De Walvis: an intruder becomes a pleasant neighbour

KAAN Architecten als Architects, Landscape designer

In historical Amsterdam, the office building De Walvis on Bickerseiland has been stripped down to its bones and completely revitalised by KAAN Architecten. The client MaarsenGroep requested a "hip and industrial feel"that would leave everyonein awe and fit with their envisaged future tenants from the advertising, media, and tech sector. Confident interventions in the structure have resulted in a sleek and elegant sculptural form.

De Walvis is a building with a history. It was part of Amsterdam's urbanisation project of the early 1960s, forced upon local residents despite their protests. Property developer F.H. Gaus announced that Bickerseiland would become a Little Manhattan. Ultimately, this became a turning point in municipal planning policies, shifting from upscaling to community-based building. The current architectural manifestation has turned the building from an intruder into a pleasant neighbour.

With circa 10,000 m2 gross floor area, De Walvis is a typical office building of the rationalist style that emerged in the 1950s-60s. It was designed by architect W.F. Lugthart (1921-1999), known mostly for his Diaconessenziekenhuis in Eindhoven, the first Dutch hospital built by 'stacking floors'. The neighbourhood did not consider De Walvis – ‘The Whale’ in Dutch,named after the old shipyard nearby– an improvement architecturally and sooner sawit as a threat to their community.

Inspired by the work of artist Donald Judd and drawing on their earlier work, KAAN Architectenhasoptically separated the floors of De Walvis. However, this strong horizontal emphasis is flexible on the interior since some openings have been left in the floors to potentially link them in the future. The floors now extend about a metre beyond the original building and consist of solid-looking dark bands that areactually light, hollow metal constructions. 

Recessed bands of triple glazing further optimise the effect of 'floating' floors on each storey – the windows seem to go from floor to ceiling and have almost invisible vertical rebates. To avoid a sense of fragility, portholes have been incorporated into the glazing in a tight rhythm, at eye-level per floor, and all easily opened. These round pivot windows could be seen asa reference to the area's maritime history, though they also recall the pivot windows of the old building.

The load-bearing structure of De Walvis dictated a rather meagre 3 metres per storey, which meant that the necessary technical facilities could not be hidden away in the floors and ceilings. By keeping each storey as open as possible, the building appears much lighter than before – and the big windows, the views over the neighbourhood and the daylight pouring in help to achieve this lightness. This effect is heightened at night when the interior lights are on. Light, space and sightlines – these were the seeds of the early design, alongside functional clarity and elegant facades. 

Additional design decisions that radically impact the sense of spatiality include setting back the ground floor lobby, richly clad in marble and appearing to detach the building from its footing, and removing entirely the heavy entablature that previously pressed down on De Walvis, giving the building plumpness.

De Walvis is still a prominentbuilding in its surroundings, though the high-density housing on the other side of Westerdok puts this into perspective. KAAN Architectenhasintroduced clear lines into the building: with the load-bearing columns mostly hidden within the envelope, the protruding floors are its most expressive facet. This horizontality is the soul of the structure.

The building's regeneration has been awarded the BREEAM Excellent certificate, an internationally recognisedpoints-based rating system that scores the sustainability and minimal environmental impact of a building.

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Brinkhof Amsterdam

Fokkema & Partners Architecten B.V. als Interior Architecture

Design for a Law firm on the top floors of a 1960's office building.

On the top floors of a sustainable redevelopment, Fokkema & Partners outfitted Brinkhof with a design that self-evidently transforms the slightly raw open space floorplates into a comfortable and classy law office.

With its move to ‘De Walvis’, the lawfirm Brinkhof chose an iconic building on the Bickerseiland in Amsterdam, constructed in the 1960’s. It was stripped to the bone and completely rebuilt into a contemporary and sustainable multi-tenant building according to a design by KAAN Architects. The Brinkhof office is situated on the top floors and boasts amazing views over the city of Amsterdam and the IJ river. Alongside the workspaces it features a meeting centre, library, restaurant and a roof terrace.

By adding a large rooflight and a void to connect the top 3 floors, daylight enters at the heart of the building. The intervention makes use of the vast building depth. The vertical interconnection of the work-space breaks up the large floor surfaces with a relatively low ceiling height, transforming the complete spatial experience. A spiral staircase is placed against an interior façade-like backdrop; a wall with lush greenery. With this dynamic to complement the building architecture, the culture of the law firm is optimally supported.

Due to the nature of their work, the firm wanted many closed workspaces and meeting rooms. With largely glazed separations, the sightlines and a transparent spatial character are preserved. Slender wooden doors and doorframes alternate with the glass, forming a self-evident sequence of transparent and closed faces. Corridors are wide and feel like an extension of the private spaces, up to the integrated cupboards where the flooring shifts to a dark colour. The office provides a tranquil, spacious and warm work environment where both concentration and providing mental space are key.

The interior has an outspoken colour scheme with gold-coloured faces, brass frames, shades of brown, blue, beige and natural wood. All are balanced to create a subdued yet refined atmosphere. The exposed ceiling with its accentuated black installations and white lighting fixtures merges with the raw building structure. The clear and rythmic interior design is a warm counterpart to stucture and frame the open space while taking advantage of the views. In combination with abundant greenery, the design provides Brinkhof with a welcoming environment that is strikingly transparent and fits like a glove.

Architects, Landscape designer
Building physics, fire safety, BREEAM and acoustics advisor
General contractor
Technical installations advisor, supervision installations

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