Kees Kaan has been interviewed by Anna Martovitskaya for the nineteenth issue of the architectural magazine speech: which explores the theme of regulations. Read below the full text.
Anna Martovitskaya: The theme of this issue of our magazine is rules and regulatory standards. I’m sure that as an architect working in many countries — and on projects of a great variety of different types — you must find this subject very relevant. I would like to begin with a fairly general question: in your opinion, do regulatory standards and rules kill creative freedom or, on the contrary, do they help architects create buildings?
Kees Kaan: I would say both are the case. Regulatory standards are an ambivalent phenomenon. There are standards and rules which really do kill a project — they reduce it to faceless greyness; but there are also those which stimulate creativity and innovation. And, of course, a great deal depends on which country you’re working in. In France, for instance, the standards are very strict and regulate the greater part of building volumes under construction. For example, they prescribe very rigidly what the distance should be between buildings based on the angel of daylight exposure. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, the authorities have gradually come around to introducing performance standards rather than restrictive ones. Which is to say that we architects no longer hear “such and such is not allowed”, but “if you do this, you must ensure that there is so much daylight, such and such fire-safety protection, and so much energy consumption”. The architect has to prove that his design meets certain performance standards. You have to admit that this is a completely different way of setting standards.
AM And which of the two approaches seems best to you as an architect?
KK Personally, of course, I find it more interesting to work with performance standards. I can’t say I find it simpler, no. It’s probably simpler to work with prohibitory standards: you take into account all the necessary prohibitions, end up with a result, and then calmly set about building it. Often, of course, you’re kicking yourself thinking about what you could have done, including with regard to aesthetic design, but were not allowed to do, to make the project richer. As for performance standards, on the contrary, they compel you to be highly inventive so as to get the results you need. Of course, this means more work for the engineers. But, you know, for me it’s very important that there is always a chance to go to the municipal authorities, explain the gist of your proposal, and be heard. If you can prove that the city will be improved by a particular building being built with certain deviations from the standards, you should be allowed to do it.
AM Since you’ve started talking about different approaches to regulation in different countries, I can’t not ask about Brazil, where your firm also has an active presence. What is the situation there with regulatory standards?
KK It’s a completely different world there. Of course, Brazil does have regulatory standards and they’re mainly prohibitory ones, but it’s also common there to simply ignore all kinds of things. And they often build quicker than we sketch, so… I’ll put it this way, we can’t always manage to get our sketches to match what is being done on the construction site. But we haven’t lost hope of eventually getting a better grasp of the local specifics — given that at the end of the day regulatory standards are a reflection of the national identity and the building culture of a particular country, and this code needs to be studied long and attentively.
AM Do you take on local partners in each country so as to improve your understanding of the local regulations?
KK Yes, of course. Local partners are essential. Although the character of the interaction with the firms assisting on a project may gradually change quite substantially. For instance, in France, — after completing several projects, — we already feel ourselves to be about 80% independent of our local partners, and in Belgium the degree of freedom is even higher. But in Germany, on the contrary, it’s impossible to do anything without a good local partner.
AM Do you think that in the context of global urbanization regulations should gradually become increasingly universal?
KK Only those standards and rules which concern our existence on the planet in general. If each of us does not make an effort to prepare the planet to accommodate 10 billion people, then nothing’s going to work out. Which is to say that as far as concerns energy saving and treatment of resources, I would probably be in favour of a certain unification of the rules. But in the case of regulations of a more local kind which concern the culture of building in a particular place, it’s unlikely, of course, that they should be treated in identical fashion. Standards are also a way to impart legal stability to development projects. This is very important from the point of view of economics too: people need to be sure that they will recoup the money which they’re investing. If the rules and standards do not suit the given culture, then people won’t comply with them and that means there can be no guarantees.
AM One of your best-known realized projects is the reconstruction of the Central Post building in Rotterdam, which is now the most ecologically sustainable listed building in the Netherlands. Was attaining such high results a matter of what you wanted, or did it follow from the regulations?
KK I would say that in the present case there was a happy match between the building’s basic capabilities and the ambitions of the client. This is a 1950s building which was originally used for sorting mail. We turned it into a mixed-use office complex for the creative industries. Without changing the building’s external appearance, we increased the number of storeys and doubled the usable floor area. The smart lighting and ventilation, the cooling ceilings, and the double-skin facade, which lets in lots of daylight, make the building a record-beater in terms of ecological sustainability. So in this project maximization of profits went hand in hand with maximization of ecological sustainability. That is not always the case; this particular project was lucky. And for that we have the client to thank, of course: all the decisions — including with regard to the cooling, the ceilings, and the lighting — were taken from the point of view of financial optimization.
