Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
The office as a hotel in Rotterdam, the Netherlands by Powerhouse Company
November 4th, 2014 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Powerhouse Company
For its latest completed project, Powerhouse Company has renovated an iconic Rotterdam office building. The architect started by turning the entrance into a crossover between a hotel lobby, restaurant and coffee bar.
Almost two years in the making, the first phase of the refurbishment of Wim Quist’s iconic 1988 Willemswerf Office Building for a.s.r. vastgoed vermogensbeheer is now complete. Located in the former Nedlloyd Group headquarters – designed by one of Rotterdam’s most important post-war architects – Powerhouse Company has transformed the lower ground and ground floors as part of a commission to renovate each of the 24-storeys over eight years.
The focus was on preserving the character of the building: its mastery of materials, great spatial quality and precise detailing, all features the architect admires and wanted to enhance.
A Rotterdam Original
After 25 years, however, Wim Quist’s Willemswerf Building had deteriorated – from the brown staining on the marble floors, to its rather redundant lobby area. With a collection of random objects including scale models of ships and art pieces in the foyer, it no longer had the feel of a high-end office complex. Hence, the present owner of the building approached Powerhouse Company to update the interior in a sensitive and respectful manner.
Naturally, it was a great honour. The building – with its distinctive sloping glass trapezoid elevation – was a pioneer of its day, being one of the first buildings to regenerate the banks of the Nieuwe Maas river in the post-industrial landscape, and one of Quist’s most famous works. Willemswerf is characterised by its ‘total concept’ design, where materials, detail and spatial expression are continued inside and out. Central to this is a geometric grid, which forms the basis of all the building’s design decisions – the small, square white ceramic tiles, structural columns, room plan and flooring.
On analysing the current use of the building, the practice came to the conclusion that the over-sized, empty lobby had no substantial function anymore. It was originally designed for a single-tenant building, but now that it had become a multi-tenant building, it was not particularly ‘owned’ by anyone. That is why Powerhouse Company decided to move the restaurant – previously located on the first floor – to the lobby. As a consequence, this opened up an extra floor of rentable office space. The architect added also a coffee bar and seating areas; creating an area suitable for receiving clients and visitors, as well as engaging with them informally over coffee.
From the outset the architect used Quist’s existing geometric grid as its guiding principle, adding warm, luxurious materials to create a more welcoming, tactile atmosphere. It sought the original architect’s expertise and contribution to the project, a man now well into his eighties. Together they had lengthy discussions exploring the character of the building and its development.
In the early 2000s, office environments were a mechanism to make a quick buck on the developers’ side and to save money on the tenants’ side. Offices built with these short-term views have already started to deteriorate, because their quality was low. On the other hand, now buildings like Willemswerf – built with care by devoted clients – often lie vacant. Powerhouse Company sees value in adding qualities to these kind of office buildings so that they can offer higher standards than the typical new office building.
The ‘office as a hotel’ experience starts with the drop-off: a ramped drive-through circuit in the undercroft. The entrance has been opened up by new surfacing and a clean-line glazed wall with views through to the drop-down, helix staircase and up to the lobby and a diminishing spiral pendant light, designed by Nanne de Ru specifically for this project. A new mirrored wall focuses the journey to the ground floor, while the lifts are presented as a black door to a golden capsule.
Arriving up the slow, sweeping staircase, you enter the wedge-shaped piano nobile. The artworks have been removed and replaced by clusters of classic Modernist sofas, armchairs and coffee tables. The space has become a lobby-like meeting place, an area to conduct business in an informal, calm and sociable environment. Worn-out rugs from Morocco and standing lamps give intimacy to each of the seating areas by marking out imaginary walls and rooms. To serve the lobby, a high-quality coffee bar and brasserie has been established around a new central core, representing a radical departure from the original design and freeing up the entire floor from one side to the other. The bar overlooks the lobby and the river, while the brasserie tables have views out onto the Hertekade.
In the lobby, a central core acts like a large piece of fitted furniture, containing the kitchen, scullery, bathrooms, lifts, service amenities and four cosy six-person diner-style, leather-upholstered seating booths. On the lobby aspect, the white tiles have been removed in favour of a dark brown marble, aligned to the all-important grid. At upper levels, rendering has replaced the tiles to soften the clinical nature of the former design, but the grid references have been drawn out across the ceiling to highlight its perfect intersection with the building’s structure, windows, flooring and principle features.
The overall palette is designed to be more tactile and colourful, but only from the materials themselves. While the original scheme of concrete, tiles and white marble has been extended for use on the bathroom walls and doors, others have been added anew: the sparkling black mosaic in the toilet cubicles, brown Sierra Elvira marble wall covering and the wenge wood in the restaurant and bar. Brass is also a reoccurring theme in this interior fit-out: on the elevator surround, striking yellow-gold giallo Siena marble facing to the brasserie self-service bar and full end wall tinted mirror.
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