Institute, The Hague
Netherlands Forensic Institute
THE HAGUE (NL) - The contrast of a cool exterior of steel and glass and an interior of beige brick, sand-coloured concrete and warm colours, is typical of the work of Claus en Kaan Architecten, where outward appearance and contents seldom coincide.
The new premises of the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), a research institute of the Ministry of Justice, are wedged between the junction of the A4 and A13 motorways and the huge Ypenburg residential development, best known for MVRDV's brightly coloured 'Monopoly' houses. Inside the building of close on 28,000 m2, some four hundred employees carry out forensic investigations. The building is not open to the public and is well guarded against unauthorized intrusion. Anyone who has no business here is turned away at the entrance; the building and its environs are constantly monitored by CCTV cameras mounted on the corners of the building.
Despite all this security, the building is not hermetically closed off from the outside world. Indeed, the laboratories are exposed to the public gaze behind storey-high glazing. And although it is not possible to make out precisely what is going on there, it is clear that it involves the sophisticated handiwork of forensic research. Designed by the Rotterdam office of Claus en Kaan, which is headed by Kees Kaan, the NFI building has a rational layout. The laboratories are located behind the facades on three sides of the building. The fourth side is taken up by the entrance, with above it meeting rooms, an auditorium and the library. The laboratories adjoin long corridors on the other side of which are offices grouped around six differently laid out patios. On the longitudinal axis of the building is a double-height central hall, and above that, the staff restaurant. The building is dug into an artificial embankment. Below ground level are work places, test areas and the usual technical installations associated with laboratories. Next to the NFI is a multi-storey car park and a large garden laid out and planted to resemble a fingerprint, that classic piece of evidence in forensic investigations. Embankment and garden provide the building with a suburban setting in an urbanized area in the middle of the Randstad conurbation.
The architectural concept is as rational as the spatial one. The building is heavy in the centre and light at the edges. The patio walls are made of brick, the office walls of concrete, the facades are of glass between projecting black steel bands that give the building the look of a Donald Judd sculpture. The steel bands act as brises soleil, their depth varying with the orientation so that the glass box is not exactly in the centre of the steel box.
The NFI laboratories and offices are uniform; the central spaces are all different. The distinction between generic and specific is a recurrent feature of the work of Claus en Kaan Architecten. For generic commissions like housing, the firm searches for generic solutions, for specific commissions, of which the NFI is an example, for a particular response. What is unusual about the NFI is that it is a specific building with a largely generic programme.
That generic section is treated as an immaculate standardized work environment. Here the building displays a cool, businesslike side: corporate architecture for a government service. In the specific section each space is rendered distinct by differences in size, incidence of light, colour and tactility. Located in the heart of the building, this specific section consists of a sequence of richly contrasting spaces that runs from the low entrance, which is entirely faced with grey stone, to the relatively dark reception area, and from there, via an escalator in a square tube, up to the cathedral-like void of the seventy-metre-long central hall, which would not look out of place in a public building. This hall underscores the intriguing reversal on which this building is based, whereby the confidential work in the labs is exposed to the outside world, while hidden away in the heart is a space frequented by relatively few people, which looks as if it is public.
May | 2005 | Netherlands | Hans Ibelings