Special Report: Olivia Business Centre – Getting back to nature

Olivia Business Centre’s Maciej Kotarski tells Paul Strohm how biophilic design makes wellness goals a reality.

Attending to the mental well being of staff, creating a community and engaging with the wider community beyond the building should be more than just boxes to tick or badges to wear, according to Olivia Business Centre’s leasing director Maciej Kotarski.

Nor is this a fad or a short-term trend. “In the entire spectrum of office trends and fashions, there is nothing on the horizon that will effectively replace the well being and biophilic design philosophy,” Kotarski says. “These two concepts support each other strongly. The well concept is focused on the appreciation of talents, and biophilia allows you to feel good and comfortable. This results in productivity, so I am convinced that nothing will supersede this trend for a long time.”

Kotarski points out that for employers the context for their businesses has changed. “Now there is an employee’s market, so the roles have been reversed. The employer cares about their employees and shows, through buildings, that ‘we are honoured that your talents will come to us, how can we help you?’”

For Kotarski, what he describes as “the uncompromising pursuit of contact with nature” begins simply with windows that can be opened. At Olivia this is also manifested in the inclusion of shared and private roof terraces, as well as loggias on each floor enabling employees to go outside irrespective of which floor their desk is located. 

But contact with nature starts in the main entrance hall, which is filled with greenery, and has details such as wooden pillars on the facade, unusual in an ultra-modern office building. Natural materials are abundant throughout the complex.

The art of design

“In Olivia Prime, [one of the buildings in the Olivia complex] we focused on nature, arranging the interior with wood, plants and furniture on which you can sit,” says Kotarski. In addition, artworks throughout the Olivia complex have been chosen for their accessibility and familiarity. There are murals and screens in entrance halls, moveable screens and electronic screens “a fantastic carrier for works of art that we will change regularly”, Kotarski says.

‘Our task is to make the broadly understood common areas in the office building reflect the needs of users, and the perception of these needs is varied.’

Maciej Kotarski, Olivia Business Centre

“Contact with high art evokes completely different emotions, which is why at Prime we are close to people and offer a slightly easier message that each of us has to deal with on the street. We are not intimidating, because art is by definition something fun and a bit comic. It makes you happy, draws you into play and gives you energy.”

In one of the buildings walls are decorated with murals by a Tri-City street artist called Looney. Elsewhere city panoramas direct the viewer towards so-called ‘naive art’. “Every company wants their office to stand out. Our task is to make the broadly understood common areas in the office building reflect the needs of users, and the perception of these needs is varied,” Kotarski says.

Employee well being is achieved through a range of initiatives, contact with the natural environment being just one, Kotarski emphasises. Building a community is another key, he says. “An environment in which we can feel better thanks to rich, lively and changing relationships with others, with different people.” At Olivia there are a dozen or so sports leagues, choirs and clubs for sailing, cycling, hiking. 

That Olivia takes these human aspects seriously is reflected in the fact that there is a team of more than a dozen people dedicated to “animating” the community. “In fact, the whole Olivia is treated by us as a giant coworking and this is how we try to animate it.”

Tropical garden sows the seeds of well being

Olivia Garden is an 800 sq m area filled with around 3,000 tropical plants representing more than 150 different species that are native to Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea, Madagascar, Malaysia, Borneo, 
Costa Rica, Venezuela, and tropical Amazon forests.

Based on the philosophy that proximity with nature positively affects well being and efficiency, the project was created in response to the needs of the occupants of both the Olivia Business Centre and residents of the wider Tri-City area.

“From the very beginning we have been guided by the slogan ‘more than a building’,” says Monika Matysiak, director of the resident relations department at Olivia Business Centre. “The concept of well being of Olivia’s employees naturally fits in with the concept of creating places where residents can ‘catch their breath’, surrounded by nature,” she adds. 

The garden was designed by the Malinowski Design Urban & Landscape studio, and Design Anatomy studio was also involved in the implementation. 

Olivia Garden has been divided into four zones which also provide scope for social and business meetings, independent work and rest, and the organisation of lectures, workshops or small concerts. The main innovation is the climate control technology which ensures optimal conditions for both plants and people, irrespective of external weather conditions. 

Planting includes 30 trees, the largest of which is 11 metres high. One of the largest is bucida buceras (black olive), which rises from between mezzanine platforms, giving occupants the impression of being in a tree house. 

Many plants in the garden are unusual species whose inclusion is designed to pique people’s curiosity. For example, one is a plant whose aroma is among the ingredients of the perfume Chanel No5.

The Olivia Garden has been designed primarily with the employees of occupier companies in mind but is also fits with the complex’s local community engagement policy and is publicly accessible by ticketed admission.

Just as the Olivia Garden is accessible both to employees based in the building and the public, so too are the top floors of the central tower building in the complex, known as Olivia Star. As well as an observation deck on the 32nd floor there are restaurants on the 33rd floor. 

Olivia Star is the tallest building in northern Poland so can provide a unique viewpoint which is now listed as a local tourist attraction as it provides a 360-degree view of the entire Tri-City area and beyond.