AM You have created buildings of all types — educational institutions, administrative buildings, cultural buildings, and housing. Is there a building type which you haven’t worked with due to the rules and regulations being too strict?
KK I don’t think so…. I wouldn’t want to build a prison, but that’s more for personal reasons. I would find it oppressive. Although, on the other hand, we did design some court buildings containing a block of cells — but cells where prisoners are kept for one day only. From the point of view of the dictate of regulations, building type is not that important: the most pressing issues arise when you begin to tie a building’s functional program to its architecture and neighborhood in the city. And for us this is always the most important question — how the structure interacts with the site on which it stands. The design efforts are focused on finding a solution where we find a layout and a program for a building which allow us to fit it perfectly to its surroundings and to impart new qualities to the latter. Strictly speaking, it is for the sake of such moments that we do all our work — to find the best way that the new and the existing, the private and the public, can engage with one another and to come up with ideas that make the city a better place to live.
AM To what extent, do you think, are experience and broad competence important in this process?
KK Competences are important, but you have to understand that additional competences can always be acquired — for instance, by hiring the appropriate specialist, perhaps someone who knows a particular building type or the specific regulatory standards, to work in your team. For example, we won the competition to design the Netherlands Supreme Court without having any experience of designing court buildings. And although there was undoubtedly an element of luck in this, I am sure that the secret of our success was that we are able to listen in an unbiased way, be open-minded, and understand the real needs of the given city and society, the needs that lie behind the specific competition brief.
Interview by TIAN Ni – WA magazine (China), 326 issue, 08 2017
In relation to the background of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at Delft University of Technology, World Architecture interviewed the Chair of the Complex Project (2006-present), professor Kees Kaan.
WA: World Architecture is going to publish an issue on “Space for Architectural Teaching” exploring the relationship between teaching space and architectural education. Can you please let our audience know more about the Faculty of architecture at Delft? And something about “BK City”?
Kees Kaan (KK): The faculty members of architecture at Delft come from many departments, so it’s not just an architecture school focusing on designing buildings exclusively, it’s called the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, so it looks at a wider scope of everything related to the making of our environment, including urban planning, real estate management, building technology, heritage, restoration renovation, and of course architecture. And all these different departments are combined into one faculty and they all use that building called “BK City”. It is called BK City because it functions like a city. It is a place with many, different cultures or subcultures inside it, like people from different neighborhoods, with different attentions, and different interests.
So before BK City was there, the architectural faculty consisted of the same group of people. They were housed in a totally different building that was built in the 1960s designed by Jaap Bakema and Johannes van den Broek, two very important Dutch architects, and it was a building with a highrise tower, but it burned down in 2008. That building was a very well articulated architectural project, specifically designed to be an architectural faculty. After the fire, that destroyed the entire building, the faculty was provisionally housed in tents. It changed the faculty from being vertically organized to the horizontal layout of the tents.
It is totally different spatial experience that changed entirely the way people collaborated and started to work, because in the building with the vertical system, with elevators and staircases, most of the meet and greet happened only on the ground floor. After a coffeebreak or a lunch we had move up to disappear into our own individual space to sit there and work. There was not so much informal interaction between people, between different faculty members. Interactions between students and professors etc. were even less because professors and teachers had their own rooms and they could simply go into their rooms closing the door. In the tents this was not possible because there were no doors and we had no rooms, so everybody was in one big space and everything was provisionally, and that created a very informal atmosphere of exchange of knowledge and information, and meeting each other. Of course it was a bit more difficult to concentrate into work and the comfort was rather moderate. Then finally the university decided to put the faculty of architecture – which is a very large faculty actually, we are about three thousand people there – to put it in an old building they actually we’re just intending to sell but with the fire they stopped it at the last moment.
It was an old chemistry building that is now turned into BK City, and that old building became our new home. I like this building which stretches out as a long horizontal surface with different wings and courtyards, and two of the big courtyards were covered with a big glass roof. One of those courtyards became the orange room, where students work, where lecture and events are organized and that has become the emblematic space of the faculty. It’s always a bit noisy, but it is very dynamic too.
The other big courtyard became the model room, big machines are placed and many students can make models simultaneously, and the rest of the building most renovated in very fast quick way, very provisional, to make it possible for the active faculty to move in within two or three months, that happens, and it was the best thing that ever happened to the school of architecture at Delft. Since that moment communication between people of the school became more informal and more frequent.
