interior showing garden inside an office skyscraper

A Botanical Wonderland Takes Root in an Utrecht Office Building

A collaboration between MOSS, Group A architects, and developers Angelo Gordon and APF, the surreal indoor landscape serves tenants like McDonald’s.

High above the ballooning central business district of Utrecht, the Netherlands, an unexpected tenant has taken root inside a 23-story office building. Occupying two middle floors of the aptly named Central Park development, a lofty indoor garden contains over 1,500 plants and trees and is bisected by a stone-lined burbling stream. The garden serves tenants like McDonald’s Netherlands and Dutch bank ABN AMRO in an office building that is publicly accessible via elevated walkway from the nearby Utrecht Centraal rail station. 

The surreal indoor landscape is the result of a collaboration between Amsterdam-based green design agency MOSS (Makers of Sustainable Spaces), Rotterdam-based Group A architects, developers Angelo Gordon and APF, as well as scores of engineers, landscapers, and technical consultants. 

“We were sitting in engineering meetings years in advance to plan irrigation, lighting, and integrated structural support,” says Kelai Diebel, MOSS managing director. “If the discussion only happens at the end of a project, it’s not possible to realize this scale of green dreams.”

Steel tensile rods added to load-bearing beams beneath the garden’s trees and to the space’s raised platforms support their additional weight. The double-height curved glass facade panels, supported by anchors attached to the concrete floors, were assembled off-site and craned into place. 

interior showing garden inside a skyscraper
Extra large windows flood natural light into the double-height green space. A hardwood pathway winds its way through the garden and over a small creek. COURTESY JORDI HUISMAN

MOSS designed the 5,380-square-foot park around flora native to the Azores, a group of Portuguese islands more than 800 miles west of that country’s mainland. 

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“Azorian plants are very hearty. It’s a botanical wonderland,” says Diebel. 

Shade-loving, broad-leaved figs and ferns occupy the core, while sun seekers like olive trees and palms line the perimeter. Powder-coated steel planters contain hidden water crates topped by a permeable felt layer that separates the soil substrate, but allows roots to dive down for water.

Walkways made of Louro Itauba, a fine-grained Brazilian hardwood, wind through the office building space, leading to seating areas and elevated landings. “When you stand over the peak of a mountain, you get a rush,” says Diebel. “We’re trying to replicate that, balanced with spaces that are calm and quiet.”

“We spend about 90 percent of our lives indoors. When the eyes observe greenery, cortisol levels and blood pressure decrease, and it stimulates areas of the brain associated with creativity,” adds Diebel. “It’s about reengaging our innate affinity for nature.” 

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