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Modern office garden behind ancient facade | Provinciehuis Zeeland in Middelburg by M + R interior architecture

 

Within the historic walls of the Librije, M + R interior architecture designed an office with flexible workplaces and differentiated zones. The office garden fits in with contemporary developments in the working environment, but matches the character of the building in terms of atmosphere, rhythm and materialization.

Text Afke Laarakker
Image Studio de Winter | Herman de Winter

The office landscape originated in Germany in the 1960s, as a new way of organizing the space that made more efficient collaboration possible.1 In the meantime, the open work floor can no longer be ignored in the office environment. In addition to efficient cooperation and of course saving costs, the social aspect, meeting colleagues, is also suggested as an important argument for the open office garden.

Office gardens are undergoing major developments, also because the disadvantages of sharing a large space with many colleagues are becoming clearer. The media regularly pays attention to the unrest and the associated loss of concentration in the office garden with flexible workplaces.

A lot of research is being done into how 'the new way of working' can work. Researchers Jan Peter Hoedervanger and Gerry Hofkamp looked at the extent to which these research results are applied in practice. The conclusion is clear: it is not happening enough. The main problems that arise as a result are lack of visual and auditory privacy, no or little differentiation for different types of work, insufficient concentration workplaces, too few workplaces in relation to the number of employees and underestimation of the behavioral and cultural change that is required.

The fact that these problems arise is not only due to the fact that the research is not studied enough, but also that the research is generic. To be able to use it better, clear objectives of the client and a thorough analysis of the specific situation are necessary, the researchers say.


Long relationship

Thanks to a long cooperation with the province of Zeeland, M + R had the opportunity to get to know the objectives and culture of the client well. In order to create support for flexible working, the architect already set up the Heerkamer of the Abbey as a meeting place in 2014. In addition, the province has appointed a flexible work supervisor for several years.

The contract for the renovation of the Librije was conducted through a multiple private contract. Therefore, before the architect could talk to the users about their wishes, the tender had to be won with a sketch design. Although the sketching phase was paid for, Hans Maréchal would rather have received the assignment from M + R via desk presentations. “The tendering system in the Netherlands is sick,” Maréchal explains, “The procedure takes a lot of time, the client often does not get what he wants and the architect delivers a terrible amount of unpaid work, which must then be earned back with other assignments. This way, time and sometimes quality are lost. "

  
User Consultation
The system does not exist for nothing, desk presentations would simply encourage unfair competition, because acquaintances of the client have a big advantage in such a case. M + R shows a solution itself, with a smart design method the architect was able to supplement the missing information. During the first phase, the architect only designed the outline of the plan and made sketch models of this in the form of a dollhouse. Employees of the Province then puzzled to the desired layout with separate, usable parts of meeting rooms, flexible workplaces and quiet rooms. The color concept, an important atmosphere determiner, was also determined by the employees.


New building in old hull

The design of M + R has been realized within the Librije of the Abbey. The Abbey was founded in the fifteenth century. Since 1850 it has been used as the office of the province of Zeeland. Historically, the building is a mishmash. Due to the major city fire that raged in Middelburg during the Second World War, the interior and roof were completely destroyed. Only the exterior walls and construction under the ground floor date from the fifteenth century. The architect of the Government Buildings Agency, Henri de Lussanet de la Sablonière, was responsible for the renovation after the war. He had wanted to restore the interior of the Abbey to its former state, but due to a lack of money he could sometimes only prevent the building from collapsing again with quick, cheap constructions. Behind the old skin of the Librije is a modern building with a concrete table construction.

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The Librije is made up of two wings that are accessed via one stairwell. The floors in the two wings are half a floor apart and differ in beech size. In the seventies, when the renovated building had just been delivered, it was completely crammed with office cells. M + R striped the building and built the contemporary office garden from it.

From excitement to tranquility

The long horizontal wooden frames of the fraction rooms are inspired by the massive frames of the Abbey. This linearity can also be seen in the post-war barrel vault. The play of vertical lines is traversed in the vertical direction by long luminaires that M + R added. A support floor from the fifties has been preserved on the first floor. The difference in height and the narrowing creates extra intimacy at the back of the wing.

On the second floor, part of the wooden roof construction from the fifties can still be seen. Unfortunately, it was inevitable that a large part of that construction would be hidden behind suspended ceilings, says Maréchal. Yet the construction, old or new, hidden or not, still gives the room a pleasant atmosphere. M + R is nicely indented by the use of wood in the window frames, tables and chairs.

Thanks to the existing structure, the color differences and the differentiation of the workplaces, six office gardens are created, each with its own atmosphere. They are in keeping with the character of the Librije.


Character

The long horizontal wooden frames of the fraction rooms are inspired by the massive frames of the Abbey. This linearity can also be seen in the post-war barrel vault. The play of vertical lines is traversed in the vertical direction by long luminaires that M + R added. A support floor from the fifties has been preserved on the first floor. The difference in height and the narrowing creates extra intimacy at the back of the wing.

On the second floor, part of the wooden roof construction from the fifties can still be seen. Unfortunately, it was inevitable that a large part of that construction would be hidden behind suspended ceilings, says Maréchal. Yet the construction, old or new, hidden or not, still gives the room a pleasant atmosphere. M + R is nicely indented by the use of wood in the window frames, tables and chairs.

Thanks to the existing structure, the color differences and the differentiation of the workplaces, six office gardens are created, each with its own atmosphere. They are in keeping with the character of the Librije.


Meet and concentrate

In the Librije, too, the tension between the office as a place for social interaction and as a place to work concentrated is palpable. Maurice Buuron works for the province, he says that because there is hardly any staffing in the Librije, employees often have a fixed base. The workplace is less attuned to the need for rest or consultation, but rather to the presence of project colleagues. As a result, informal consultation is sometimes perceived as a nuisance in the otherwise silent office, rather than as the client and architect had in mind, as a given of a specific workplace.

Maréchal is positive about the development that office interiors become more informal; In his opinion, encouragement invites collaboration and information exchange. The atmosphere of the office is informal, thanks to the brightly colored consultation areas, kitchen table chairs and colored pieces of carpet in the otherwise beige floor covering. At the same time, it enters into a dialogue with the existing materialization and structure of the Librije. The character of a building never bores, says Maréchal, so the interior should do justice to this. Relaxation areas such as playgrounds with swings or slides that can sometimes be found in office interiors these days, he calls a superficial fashion phenomenon.

1. Andreas Rumpfhuber, The incorporation of Dissent. Bürolandschaft's Legacy, Harvard 2018.
2. Jan Peter Hoedervanger, Gerry Hofkamp, The contemporary office. The practice and its blind spots, Deventer 2017.
3. Rosa Zaccagnini-Visser, "The Abbey Complex in Middelburg Architectural Deception?", Bulletin KNOB, Utrecht 2003.

This article appeared in the March edition of the Architect.

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