Amsterdam – They used to call it the Widow of the Zuidas. The plain-looking building, located in the budding business district on the south side of Amsterdam, had been vacant and forgotten for nearly a decade. That was until Boudewijn Poelmann, a man known for his visionary endeavours, saw beyond the rough concrete columns, the grey walls and the uninspired atrium.
Poelmann is the founder of the Goede Doelen Loterijen, a multi-lottery organization that has turned the Dutch love of random numbers into donations for charity programmes in developing countries – since 1990, its contributions total more than seven billion euros, making it one of the largest private donors in the world. He also came up with the then-preposterous concept of the now crazily successful Postcode Lottery: bet on your neighbourhood and split any winnings with your neighbours. Poelmann has built a small empire based on creative thinking, collaboration and an ethos of sharing with others.
So, when he used a company-wide breakfast in 2014 to announce that the 600 employees dispersed throughout 11 houses along the lush Vondelpark would be moving to a single location, the staff were ready to follow his lead. And, oh, did they ask for as many as 600 impossible things after that breakfast. There was a rainwater-collection system for the toilets. An energy-positive building. Solar panels everywhere. An auditorium they could share with the neighbours. A proper restaurant open to the public. Studios and newsrooms for Koffietijd and 5 Uur Live, the TV shows they sponsor. An Italian piazza. A yoga studio with a view of the city. Oh, and they wanted to take the Vondelpark with them. ‘And we gave them almost everything they asked for,’ laughed Saartje van der Made, the Benthem Crouwel Architects partner who oversaw the renovation.
"We are architects and we know what to do with a building, but we need you and we will involve you in the design process"
Benthem Crouwel is better known for its massive public projects, such as the celebrated Rotterdam Central Station and the giant bathtub on Amsterdam’s Museumplein – a building officially known as the Stedelijk Museum. The Zuidas project was the first time Van der Made worked with a client who was also the end user. ‘Normally we present a vision straight away,’ she explained. ‘But in this case, we thought this was so personal that we really had to get to know them better, so we held several workshops to get their input on what their ideal space would look like. We promised them: we are architects and we know what to do with a building, but we need you and we will involve you in the design process.’
Take, for instance, the Vondelpark request. To tick that box, the architect and her team turned the former atrium into the much-awaited Italian piazza, featuring a gargantuan tree-shaped column and organic insulation. The employees themselves drew by heart the façades of the pre-war villas that had been part of their identity for so long. Their sketches were transposed onto the metal surfaces that line the new courtyard – panels that sometimes become the background of a live TV show.
Beyond that, the café tables where employees have regular meetings lie under a canopy of 6,800 aluminium leaves that reflect natural light and indoor plants, as they turn into a roof outdoors that reaches out to embrace the street. The folded leaves hide part of the 949 solar panels, the LED lighting and the many rainwater collectors scattered around the structure, turning the building into a BREEAM-NL Outstanding score recipient and the most sustainable renovated building in the Netherlands. By lowering the ground floor, they created a welcoming square that leads to La Lotteria, an Italian restaurant open to all. Students from the nearby Sint-Nicolaaslyceum can sit on colourful pillows dotting the second-floor auditorium. On the rooftop, sheltered by glass and plants, is a dedicated spot for downward-facing dogs and cobras.
"This is now the most sustainable renovated building in the Netherlands"
Ultimately, through creative thinking, collaboration and an ethos of sharing with others, Van der Made and her 600 fellow architects were able to develop an office concept that might become a model for effectively porous workplaces and the sustainable reutilization of existing structures. ‘We wanted to prove that sustainability starts with using what you have,’ explained Esther Wubben, the renovation’s project leader at Goede Doelen Loterijen.
Most importantly, though, is the project’s potential as a model for better practices that foster the development of a sense of ownership in the workplace. After the snafu that was the negative employee reaction to Norman Foster’s Apple Campus 2 – people were literally running into glass walls and complaining about office layouts – the Goede Doelen Loterijen building is a testament of how the role of the workplace can evolve to involve an increasingly sophisticated end user. Leave it to the Dutch to show how the visionary and collaborative polder mentality that created land where there was only water can be successfully applied to contemporary forms of design.
The interiors and the main stairs are the work of D/DOCK, in collaboration with Goede Doelen Loterijen’s in-house designer Yolanda Loudon. We spoke with Edward van der Poll, the D/DOCK interior architect behind the project, to discuss the choices behind some of the building’s most intriguing spaces.
Yoga is everywhere, particularly in D/DOCK projects – you recently included some mats in the Microsoft NL offices. Which spatial considerations did you take into account for the rooftop space?
The colleagues of the Goede Doelen Loterijen had a wish list of ingredients in their new home. One of them was a yoga, massage and nursery room. As a proponent and developer of our Healing Offices concept, we could very well imagine this wish. We found a beautiful space on the top floor that was not determined to a concrete function; as this top floor is also the garden roof, we could not found a better location. [Ed's note: MOSS was in charge of the greenery design.]
The auditorium is meant to be shared with the neighbours – including the students at the nearby lyceum. How did you take this variety of possible uses (and users) into account?
At first we made the auditorium a bit playful. We choose for a bright colour range that would fit all kinds of groups from the surrounding area. The blocks on the wall are poufs, which have two functions: extra seating and acoustics. You can take them out of the wall and sit on them.
The seating tribune is mirrored; you can take one corner and create a smaller area for up to 90 people. The total auditorium is good for 190 people.
What were the benefits of including a new type of central staircase in the courtyard?
The client requested an atrium that needed to represent the heart and soul of the company: a town square full of life where colleagues could meet each other. To get to this lively atrium square, we thought we needed something special, so we designed a different staircase from the one originally proposed, and also connected it with terraces. We created new areas that stuck out of the atrium façades and could become meeting points.
People like to take this stair to feel the company, and as we also created a coffee bar on the square with a real terrace, they see their colleagues having a coffee break or meet their guests for an appointment. This all gave a boost to this atrium and became as we expected.
architects: Benthem Crouwel Architects and D/DOCK, in collaboration with Goede Doelen Loterijen
text: Rab Messina
fotos: Benthem Crouwel Architects, Moss, Michael Van Oosten and Tessa Jol