Rijkswaterstaat Head Office

Quick! What do you think of when you hear this phrase: underwater ghost moose?

If your answer was “public works,” congratulations, you’re either a Dutch architect or think like them (24H Architecture, to be precise). They designed this building in Assen for Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch agency in charge of roads and waterways. This building has a lot of things that I really like and a few blaring deficiencies. We’ll start on the outside and work our way in.

I don’t understand the complete lack of landscaping. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some sort of pervious, green parking lot (since it appears to be a suburban location without the amenities of a real city), but you would think there would at least be some sod or something, especially on the mound that surrounds the building itself. Maybe it’s just not done, but then that raises the question, why would you send in the photographer when the project isn’t finished?

The south facade, while brutal even by the architect’s assessment, is very interesting. I feel like it fits for a group that builds roads. The pattern on the side suggests to me a chevron, representing speed, and the alignment and spacing of the windows almost looks like cars and trucks on a busy street. The areas between the chevrons have a very rough surface, and the stated intent of the architect was that these areas would eventually fill in with moss, which would greatly soften the look of this wall.

The north facade, by contrast, is much softer. Though there is a similar nihilism to the windows, something that Nikos Salingaros would be bothered by, the facade is soft wood, and almost looks like it would be more in place in a Finnishforest than on the side of a Dutch highway. The waving lines in front of the main part of the facade suggest the presence of water, the other main concern for the bureau. I really like the way these two facades work together. While the concrete suggests modernism and strength, the wood suggests softness, nature, and tradition. While I would much rather live in an all wood house than an all concrete one, I think that this building does a good job of taking the best of what concrete has to offer and making it fit comfortably with the wood.

I like the entrance. First of all, I think its good that they took the time to consider a ramp and integrate it into the design, rather than as an afterthought. I really like the steps that are filled with gravel and hope that they are fully permeable, and don’t just have concrete underneath them, which would frustrate the sustainability goals of the developer.

On the inside, the space opens up, with group workstations on the north wall and offices on the south, with a large open space in the middle. The wood is continued within, but generally lighter, which is appropriate for an interior. This space shows the different ways that wood can be employed, both as flooring, sheathing and structural elements. In some parts of the interior, the walls are decorated with aquatic or foliage patterns (both in blue, for some reason). The central space is made up of a fairly grand, three-tiered staircase. I will say that I find it attractive, but I wonder about its functionality. Will it have plants on it? Will it be a meeting space? If so, what elements would be necessary to make it safe? Is it just to be left as-is?

One thing that appears in some places is the interplay between detail surfaces, such as the wood that sheathes a lot of the interior, and the blank, yellow-green surfaces in some part. In some cases, blank spaces play well with the detail found in natural surfaces, such as on the white spaces next to the doors in the picture above, which almost have sort of a space-age feel. But to cover large expanses of wall with a single color and no manner of detailing, it just gets boring. It looks naked. It looks like you meant to put up pictures, but never got around to it. The kitchen in this building looks particularly bare. But who knows, maybe that’s where the motivational posters will go when this place is actually in use.

By the way, I just searched “underwater ghost moose” on Google, and got no results.


About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

One Response to Rijkswaterstaat Head Office

  1. hemp says:

    ……….The project aimed to encapsulate the identity of Rijkswaterstaat in a sustainable building that manifests the organizations core activities…… ……The project aimed to encapsulate the identity of Rijkswaterstaat in a sustainable building that manifests the organizations core activities.

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