The Studio - Amsterdam
Blitta / Wessel de Jonge Architecten BNA BV
www.blitta.nl / www.wesseldejonge.nl
Award category for entry:
Building & Architecture
Taken into production / produced on:
The Studio project Amsterdam
The Studio project encompasses the conversion of the former GAK social insurance building into owner occupier studios for starters on the housing market. The building in the up-and-coming Amsterdam district Bos en Lommer, bounded by the A10 motorway, was completed in 1959 according to a design by former city architect Ben Merkelbach (1901-1961) as a prime example of innovation in construction techniques in the period. Based on American examples, the colossus occupying almost 40,000 m2 gross floor area was the first building in the Netherlands to be fully equipped with air conditioning combined with a double-glazed curtain wall with green heat-absorbent glass and a ground loop heat exchange system in the groundwater. The former occupiers – the Gemeentelijk Administratie Kantoor – left the building around 2004. The innovative aluminium glass façade had by this time reached the end of its lifecycle, mainly due to the surface degradation of the untreated aluminium caused by increased traffic volumes on the A10 motorway, combined with advancing corrosion of the steel posts between the aluminium façade elements.
The long-term vacancy of the premises had a negative effect on the new investments in the district, which is attracting many newcomers to Amsterdam and young entrepreneurs. Although urgent in socioeconomic terms, it was no easy task to find a new use for this immense complex. AM is a project developer with a long history of activities in the capital city housing market. Together with Stadgenoot, a housing corporation with numerous premises in the district, they joined forces to identify a socially relevant new use for the building. At the same time, the building had been earmarked by organisations promoting preservation of the capital’s 20th-century architectural heritage. New use or not, the architectonic appearance of Merkelbach´s innovative masterpiece had to be preserved. Although not granted any formal status as a national landmark, it was agreed with the District Council that the project would have to be approved by the municipal heritage committee. Wessel de Jonge architects were called in for the job, partly based on their years of experience with recent architectural heritage such as the Van Nelle Design Factory in Rotterdam.
Given the size of the building, the decision was taken to first convert the inside of the north wing into 320 compact residential studios each with a floor area of approx. 25 m2, but in order to preserve the overall look, to install a new curtain wall across the entire building. In combination with the small apartments, space was created in the two-storey lower level for spacious entrance halls, a caretaker and a laundrette. Space was also provided for food and catering outlets, flexible workstations and rentable units for start-ups and small-scale business. By partially opening up the floor on the first storey, multi-storey open spaces have been created. The interior design was by Zecc architects. Earmarking the ground level for these functions has increased public safety and ties in well with the surroundings. The District Council has converted the area in front of the building into a magnificent city park which is readily used by local residents in the summer. The influx of new residents represents an economic boost for the impoverished shopkeepers and market vendors of the Bos en Lommerplein.
In close collaboration between architects, IBS Consultants and Blitta, an aluminium element façade was designed that precisely follows the original outline almost to the millimetre, while fully complying with modern requirements regarding air, water and sound-proofing. Because the original green glass was still available, the authentic look of the façade was achieved, in combination with up-to-date façade techniques, as was indeed the case with the original building.
The clean-lined rhythm created by alternating strips of glass and spandrel panels refers to the building’s former function. With a view to its new use, also operable windows were fitted. Because of the height of the building, so-called Paff windows were used. Paff windows move horizontally outwards by approx. 100 mm, in an upright position. This decision also prevented the need to add security bars to prevent residents falling out of the windows, which would have detracted from the original look. On the A10 motorway side, given the extreme levels of fine particulate and noise nuisance, a so-called ‘conservatory façade’ has been installed, whereby a double façade is created by means of a secondary aluminium sliding unit. By ventilating the space between the two façades with outside air, the municipality of Amsterdam has granted this solution equivalent status to a completely sealed, so-called ‘deaf’ façade. The considerable volume of air required is sucked in through horizontal slits at the bottom of the newly installed aluminium spandrel panels, that are concealed by an additional drip which renders the opening virtually invisible from the ground floor, and using twin panels between which the outside air is drawn into the ventilation units. In the engineering solution, Blitta succeeded in integrating this difficult detail of the new façade technology – together with overcoming a whole other set of challenges – in the original layout, in the form of an entirely contemporary system that furthermore proved efficient and reliable in its actual installation. Just like in 1959, the curtain wall has once again become a highly innovative element of the complex, lending a huge added-value to the original building.
The innovative housing product – cheap owner occupier studios – has also proved a success, and all 320 apartments were sold prior to completion of the north wing. The south wing has meanwhile also been tendered, allowing the conversion of another 310 residential units to be ready by the end of 2014.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Wessel de Jonge Architecten BNA - Rotterdam
Blitta / Schüco