Contract: Red Bull, Amsterdam


Published in Contract, May 2012

When people think “energy drink,” most think of Red Bull thanks to the brand’s savvy marketing, handled regionally by a cache of offices around the world. And to foster creativity in these marketing offices, the company eschews a one-size-fits-all strategy in workplace design, too, allowing each office to collaborate with a local designer of its choosing. The company not only empowers each office location by granting this “authorship,” but also ensures that the selected designer understands both brand and local culture. For Red Bull’s Amsterdam office, the collaborator of choice was Sid Lee Architecture.

Old and new, times two
Sid Lee Architecture convinced Red Bull to set up shop in a historic shipbuilding factory that had been abandoned half a century ago. While the site had become a rundown squatters’ nest after the factory closed, its vintage architecture offered character and potential. As fate would have it, however, a fire somehow ignited and destroyed much of the existing structure after the project began.

“[The fire] changed the nature of some of our initial ideas, because in a historic building, you benefit from an existing texture to build upon,” says Jean Pelland, senior partner of Sid Lee Architecture. Most of the skin—ranging from interior and exterior walls to skylights running the length of the building’s three bays—was lost, but some of the bones managed to survive. Using the intact remains and archival schematics, the designers restored many of the site’s original characteristics: brick now clads the exterior; the salvaged trusses support new glass skylights; and the new roof replicates the old sawtoothed roofline. What the architects could not restore was the vintage, distressed materials palette. So, taking into account the industrial nature of the site, they devised one of plywood and steel.

Implementing an un-corporate culture
The rawness of the textures and their applications reinforce the brand’s culture, which is defined by the beverage, but also programs that Red Bull sponsors such as extreme sports and new music. The public area’s craggy wall forms allude to mountainsides, for instance, and the mezzanine level’s skewed walkways resemble skateboarding ramps.

Sid Lee Architecture often integrates custom graphic design into the interiors, and this is most evident in the enclosed spaces. A DJ and recording booth looks out onto a break room that the music streams into, and fittingly an old-school speaker graphic emblazons a wall here. Engines visually roar in a manager’s office, where the printed plywood wall depicts the company’s Flying Bulls racing aircrafts and a powdercoated-steel replica of a plane wing forms the executive desk.

The boldest graphic application is in the restrooms. Dubbed the Holyshit rooms—a play on Red Bull’s “Holy Shit” lists of extreme activities to try in one’s lifetime—the rooms’ mosaic tiling references religious motifs with a twist. In the women’s room, the Virgin Mary spins vinyl on two turntables, accompanied by microphone-wielding angels. For the men’s room, Joseph cruises on a skateboard and red bulls flap their angel wings—an allusion to the company’s slogan: Red Bull gives you wings. “It might be perceived as disrespectful, but it was really meant to playful,” comments Pelland.
Solutions that provide flexibility

Red Bull gave the design team some requisites: a kitchen with a lunchroom, meeting rooms, breakout spaces, and an open atmosphere that isn’t an open-plan office. “We wanted a non-conformist, energizing design that would help us think up impossible ideas,” says Mariska Rijnders, Red Bull Amsterdam’s management assistant. The designers addressed these first with the rock-like formations of the public zone. The jagged mezzanine forms balconies on two sides with a connecting bridge, leaving much of the ground level open and airy, and sits atop a volume that encloses the main boardroom. Just outside the boardroom, the cafeteria is situated in the exposed area, adjacent to the kitchen, which occupies an alcove formed by the mezzanine staircase.

In the work zone, a freestanding glass structure houses the “Stratos” meeting room. Perforated steel envelops the volume to offer privacy while filtering in sunlight, but also screens off some of the open workstations. At sundown, the Stratos room is lit from within and becomes a lantern. Two “quiet rooms” encourage relaxation, with one entirely clad in plywood—ceiling and floor included—allows staff to doodle on or tag the surfaces. The other has stepped bleacher-like seating that conceals storage drawers for promotional materials. Additionally, this room has sliding glass doors that function as writable surfaces for brainstorming sessions. “We’re very pleased with the result and enjoy it every day,” says Rijnders. “It’s an inspirational atmosphere with surprising twists.”