The ambience became much better, big spaces for exchange, big floor plates, and also because of this somehow provisional character. Things were not perfect and that was exactly right. It was of course a shock. The fire shook up the whole population of BK City. Professors like me, we don’t have our own private rooms, I don’t even have my own desk. I am working everyday from my laptop. I do have a room for my chair where did my team can work together, but I don’t have my individual desk, the disadvantages maybe that you’re sometimes difficult to find, but the advantage is you work in a much more open and informal ambience, no treshholds. So I think, this is what happened to the architecture faculty in the Netherlands: fire, the tents, the new building, the provisional renovation and the way it is used. The faculty was taken out of its comfort zone entirely, and then had to work with what was available at short notice. Not everything is perfect, and it’s impossible to get the perfect. I hope gradually we will improve the building to make acoustics better in certain rooms and things are being improved, but this sort of level of inconvenience and the necessity to work with what you have, created a very strong, good collaborative spirit that improves the way people exchange knowledge and information, and so to improve education.
WA: In your opinion, what are the connections between architectural space and teaching?
KK: Well yes there is important connection, because we have experienced with the shift it made a huge impact.
It has shaken the institutional aspect of teaching. Louis Kahn said: for teaching, what you need is a place where you sit under the tree, you make a circle together and you have a teaching situation, teacher and students under a tree. To a certain extent that is true, so teaching is possible under very different conditions, but it always happens among people. Teaching is about the exchange of knowledge and information. When there is a necessity to organize teaching at larger scale, to institutionalize it, then the question of the type of facilities you need becomes relevant. Say how many trees you need with people under it, and how many big trees and small trees or big rooms or small rooms and how many meeting places, and also, so what kind of settlement or layout to make, for the institute to function. So for teaching, not with standing studio or seminar or big lectures or informal discussions, you need students to feel comfortable, and you prefer the students to work at the school rather than them staying at home, so you want them to come to the building and do their work there.
So the building has to provide a large scale of different facilities in different places, for the students to feel connected, to feel that they want to be there, so I don’t have the sort of recipe for an ideal teaching space. It is such a complex question, but I think that, the bottom line is exchange and meeting, and I think that is super important for a pleasure place of education.
WA: How about the mixed functions of the review space or the exhibition space?
KK: I think the most of the spaces have relatively dedicated character, for example, the model room is mostly used for models.
WA: But sometimes, the presentation and exhibition can happen in the same time and same place.
KK: Well, I would say it’s not so easy that we mix in BK City two difference things. There would be a larger exhibition space for graduation exhibitions, so that at events we do very often or sometimes we have to do that object. The other thing is the store, because our students doing the models, and we have to storage them now and then, because the classrooms have to be empty and clean, studio spaces have to be empty for new studios and then we want to keep the models for presentation, at the end of three semesters I want to make an exhibition but two storage is the work of the students, that’s really problematic, we simply don’t have this place for that so that it’s still a problem. I think it is important also to consider both exhibition and storage.
WA: So you mean in terms of usage, it’s more like leaving the place to be occupied, and then we discover our function and reinterpreted with this place?
KK: I think it depends on density. I do think we have pressure, and cannot use the place with flexibility. It automatically occurs, especially when a high pressure on the space exists. That’s not only in an educational facility but also happens in cities already, so when there’s a lot of pressure on the usage, people become automatically creative, tolerant and flexible. In BK we have a very high pressure. We have a huge facility, but still it always fully filled and crammed and it’s really very intensely used, of course there are also very quiet moments, but that has to do with the system of education. All the programs are sort of running in parallels, so everybody has his presentations in the same weeks, everything runs in parallel, so there are very quiet weeks, and then there are the weeks that you need three times the building. In that sense, it would be more practical not to run everything in parallel, because you have this academic calendar, a very strong demarcation of semesters and quarters, periods for exams, so you always have the peaks of use of the building. It is complicate.
WA: After fire, what happened to the original building?
KK: It was not a little fire. The fire completely and totally burned down the building and it disappeared entirely. So it was really collapsed, after that, there was nothing left but ashes, so that’s why we went to the other building, originally with the intention as a temporary place, and then to build a new building. That temporary solution turned out to be okay, let’s us simply stay there.
WA: As we know, a part of the areas was designed by MVRDV, what do you think about it?
KK: I like it very much, it’s very nice places. It’s one of the courtyards that they made the lecture facilities in it, the orange stairs, and I think it’s very nice, at the stairs students can sit and hang around. Sometimes lectures take place there, and it works as one of the central spaces in the building.
WA: In BK City, which part of the building is most popular for the students? How about the users’ feedback?
