EINDHOVEN (NL) - It took ten years before Frank Willems, head of Eindhoven firm WillemsenU, finally saw his idea for his own office building realized. That was the time it took to find a suitable location, negotiate with the local council over what could be built on the plot, secure a change in the zoning plan and deal with neighbourhood objections, plus the design of the building and its construction. 'But it was well worth it in the end,' Willems insists. 'In the first place because it's a wonderful place to work. But it's also become a real calling card for us; it's earned us several commissions.'
The office stands on what was previously an anonymous 'residual space', a small park on Eindhoven's ring road, next to a residential area. The arrival of the tall, narrow wooden building with its enormous windows has given the place an identity, without depriving the neighbourhood of its green space. After making an inventory of all the existing trees on the site and transplanting two small trees, the architect raised the building volume and placed it on a concrete core and eight columns in the midst of the trees. The plot is deliberately fenceless and local children continue to come and play there – only now there is 'supervision'; in the past there had been problems with junkies.
The respectful treatment of the surroundings was the first of several steps towards creating a sustainable building. WillemsenU (founded in 1990), which started designing sustainably also in the '90s, was keen to pursue this theme as fully as possible in its new office. The building's internal layout is flexible thanks to its free plan, and so will be able to be used in different ways in the future. The timber-frame structure and timber facade are demountable and the components can be separated and reused. The facade is clad with an untreated FSC-certified wood type (Louro Preto) that develops a natural grey patina over time.
The basis for the energy-efficient building services is an underground thermal energy storage. The rooms are heated or cooled with the aid of concrete core activation. The air conditioning system is also connected to this plant (via a thermal wheel). Although this system provides for the ventilation of the entire building, it is also possible to open the narrow windows. The large picture windows, which 'frame' the trees in the park, ensure abundant daylight penetration. Artificial lighting is provided by energy-saving LEDs.
The interior, whose atmosphere is largely determined by views of the park, is soberly but meticulously designed. Willems, by his own account, has made no concessions. Details like skirting boards, door and window frames have been eliminated as much as possible and the concrete staircase and ceilings have not been given any finishing (also because of the concrete core activation). But the staircase is embellished with a light artwork designed by two artists: a flight of LED birds that ascend the entire stairwell. Another nice detail is the rubber floor covering made from recycled tyres.
The office is built on a presumption of growth. At present WillemsenU occupies the top floor and the other two floors are leased. But the firm, partly thanks to the spin-offs generated by the new building, is doing well. 'Our expertise with respect to sustainable building is helping us to weather the crisis,' explains Frank Willems. 'It's not just the look of the building that appeals to clients. Here we can also show them what is possible nowadays in the field of building services. That despite the large expanses of glass, it is pleasantly cool in summer. And we are able to convince them that even when you are working to a tight budget there are other finishing solutions apart from standard ceiling systems.'
August | 2011 | Netherlands | Kirsten Hannema