meeting rooms that combine absorbent materials like wood and felt with lightweight metal substructures. Work in the post Covid-19 era: a human-centred strategy Designed with a strong human-centred strategy, Jardin Utopicus provides a diverse array of places to focus the mind or take a break, platforms to increase visibility and connect with others or corners to get lost and relax surrounded by nature. Devices like the pedal energy generators create opportunities to do a bit of exercise while competing with others, thus fostering social engagement in a unique way. The energy generated is used to lit a three-floors high light feature built inside an spiral stair which becomes a beacon to look at from different levels, thus increasing visual connection between spaces. The experience of hand washing is another singular moment in the building as it becomes a fun relaxing opportunity to engage with colleagues while reading messages left by others in the large format blackboards placed in the washrooms. In the same line, all doors are cladded in cork, a material that connects the space back to Nature while offering the chance of leaving messages to each other pinned on their office doors. Jardin Utopicus has been designed as an adaptable scheme able to respond to future demand changes: the plan layout allows for maximum flexibility to easily convert part of the co-working space into independent serviced large offices.
Binom Architects is a London-based practice established in 2009 with projects in UK, Spain, and Norway. They specialise in the renovation of mixed-use buildings in central locations and its fit-out for office and retail use