KK: I’m not sure, because I never interviewed the students. There are different rooms that are very much liked, but it seems they do like the cafe outside, especially on sunny days, it can be very crowded there. So there’s really a hot spot as you can say, also the espresso bar is really a meeting point, it’s very much liked. I think the students also like very much the model room, it’s a very good place, it’s very big spectacle, and it’s nice to work there and see all the models and see different students at work. The orange room, I think, is also much liked, and also much appreciated, because there is a very strong character, it’s sort of a icon for the BK City. You could say it is one of the wonderful places that is photographed a lot, but then there are also educational areas like those in the east wing, the ground floor space which is a very big nice studio, and you can work with at least hundred students, it’s super nice and fantastic.
(Proofread by LIU Yishi)
KAAN Architecten designs new building for Tilburg University
(article originally published on OverHolland 18/19, 2017)
‘KAAN Architecten and the building firm VORM are together creating a large new building on the Tilburg University campus. With 11,000 square metres of floor area, the university’s Teaching and Self-Study Centre (OZC) is intended to offer students better facilities and hence further improve the quality of education. The building will have BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) ‘Excellent’ certification, the maximum achievable level of sustain- ability. Completion is scheduled for autumn 2017.
The KAAN Architecten design shows an OZC that is square and fairly low, like various other buildings on the campus. This means it will fit in well among the trees and the other buildings. Yet it is substantially different from the square central Cobbenhagen building, the former Catholic College of Economics that formed the basis for the university back in the early 1960s. Whereas with its two courtyards the enclosed structure by architect Jos Bedaux (1910-1989) brought the landscape inside the building, KAAN Architecten’s centre will blend into it. Abundant daylight and radical perspectives will allow the building and its surroundings to merge. The study areas will be enclosed in the same way as a woodland clearing.
The OZC, which will serve all the university faculties, will be constantly full of people – up to 2,500 closely connected students and teachers. To maintain the open character of the building and avoid any sense of crowding, the centre will be spacious. Like all its areas, its corridors will be wide, light and up to 6 metres in height. The programme includes a large number of study and group areas, large and small, as well as a variety of lecture halls, all equipped with the latest communication facilities. To keep the building transparent, the centrally located auditorium is sunken.’
This was the text of the press release on the build- ing after the contract was awarded. This article will look at the project in greater detail: what were the ideas and arguments behind our design?
Cobbenhagen, master plan, perception of space, Bedaux, dimensioning, verification and validation – none of this means much to the average student on the campus. When designing things, we archi- tects try to look through everyday users’ eyes. Of course, we bear in mind that these are not just today’s students and teachers, but also future generations, and we also realize that this building must be part of a set of buildings on a magnificent campus with a robust architectural tradition.
To students, the P, W and C buildings are places where they study at Tilburg University, and which they are not particularly critical of, but not particularly enthusiastic about either. But they love the new Teaching and Self-Study Centre. Nice and open, easy to find, and the sunken seating area is ‘chill’. They don’t use terms like ‘transparent’, ‘green landscaping’ or ‘logical routing’. As everyday users of the building, they simply think about what it’s like to walk to the building and attend lectures or seminars there.
When our students arrive at the campus, they mainly have a sense of pride about being able to study in such a fine place with its interna- tional air. All the greenery makes them feel as if they’re still on holiday abroad. The shrubbery is neatly pruned, the grass is mown. The gardeners are busy keeping the parkland tidy and smart. The first impression is one of fine buildings and green space. So easy to find your way around – everything’s where you expect it to be. As they walk to the OZC, students think how glad they are to have chosen to study in Tilburg.
Of course we also walked round the campus and saw the same thing with different eyes. What we saw was a compact greenfield campus with archi- tecturally high-quality, well landscaped buildings.
When you see the campus layout, it makes sense for the Cobbenhagen building to have a counterpart. The OZC site is destined for a building of campus-wide importance, just like Cobbenhagen. Both buildings have a prestigious appearance, and both are used by all the students and university staff, from every faculty. Cobbenhagen above all provides ceremonial facilities, whereas the OZC is there for day-to-day teaching activities.
The relaxed dignity of the Cobbenhagen building was the model for a contemporary response, the design for the OZC – a building combining the same dignity with relaxed user- friendliness. The OZC occupies a key position in relation to the existing buildings, and so contributes to a balanced whole. The design will give the north-western section of the campus the required architectural and landscape value.
