The building complex of the Croatian Transmission System Operator (HOPS) is located in Matulji, Croatia, within an existing electrical substation. The site is adjacent to a former Matulji railway station, which at the turn of the 19th century was connected with Opatija by a tram line, electrified in 1908. At the time, Opatija, besides Karlovy Vary, was the most visited tourist destination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when trains were the main means of transport. Passengers have not been coming to Opatija via the Matulji train station for a long time now — the attractive panoramic tram line was closed in 1933 — but the substation remains in operation on this peculiar location, at the very centre of the town, as a kind of memento of those times.
Despite its central location, the site is in fact separated from the rest of the town and is rather inconspicuous. It is elevated in relation to the railway station, from which the high retaining wall is visible, and separated from the main street by apartment buildings spontaneously filling in the gap, making the access to the building only known to those familiar with it.
In such a discreet space, adjacent to the substation, other facilities of the company were supposed to be placed, such as offices, workshops, and garages.
The facilities are arranged along two clearly separated sections, a garage and service area, which are located in the volumes of prefabricated concrete, and an administrative building, enveloped in a double glass facade. The industrial character of the facilities dictated the austere spatial organisation.
The research focused on the facade of the administrative building, while referring to the principles of designing a nearly zero-energy building, it prioritised the character of the working space. Contemporary architecture seems to be dominated by the consideration of costs and the health & safety standards, as if they are almost the only parameters a building should meet. This poses an issue because, following the disappearance of the great social narratives, these two concepts have gradually pushed the concept of spatial quality out of the discussion, especially in regard to public investments.
It is somewhat unexpected that the need for spatial quality is being recognised again thanks to the recent research in the field of neuroscience, rather than architecture. In a book titled Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, Sarah Williams Goldhagen offers a number of scientific observations confirming a complete interconnection between our personal identity and the built space. For example, even back in 1984, Roger Urlich published a study in the Science magazine, revealing that patients who had a window view of trees had better postoperative recovery than those who looked out onto a brick wall. The paradox is that, driven by the need to create rational and efficient spaces, we create spaces that are basically irrational, because we do not feel good nor function well in them.
The circumstances surrounding the procurement procedure, as well as companies' internal policies, have made us accept the cost as the fundamental paradigm, from the design stage to the final construction of the building. In such a context, reduction arises as a basic architectural strategy, especially in the architecture of industrial complexes.
The floor plan of HOPS's buildings is without any unexpected or unnecessary elements. Vehicles and workshops are situated in the industrial hall, while the office space is arranged, in accordance with the needs of their users, in individual offices around the perimeter of the building. The restrained organization of the space corresponds to the isolated character of the site. The only element that stands out in this composition is the view, offering the same vistas of the Kvarner Bay as did the panoramic tram at the beginning of the last century.
The view from the building, which is equally interesting from all sides, is recognised as an essential element of the design. In the reduced architecture of the industrial complex, the membrane is the only dynamic element, changing the character of the building in a daily rhythm, as well as the experience of the outdoor environment from the offices.
The envelope consists of a double glass facade, as a logical response to the energy requirements and the need for natural ventilation. The gap between the glass facades is wide enough to be inhabited. The blinds in the space automatically and manually adjust to various amounts of light, and each floor has steel grating walking platforms equipped with containers for vegetation.
The original design envisaged planting plants that would create favourable microclimatic conditions, but this idea did not survive the test of rationality and was therefore not fully implemented. But that created a space that can gradually be inhabited from the office, as well as individualized, precisely through the planting of plants, as a personal extension of the office space.
Architects: Randić i suradnici, Rijeka
Team: Saša Randić, Iva Vucković, Iva Šulina, Zorana Šimunović, Helena Dimitrišin
Location: Matulji, Croatia
Area: 8,496 m2
Photographs: Marko Mihaljević