Making the Connection

Norway's telecom leader constructs the largest 'free address' building in the world.
August 11, 2010

The Telenor Group, Norway's largest telecommunications organization, set a high bar for information and communications technology for its new 1.5 million-sf headquarters in the Oslo suburb of Fornebu. As a result, the more than 5,000 headquarters employees have access to whiz-bang communications resources.

It is probably not surprising that such a facility would be built in Scandinavia, which has the world's highest per capita use of cellular telephones.

The Telenor headquarters, constructed at a cost of $600 million, is reportedly the world's largest "free address" office building. Each employee has a portable computer and a wireless telephone that can be connected to either a wired or a wireless system. The identification card that admits them to the facility also allows them to activate any of the headquarters' approximately 6,000 workstations to download personal files.

Upon entering the headquarters, cell phones convert to wireless phones that link to Telenor's PBX switch. Employees have the convenience of a single phone number 24/7.

The headquarters has a capacity to support as many as 7,500 persons, according to Telenor spokesman Dag Melgaard. "You will always be able to find an open workstation," he says, noting that, at any given time, some employees will be on leave, while others will be out contacting customers. The earliest-arriving employees obviously get their choice of workstation.

Although employees could work at any workstation, they are organized into 200 zones that correspond to functions such as communications, human resources, and finance.

Employees are directed to remove personal items from a workstation if they are going to be away from it for more than two hours. Their number of take-along personal items is limited to what a 20-inch-wide shelf will hold.

The Telenor headquarters is also an essentially paper-free environment. A hardware/software interface in mailrooms scans printed materials and converts them to electronic files that are sent to recipients. The paper on which the communication was initially received is then shredded and recycled. Printers located in the office areas allow hard copies to be produced, if necessary. Meeting rooms are equipped with whiteboards that convert what has been written on them to electronic files, eliminating the need to take notes.

The headquarters was designed in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard Corp., which provided its technology platform.

"Telenor was looking for a more communicative environment, a more collaborative workplace," says Scott Wyatt, project principal with Seattle-based architect NBBJ, which designed the headquarters in collaboration with the Oslo firms HUS and PKA. "We were charged with re-inventing the workplace. Our challenge was not only to change the way people work, but to change the way they think."

Telenor CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas says the company wanted to be recognized not merely as a supplier, but as a source of inspiration for both private and public sector activities. "In an increasingly tough international market, we need to lead development and application of new technology and conceptual solutions. This is our competitive edge in Scandinavia," he says.

After reviewing qualifications of design firms, Telenor paid eight firms to develop design concepts. The finalists came to Oslo for several days of orientation, including meetings with CEO Baksaas and company directors. Telenor officials outlined the company's strategies and goals and how they wanted the new headquarters to help meet them. Facilities personnel provided specific requirements. "The program was clear, both quantitatively and qualitatively," Wyatt says. "There was no excuse for not knowing what they wanted."

In plan, the headquarters has two circulation spines that resemble the curved upper and lower surfaces of an airplane wing. These circulation spines, which frame a 208,000-sf plaza, have four attached office wings on their opposite side. Each wing incorporates an atrium that serves employees who work in it. Duncan Griffin, a member of NBBJ's design team, describes the plaza as a "remarkable" urban space that rivals plazas in Paris.

 
The headquarters of the Telenor Group, in Fornebu, Norway, features two curved wings that border a 208,000-sf plaza.


Controlled access to the headquarters is provided through eight entries. Circulation within the complex is provided at the second level. A pedestrian bridge across the plaza connects structures on either side of it.




Telenor determined that 30 employees constitutes an efficient business unit. Each building wing was therefore divided into three sections - two that accommodate 30 people, and a third that can be used by as many as 120 persons.

Light — a variable resource

The management of natural light is a major issue for a building located just south of the Arctic Circle at a latitude of 60 degrees north. In the summer, shading is needed from sunlight that enters the headquarters at a low angle. In winter, when days are short, a maximum entry of light is desired.

A typical office wing is only 48 feet wide, and no workstation is more than 28 feet from a window. These daylight-friendly interior dimensions, although not dictated by code, are customary in Scandinavia, according to project co-design principal Gina Park.

Two large glass walls face into the plaza. The south-facing wall leans outward to provide shading, while the north-facing wall leans inward to permit the maximum entry of daylight.

The headquarters has two types of sun shading devices. Exterior aluminum louvers, resembling venetian blinds, are computer controlled to help block heat-producing solar rays. On the interior, mechanically- and manually-operated shades are provided.

Co-design principal Jonathan Ward says he was surprised at the amount of upfront time and money Telenor was willing to invest in developing sun shading systems, which significantly reduced the complex's cooling load.

The facility's HVAC system was made more efficient by using seawater from the adjacent fjord, which handles 80% of building's cooling load, according to Duncan Griffin, the project's lead technical architect with NBBJ. He says U.S. members of the design team were initially skeptical about the practicality of this type of system, but discovered that the Norwegians have had enough experience with it to make it work.

Energy use was also reduced by providing a decreased amount of heating in the circulation corridors. This results in a transitional temperature as individuals enter or leave the building.

The headquarters' exterior wall construction employs two features widely used in Norway. One is the rain screen design principle, which allows some moisture to pass through the wall's exterior layer. The other is the use of exterior grade wallboard as the outer wall's inner membrane.

 
A stairway rises dramatically through one of the headquarters’ circulation spines. Structures on either side of the outdoor plaza rise three stories.


Construction of the headquarters made extensive use of prefabricated components, including complete toilet rooms. A hat channel system allowed the efficient framing of steel into hollow-core concrete floor planks, eliminating the need for deep beams that would require services lines to be routed beneath the beams.




The contractors faced a large, complicated project constructed on a tight 16-month schedule, according to Jan Holmgren, project manager with Selmer Skanska AS. His firm built the north portion of the complex, while NCC Bygg of Oslo built the south portion. Four bid packages, each covering one-fourth of the project, were awarded.

An overriding objective of the project was to achieve a net reduction in total occupancy cost. The new headquarters consolidates employees from 42 former locations in the Oslo area, slashing Telenor's square footage per employee by 35%.

A 1,529-vehicle parking garage is below the plaza. Access to the garage is via the plaza in order to foster contact among employees of different Telenor business units.

The Telenor headquarters, which opened in September 2002, is located on the site of Oslo's former airport, on a spit of land that extends into the city's main fjord. The property is being redeveloped as a high-tech tech business park.