The composition of the campus is marked by detached buildings that are freely and orthogonally located in space and are not aligned. The OZC is part of this spatial interplay. Its similar positioning, proportions and use of materials creates a dialogue between it and the Cobbenhagen building on the south side of the campus. Whereas the centre of the campus is marked by densified building along the main axis, the Esplanade, the Cobbenhagen and OZC buildings are more freely sited in space. The construction of the OZC will result in a balanced campus structure in which the OZC is part of the interplay of open, overlapping urban-planning spaces and unob- structed perspectives. We have also taken account of the spatial substructure, in which the route from the railway station plays a key part.
In the southern section the Cobbenhagen building stands free in a green cocoon fringed by trees. The northern section, formerly (and for good reason) nicknamed ‘the Wood’, will now have a similar character. We have enhanced the existing row of trees, the building stands free in space, and the landscape abuts directly on the building, further emphasizing the park-like character of the campus.
The design of the campus is mainly geared to use by pedestrians and cyclists. The green space to the south of the OZC therefore has winding footpaths and a fountain on a lawn. The building is anchored in the overall landscape by the orthogonal paved paths leading to the entrances and by the sunken terrace on the south side of the building.
The building presents itself as more or less equal on all sides; the façades vary in openness, but are never perceived as closed or as rear sides. The east and west façades have the most sunlight in the mornings and evenings, and therefore have a more closed design. The north façade is very transparent, and lets the pleasant northern light in. The south façade, which receives a lot of sun, does not contain areas where people spend time, and so it can be completely transparent.
The logistically well-situated entrances on the south-east and south-west sides in the closed corners link the building to natural pedestrian routes on the campus. This siting frees up the south façade, and the OZC presents itself to the campus with the transparent auditorium and the study plaza to the rear.
Dialogue with Cobbenhagen is also pursued in the design of the building. For an optimum relationship with the surroundings, we have eliminated any programme from parts of the façade, particularly on the south side. This choice has logically led to a patio building, for the patios ensure there is enough façade length to facilitate the complete programme of rooms. The sunken auditorium allows the building to be kept to just two storeys. The outlines, height and type are ultimately similar to Cobbenhagen, but the atmosphere and use are clearly geared to study activities.
We see the Cobbenhagen building as the flagship of the campus, the place where its DNA is in a sense stored. This is why we started by taking a close look at it. At first we literally attempted to make a copy of it, but with the OZC programme. Although this proved a good way to discover the qualities of the building, we saw that it was impossible to achieve the same spatiality with the chosen OZC programme within the Cobbenhagen outlines. The gross/net relations and the type of programme in Cobbenhagen were entirely different, with the main focus on prestige and ceremony. Yet the study greatly helped us to grasp the essence of the OZC and to assemble arguments that would make clear to the client why it should be a different kind of building.
The resulting insight into the spatial quality of the Cobbenhagen building and the study of OZC programme led us to a self-evident design which we then implemented: a building with two patios, with the lecture halls organized on the façade and the large programme sections in the centre.
The final site of the building is determined by the distance from the surrounding buildings and the existing trees. Dialogue with the landscaping of the Cobbenhagen building requires some distance from the surrounding green space. Shifting the building as far north as possible has created more open space in front of the south façade and a maximum continuous area for parking. The transition from the façade to the green cocoon is almost seamless; the omnidirectional building is right in the middle of the grassy landscape, fringed on three sides by trees. The wind-sown pines in the patios are a reference to the trees in De Oude Warande.
The building marks the end of the north flank of the campus. The south façade is oriented towards the main axis of the campus. This façade is completely transparent, providing a view into the heart of the building – the study plaza. The indoor and outdoor areas appear to merge.
Perception of space
Perception of space in the building is determined by proportion, materials and light. It is greatly enhanced by the clear spatial structure, the proportions of the rooms and corridors, the materials used and the amount of daylight let into the building.
The ample dimensions have allowed the programme to be fitted easily into the building. The ground floor is inviting, and the height makes it feel like a truly public space. Together with the size of the study plaza, the patios, the outsize spaces and the transparency of the auditorium, this has created a generous building. The ground floor in fact forms a single landscape in which open study areas, lounge areas, traffic space and a restaurant alternate. Study and relaxation blend together in the heart of the building, where the study programme and multifunctional traffic space merge into a single vital space. The study plaza allows all kinds of different uses. With its transparency, the auditorium is part of this vitality. There is a direct sightline from the study plaza to the auditorium, so major events can also be experienced from here.
The character of the building is enriched by such architectural features as the monumental staircase in the entrance area. Large windows provide views of the magnificent campus landscape in all directions.
