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Architect Pascal Cornips on the dilemmas of designing data centres

Data Centre Equinix AM3/AM4, Amsterdam

“It’s a paradox: we all want our personal data to be safe, but we feel awkward about large data centres in our cities, because we don’t want fortress-like buildings surrounded by high-security fences in public spaces.

And yet, since data centres need to be near strong internet connections and power lines, we can’t store all our data in remote areas. As the amount of data we generate and store continues to expand, we need to build data centres in and around our cities. The challenge is to make them highly secure and friendly looking at the same time.

Equinix wanted to build a data centre in a science park in the east of Amsterdam. They had to fit in with the campus area while giving clients reassurance that it is a safe place to store their data.

“Data centres will gain social acceptance in cities when their aesthetics relate to their surroundings.”

—Pascal Cornips, partner since 2017

We designed a canal as the first layer of security, a less hostile alternative to a barbed-wire fence. Workers and visitors then pass through an ID check-point in the light and high-ceilinged foyer. To reach the data centre itself, which is in a separate building, they cross a bridge, painted red inside, to psychologically prepare themselves to enter a high-security area.

After scanning their fingerprints, they end up in a clean white space. It’s a far cry from the converted warehouses that often serve as data centres.

From the outside aesthetics are cool and stately: it resembles a large hard-drive, with horizontal louvers that pass out the air from the cooling system. The high-rise building is made out of aluminium, which reflects anything around it. On overcast days it will look exactly like ‘the cloud’(s) that pass it, and that it contains within.”

Data Cen­tre Equinix AM3/AM4, Amsterdam

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