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It's one of those days in Rotterdam when the cold and grey seem to seep into everything: a damp North Sea wind blows across the harbour, creating murky ripples in the dull green water. This should be a terrible day to visit a floating building that’s exposed to the elements but behind its triple-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows, a sense of warmth and calm envelops you. Floating Office Rotterdam opened last September and serves as the headquarters of the Global Center on Adaptation (gca), an international organisation launched in The Hague in 2018 by former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, to work on climate adaptation. It is the world’s largest floating office.

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As befits its principal residents, Floating Office Rotterdam is a beacon of energy efficiency. Solar panels generate all of its power; a sedum-covered roof encourages biodiversity; its heat-exchange system uses water from the harbour to cool and warm the building. But its value goes beyond its ability to meet its own energy needs. Moored in the Rijnhaven port, which is undergoing extensive redevelopment, the building is designed to withstand rising sea levels and acts as a symbol of the innovative solutions needed to address the challenges of climate change.

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“We have a tidal effect here: on average we go up and down up to 2.2 metres a day,” Albert Takashi Richters, project architect at Powerhouse Company, the firm that designed the office, tells monocle. “We are moving with the tides. That’s adaptation happening as we speak.” The office is made from timber and sits on 15 concrete caissons connected with cables that create the floating foundation. Crucial to its ability to stay afloat is the symmetry of its design; a timber frame, visible throughout the building, forms a modular grid system for the structure. “In the design, everything has a double function,” says Richters. “Symmetry is a tool that is often used by architects to create something with a representative nature, something that has a presence. But, at the same time, it’s handy when it comes to ensuring that a building can float.” 

The structure is reusable, recyclable and ready for the circular economy. It is designed to be towed through the Rijnhaven bridge so that it can be repurposed elsewhere. It can also be deconstructed and the materials used again, an innovation that its creators hope is scalable. “Our floating headquarters is a reminder of what is possible when the world’s brightest minds come together,” Patrick Verkooijen, ceo of the gca, tells monocle. “Adaptation can bring out bold ideas and inspire innovation far beyond what people currently think is possible.”

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Of course, no one is planning to dismantle Floating Office Rotterdam just yet. The gca occupies the top floor, while Powerhouse Company was so taken by its creation that it moved into the first and second floors. Dutch bank abn Amro leases another office, while restaurant Putaine has a ground-floor space that spills out onto the waterside terrace. There is also a large communal terrace, wraparound balconies and a swimming area. Though the building’s occupants are divided on whether the port’s water is clean enough for regular dips, the interplay between inside and out anchors the office in its environment. “There is a very important human component in this design: the aspects of comfort and being in touch with the outdoors,” says Richters. “That’s what makes it work.” 

Why it works:

That Floating Office Rotterdam barely bobs in the water, even in the unforgiving North Sea wind, is testament to the project’s technological achievement, while its warm and inviting interior spaces showcase the best in Dutch architecture and design.

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