To achieve spatial quality similar to that of the Cobbenhagen building, although with a smaller ratio and hence greater efficiency and based on different specifications, we again looked more closely at that building. The stratification of the design with its various perspectives through spaces, the generous height, the proportions of the spaces, the multi-purpose traffic areas, the indoor/outdoor relationship and the way in which the building is fitted into its surroundings were, in addition to the functional specifications, the ingredients for the structure of the design for the Teaching and Self-Study Centre.
The centre’s spatial structure is clear and simple, so that everyone can find their way around, in keeping with the public character of the building.
The auditorium is sunken, with glass walls, so that it does not seem like a closed box-within-a-box. From east to west there are two transparent axes that provide a clear view through the building. These are an inextricable part of the structure and ensure that daylight can penetrate deep into the building. Round the two patios are intimate self-study areas on mezzanines with a lower ceiling height. This sheltered location provides the peace and quiet needed for concentration and study.
Four open staircases leading to the first floor are divided equally over the building. Keeping these open necessitates special compartmentalization in the event of fire, but this is almost completely concealed. There are two lifts for disabled people. The first-floor lecture halls are located on the façade. Besides the auditorium, the basement includes one of the technical installa- tion areas.
The ground floor is designed as a large collective space, a landscape where people can study and take breaks. The programme is fitted in round the study plaza in a relaxed manner, with several views of the outside area. The inside location of the large volumes allows maximum flexibility on the outside, enhanced by the additional façade area round the patios.
To create an omnidirectional building and enliven the plinth, the areas that do not require daylight are wherever possible located in the heart of the building. This has enabled us to use façades for daylight and outside views, and to keep closed sections of façade to a minimum. The result is a symmetrical structure, with the enclosed volumes in the heart of the building surrounded by a spacious, multi-purpose traffic area and a transparent ring of lecture halls.
Users of every type of area can regularly see green space. All the lecture halls that require daylight are on the façade and provide views of both the surrounding landscape and the patios in the building. The landscaped arrangement of the patios, each with its own identity, incorporates the green character of the surroundings into the building. The indoor/outdoor relationship is also expressed in the use of materials. The plaza flooring partly extends into the patios, so that they are perceived as a single entity.
Accessibility, clarity and self-evident internal rout- ing are essential if the OZC is to function properly. There are two main entrances on both side of the south façade that are directly visible from several directions and are easy to find thanks to the footpath structure.
Once inside, visitors immediately have a clear idea of the building and its spaces. The inviting monumental staircase near the eastern entrance is an eye-catching feature that points the way to the first floor. The staircase provides an unobstructed view of the study plaza in the heart of the building. The restaurant can also be reached via the southern passageway past the auditorium. Visitors coming in through the western entrance can immediately see both the auditorium and the restaurant. Here again there is a view of the study plaza and a staircase to the first floor. The lifts are easily accessible from both entrances, but deliberately concealed in the wall to encourage use of the stairs – another reason to keep the staircases open rather than enclose them in fireproof stairwells. The pedestrian routes to higher and lower floors are direct and short.
All the ground-floor and first-floor study and other areas have logical positions in the building and can be reached in a fairly self-evident manner.
The building is designed in a restrained yet identifiable manner, and located right in the green landscape. Like the other buildings on the campus it is made of robust, pure materials. The exterior is a combination of stone, concrete, black aluminium and glass. Its robustness is enhanced by fine detailing and vitality in its use.
The façades, which extend from the lawn to the eaves, form a coherent whole despite their differing characters. From every angle the volume appears as a single entity. The division of the building into several storeys and spaces can only be discerned on second reading. The recessed corners are not only a simple way to give the building a powerful form, but also allow the use of large, unbroken stone surfaces that enhance its calmness and its compatibility with the architecture of the Cobbenhagen building.
The black lines on the glass north and south façades lend them more refinement. The vertical lines ensure that the volume is read as a single entity. Features that extend above the eaves are combined in a black-metal frame. Wherever possible, the roof is green and fitted with solar panels.
The south façade is made of glass from top to bottom, and provides views deep into the building. Behind it is a double-height space that detaches it from the internal structure of the building and acts as a beacon of light during the evening. The entrances in the recessed corners, highlighted by black canopies, are part of this structure, resulting in a simple interplay of planes and delicate lines. The building is deliberately focused on the south side, so that the various traffic flows converge in a logical manner, and the sunken terrace creates a close relationship between indoor and outdoor space. The French windows onto the terrace enliven the plinth. The sculptural appearance and simple use of materials give the building a timeless, restrained and elegant air.
In this restrained, identifiable building with its clear architectural layout, the interior materials have also been kept simple and sober. Although not luxurious, they are high-quality and robust. The main layout of the interior is based on two kinds of space: public open space, and private space.
