The colossal entrance to the United House reception will take your breath away. The 640 cubic feet open space with a roof is roughly four storeys tall, and sits in the middle of a huge green landscape.
United House is the head office of the renowned United Group in Madani Avenue.
The reception is a volumetric box-shaped room that has two glass walls on both the front and back ends.
According to principal designer of United House, Architect Nahas Ahmed Khalil, the glass walls were placed "so that even when we enter an interior from a vast landscape, we find ourselves in a connecting place from where we can see, or walk out to a garden full of trees."
The other two walls of the monumental reception lobby are adorned with a harmonious blend of interior plants, wood and aluminium screens.
"We did not use a human scale for the reception, rather we decided to use an atrium," said Faisal Mahbub, chief architect of United Property Solutions Ltd of United Group.
In architecture, an atrium is a large open-air or skylight-covered space surrounded by a building.
The entrance of an office is not built exclusively for the employees, but rather for those who will come to work with the company. The atrium-inspired reception helps to build confidence in the company's credibility with prospective clients and partners.
"First impression is the last impression. Using architecture, we wanted to create a wow factor," added Architect Faisal.
But the United corporate office will not stop wowing you here. The reception leads to a garden-wrapped workplace surrounded by an infinite landscape.
To make a swatch of the city better, United Group wanted to create a place where they not only work, but live as well. So the area consists of the United Corporate Office and the United Residence, a living complex of six houses for six partners of the group.
"The United Group wanted to create a statement through the building's design - not occupy the whole area with a structure and instead remain close to nature."
In a total area of 6.25 acres (10 bigha), the office was built in an area of 2,80,000 sq ft only. This vast open space borders a major road and a small canal.
The design team involved Architect Nahas Ahmed Khalil, Rehman Taki Ferdous and Md Asaduzzaman.
Incorporating a workspace into the landscape rather than filling the leftover spaces with trees after constructing a building was the main inspiration for this design.
It was inspired by an award-winning residential house in Singapore, designed and occupied by Architect Md Asaduzzaman. According to him, this kind of residence is perhaps the very best way of living in a friendly tropical setting.
SEED, an international firm designed the interior of the main area. Celia Lee, a landscape architect from Singapore, complemented and successfully tied the architecture and interior to the nature outside.
The sequence of spaces beginning from the work desk, flowing out through internal circulation and vertical circulation; the patches of greenery within the skin of all these spaces and the tree-laden landscape outside work together to provide us with a strong feel of Bangladesh's natural environment.
The establishment is based on a simple concept as Architect Nahas Ahmed Khalil explained, "If one wants a pristine landscape unspoiled by the mess of a city, how would they create and inhabit a modern-day workplace? Spaces inside would have to feel as if they have been set inside a forested garden and not the other way round - by building a 'garden' around the office spaces."
Khalil describes the reception area as "a tunnel-like transparent transition space, which will make you feel like you are in the landscape because of its glass walls, although you are inside a concrete building."
There are four blocks occupied by the varied businesses that United Group is engaged in. The blocks are independent, yet interconnected through a steel-structured glass bridge on the second floor of each building.
The four building blocks are surrounded by a secondary green courtyard which can be seen from the reception area.
"Thinking about security, convenience, and connection, the departments are placed in those four blocks. This way, anyone who comes to visit a particular department does not have to be all over the place. But then again, all the departments are part of one business, so the blocks are also interlinked for the employees," Nahas Khalil shared with us.
The entire establishment is made of concrete and glass so there is ample sunlight and the workers can see the landscape while working. The lush greenery outside and inside the office also keeps their minds fresh.
The complex was built beside a natural canal and the dining area has been built just adjacent to it. It looks like a part of the dining space is floating in the water; it is illuminated with intricate lights in the ceiling.
With pastel pink and green seating, the dining space is divided into different parts: one for top executives and other segregated spaces for male and female employees.
It was a rainy day when we visited the United House. The building allowed the employees to indulge in nature as rainwater kept sliding down the glass walls.
"Instead of using a drain, the canal absorbs the rainwater of the whole area, creating a water retention system which is very rare in Dhaka," said Architect Mahbub.
What we saw on a rainy day might not look so serene on a hot summer day because glass walls can absorb heat. To avoid direct sunlight and glare, patterned aluminum solar-screens have been used on the building perimeter which are exposed to direct sunlight.
Each of the four levels in the four blocks have different interior setups. Irrespective of the layout, the design still keeps 50% of the space for greenery.
Architect Mahbub said, "A good environment leads the employees to be more productive. Because by nature people do not look forward to going to work, hence we wanted to provide an atmosphere that will help employees cope with their natural resistance."
The top two floors are specially designed for the directors and advisors with individual rooms and desks, large waiting lobbies and designated verandahs adjacent to the rooms.
On the third floor, they have a business suite with meeting rooms. Some of the rooms are set up for virtual video meetings with modern chic chandeliers and extravagant couches and chairs.
An impressive wooden stairway from the bridges will lead you to a place to chat with your colleagues between breaks. Here you will find some art deco sofas and round tables.
All of this was done against the backdrop of nature. Once enough time has passed for the plants and nature to grow, the whole block, the office, and the residences should become a single amalgamated landscape interspersed with spaces to live and work within nature.
Nahas Khalil described United House as "an urban version of the villages of Bangladesh."
It took almost three years to complete the construction of the office complex, from 2017 to 2020.