Oil Company Headquarters Make a Powerful Statement

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Striking headquarters have long been synonymous with energy companies for canny, unabashedly capitalist reasons, said Marc Kushner, a partner at the architecture firm Hollwich Kushner. “Great architecture by great architects is a way to physically manifest success, because big buildings equal big profits in people’s minds,” he says, adding that their permanence is a swaggering statement more powerful than any advertisement.

Kyle May, a principal at the firm KM,A, said buildings like these were “an employee magnet and a giant PR stunt.” A splashy workplace with contemporary amenities is a compelling hiring tool, and they can also project an energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive image, May says.

Here are six showy complexes from around the world.

It was a sketch on a napkin by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia that reportedly inspired César Pelli’s design for this complex in Kuala Lumpur. The towers were constructed in the 1990s on the site of a former horse-racing track. The eight-point Muslim star Rub el Hizb underpins Pelli’s plan, the two towers narrowing as they rise to their full height of more than 1,480 feet. One tower is entirely for employees of the oil and gas company Petronas, while the other’s tenants include Reuters and the fictional International Clearance Bank, targeted by Catherine Zeta-Jones’ catwalk-clad thief in the 1999 film “Entrapment.”

The three-year-old headquarters for Abu Dhabi’s national oil firm sits on the Corniche, on the city’s West Side, right next to the 1970s building it replaced. The soaring tower, which looks like a 75-story bottle opener, is a startling contrast with its forerunner. Architect HOK, which is steering the modernization of La Guardia Airport, engineered the building to handle the extreme heat of the emirate’s summer. Bethel White granite covers east and west facades, to protect the glass core; the north and south sides are fully glazed, although the latter, where the sun is most intense, features built-in shades that reduce heat within the building by deflecting sunlight.

Kohn Pedersen Fox designed this 970,000-square-foot building in Beijing for one of China’s two state-run oil firms. Other well-known KPF projects include MoMA’s extension and master planning the Hudson Yards complex on the West Side of Manhattan. In China, the KPF team intended for the softened triangular building to evoke the prow of an oil tanker, but critics quickly likened it to a tankless toilet, which Kohler was then marketing in the country. At least the red and yellow terra-cotta tiles on the facade and interior resonated as planned, in a nod to the colors of the nearby Forbidden City.

This gleaming building is one of the anchors of the Amerika Square redevelopment in Copenhagen. Maersk hired a local firm, PLH Architects, for the project, and they produced a sleek, curved building with a proudly Danish aesthetic. The interiors are swathed in ash wood panels and flooded with natural light to connect with nature but minimize acoustics, while the central atrium features palm trees and leather chairs more like a Scandinavian coffee shop than a corporate headquarters.

The soon-to-open new world headquarters for Gazprom looks like a spire over the low-slung skyline of St. Petersburg, Russia. The plans sparked such vocal local objection to the RMJM-designed, 1,516-foot skyscraper that it was moved from its original site across the Neva River to the northwestern edge of the city. Taking six years and an estimated 155 billion rubles ($2.37 billion) to build, the tower twists a full 90 degrees from top to bottom and anchors a new multiuse complex, which also includes a 2,000-seat amphitheater. It will open in 2019, and most of the tenants will be Gazprom employees, although tourists will be able to access an observation deck and restaurant 1,000 feet above the ground.

The local architecture firm A-lab earned countless accolades for the Equinor headquarters in Fornebu, Norway. The pile of aluminum-clad tubes look as much like a discarded, giant game of Jenga as a headquarters for the country’s national oil company. The cantilevered structure, just outside Oslo, was the result of an open competition where architects were tasked with creating a landmark that would play off the striking landscape of the fjords. The interiors are equally unconventional and Rube Goldberg-esque, with staircases seemingly sprouting from nowhere to connect the various wings, which intersect at a single, soaring atrium.

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