The public spaces are the traffic area, the open study landscape, the restaurant and the entrance hall. These areas have a flat, power-floated concrete floor and a light-grey expanded metal ceiling. Since the furniture ranges from long wooden tables to study at to colourful comfortable couches and armchairs to relax at, there is varied emphasis and these public spaces can be used in various ways. Features such as the staircases and the awning share a dark colour, creating a ‘family’ of accessories in the public area. The round, light-coloured spiral staircase is a conspicuous feature of the interior.
The enclosed areas are the lecture halls. These have a flat, power-floated concrete floor and a removable ceiling with integrated lighting. The technical installations are concealed. The par- tition walls are partly made of glass, with the doors in the closed sections.
Apart from these two main groups there are the self-study areas and the auditorium with their own range of materials. The auditorium has been given a warm interior. The floors, walls and ceiling are made of wood, so that the area is perceived as a whole. The slatted wood enhances the acoustics. At the same time the interior frames the view into and out of the heart of building. The wooden lines of the walls extend into the ceiling, creating a continuous interplay of black and wooden lines. The lighting of the lines is staggered, with a playful effect. The chairs have moss-green upholstery. Curtains allow the area to be darkened if necessary.
The flooring of the plaza is extended into the patios, creating a seamless inside/outside relationship. The covered section of the patios acts as a veranda, offering protection against the sun and the rain, and its benches allow people to sit out- side whatever the weather. The patios are full of vegetation, each in different colours. The pine trees refer to De Oude Warande. The indoor/outdoor relationship is a key theme in the building. The two green patios truly bring the outside inside.
We take it for granted in Rotterdam, walking around in a city that is one of the greatest sculpture gardens in the world. How amazing it is to be able to stumble upon, lean against or sit on art – sometimes by world-famous artists – that gives our public space more meaning. How amazing it is to have the privilege to welcome or the right to object to the placement of new artworks – works that some cities can only dream of. We seem almost unaware of it.
Siebe Thissen is now providing us with a compendium, an excellent overview placing the art in its social and historical context, and allowing us to see the full wealth of art in Rotterdam’s public spaces. Leafing through this book fills me with pride. I see it as the ‘grand finale’ of an era, now that our ideas on public space are changing rapidly.
While public space used to be defined as space that wasn’t privately owned and was delineated by building facades and entrances, and where on occasion the space might have been entrusted to artists when conceded by the generosity of a builder/owner, today the line between public and private is slowly blurring. A new generation has emerged that no longer aims for possession, not on account of political ideals but because they do not see the point of ownership. It’s the backpack generation, those who were brought to school in the morning and told that their father, neighbour or grandad’s third wife would pick them up after school. It’s the generation that grew up with prosperity and the certainty of everything always being available, though not always from a single source or through ownership. It’s the generation that sees sharing as natural and is not impressed by ownership. The line between public and private is disappearing. The emergence and popularity of Uber, Airbnb and Green Wheels are the consequences. Even Porsche currently has a sharing programme!
So all this also has a significant effect on perceptions regarding the idea of public space. When the concept of ownership no longer clearly distinguishes the separation of public and private spaces, where exactly does public space begin and end? Or does it even end? The establishment of the first POPS, Privately Owned Public Spaces, are indeed already a reality. Insofar as I know, no artworks have yet been installed in these new public spaces that have shown any kind of different response to the space, but it is inevitable that there will be one.
Another exponent of this new sharing is the sharing of knowledge. Information used to be under private custody and traded, but now we are used to a networking and knowledge-sharing society in which it seems that having access to information is free. What we have overlooked, however, is that this is intellectual knowledge, not the know-how and experience that one physically builds by doing. It is the doing that is necessary to master a craft.
Now one of the things that make art in public spaces so special is how well they are made. They have to be, because whether they are free-standing or part of a building, they must have a suitable physiognomy and the right feel, as well as being robust enough to withstand the affections of the public and our climate. Also, the sculptures are often of such a scale that if they were not suitably constructed, they might topple or collapse under their own weight. Creating these works demands therefore not only outstanding artistry, but also a high level of technical craftsmanship. Much can be said about the meaning of the artworks, yet the skill with which these works have been made has long been taken for granted.
Just how unjust this is, becomes apparent when we recognise the serious shortage of real, skilled specialists. True tradesmen are few and far between; there are few craftsmen today who have managed to master, for example, glassblowing, the working and casting of metals, leatherworking, the many forms and applications of stonework, brickwork and concrete, and fabric, lace and pattern production. The list of ‘endangered’ trades seems infinite.
