One of the hottest and most innovative architecture firms in the world, the Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has recently completed only it’s second project in the United States. 1200 Intrepid, a small, speculative office building tucked away in a quiet corner of Philadelphia at the Navy Yard Corporate Center.
A modest four-story spec office building, a category of commercial architecture generally considered to be the equivalent of the tract home, is not the kind of project you’d expect an architect of the stature of Ingels, winner of the 2016 Louis Kahn Memorial award, to take on as an entree to a major new market. Nor is contracting with a firm of BIG’s repute what you’d expect from a commercial real estate developer looking to put up a building of under 100,000 sq. ft. But kudos to both Ingels and Philadelphia’s Liberty Property Trust for proving that size doesn’t matter.
From three sides, 1200 Intrepid looks to be a typical, nondescript building that’d be quite at home in most any American office park. Though tastefully executed with clean, mature lines, it’s easily ignored from the Center’s main drag. It’s the fourth side, the back(?) side, where Ingels’ imprint looms large.
Taking his cue from the adjacent Central Green, a five acre green space dominated by a circular track and bounded by a semi-circular drive, Ingels ‘impressed’ this arc into the facade of his building. Not content with a simple concave wall, though, Ingels inscribed the rear face of 1200 Intrepid with a compound curve, pressing the base of the wall significantly further back than the roof-line, resulting in a “cave-like canopy” that hangs over anyone approaching it and enveloping them into the building.
The environment-conscious design carries through to the lobby of the building where it’s twisting atrium works its way up four stories to be capped by a periscope, giving a view not of blue sky, but of blue water and ships at anchor, lending the building a distinctly nautical flavor, and uniting it even further with its environment.
While 1200 Intrepid may not have the visual impact or get the media attention of BIG’s other American project, the also recently completed VIA 57 West, a 32 story residential building covering nearly a full city block on the Hudson River in New York city and winner of the 2016 Best Tall Building of the Americas award, it’s long-term impact on commercial architecture may prove to be greater. By incorporating a couple of thoughtful twists to an otherwise modest office building, Ingels and Liberty Property Trust have proven that combining an architect who’s not willing to settle for the mundane, with a developer who’s willing to take a little risk, can result in a unique piece of architecture that doesn’t bust the budget.