It’s a serious situation because to excel at a particular skill may require many years, even decades, of practice and patience. The urgency is clear from the fact that several multinationals have instigated programmes to recruit real craftsmen. Often older people and sometimes even the very elderly are being hired so as not to lose the knowledge once acquired and to share their expertise with younger people who can learn and pass on the value of the skill – skills that are often necessary to make excellent art.
I am grateful that Siebe’s book has lots of photographs of artists at work. It illustrates the importance of craftsmanship. It has often been artists, in fact, that have ensured that knowledge has not been lost. Let’s take serious note of this, for without craftsmanship there is no art in public spaces.
The timing of this book couldn’t be better. It contributes to awareness of the quality we should be surrounding ourselves with and, moreover, hopefully inspires a respect for the expertise necessary to achieve this. It also reveals to us our attitudes to public space, where the visual arts show us it is truly the discipline that opens our eyes to all the different ways of looking at the world – the ultimate public space. The world is changing at a rapid pace and we are here to experience it. How exciting is that?
The history and the actual planning and development of the Dutch urban landscape is all about water management.
It implies the entire control or balance of the water versus land situation and therefore also includes water as a part of the infrastructure of the country. Aspects as transport, sewage, drainage, storage are constantly measured in balance with reclamation and safety from flooding.
In the Netherlands the production of land or vice versa the flooding of land was and is used as a military, political and economical tool.
Any city in the Netherlands is somehow related to the water or partially developed on reclaimed land.
For Dutch this situation is as normal as breathing. Put a shovel in the ground and the hole will fill itself with water immediately. The permanent relation with the water throughout the history has also asked many sacrifices and has settled in the DNA of our culture. The expression ’poldermodel’ literally refers to the habit of dealing with societal issues by compromising and finding consensus among stakeholders.
One sometimes wonders why people wanted to live here? But it was exactly the smart exploitation of the complex relation to the water that lead in the 16th and 17th century to the ‘first modern economy’ in the world with a very dense network of small cities. Building these cities implied making or reinforcing the land, keeping it in place and making foundations in the water.
There is little stable and dry land available so not only buildings are constructed but so are the streets and the canals. The section canal, street and house are inherently related and intertwined. The houses are built out of the same bricks as the docks, streets and bridges and have similar foundations.
Public, collective and private interests are constantly negotiated in these complex constructions.
Globalization today causes large percentages of the world population to settle down in densely populated, sometimes dangerous deltas all over the world making land-reclamation techniques and proper water-management techniques extremely important. However also the conceptual impact and the political and cultural consequences will become tangible. Construction implies also construction of land and infrastructure and the complex public-private relations as a result.
In the sustainable urban territory the relation to water goes far beyond the technical aspects of land reclamation.
What is sustainable? And, could high-rise be sustainable at all?
Defining categories of sustainability identifies positive attributes in types of buildings, it is a relative system, there is no absolute value. We ask ourselves if high-rise is a type reflecting our dream of the metropolis or is there an economic necessity.
The choice whether to use high-rise for densification or not, depends on the existing urban tissue and a city’s cultural climate ready to absorb high-rise. In The Netherlands we have the luxury of building something for every need, we increase floor space to make cities emptier. As long as we do not develop proper high-rise knowledge and a broad culture of developing building and using high-rise we will not be able to address any real densification issues.
(text by Kees Kaan that has been published in the Book H. Meyer and D. Zandbelt, High-Rise and the Sustainable City Techne Press, 2012)
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The current architectural debate is characterised by the threat of a split between proponents of change and renewal as the motive and motor of progress and the advocates of the tried and tested, and therefore timeless, skills and qualities in architecture.
But is it not the case that progress is found precisely in the equal recognition of change and constancy? In the equivalence of research and knowledge?
Time puts everything in its place. After all, the idea from which the object emanated, was just the cause and, at the end of the day a building is nothing but a tool facilitating human activity.
(text by Kees Kaan appeared in “Enigmatic Code of The Netherlands, Cities, Architecture and Design through an Architect’s Vision”; 2012; pp 03-07)
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The essence in making a choice is found in the source from which the choice is made. Making choices as an architect means developing a vision and making decisions based on that vision, understanding and taking responsibility for the entire design with all its implications. It is a decision out of which actions follow.
The fundamental points of departure in Architecture should not be found in the aim for a certain style or to follow the latest fashion, but in the wish and ability to act freely and to make the most of opportunities and make choices without prejudice, based on concrete facts that form the foundation of a project.
Attempts to deliberately express change in architecture are therefore unnecessary. Architects are part of the times they live in and thus buildings automatically will reflect the spirit of the age.
(text by Kees Kaan)