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Swing to work
von Adeline Seidel | 10/27/2013
Photo left © Marcel van der Burg | Photo right © NS Stations
Work can be fun after all! At least if we believe the “creative knowledge workers” of today. Precisely they need a different kind of work space: Where knowledge is supposed to be “networked” there is little point in relying on office rooms that stem from an era when there was work and then leisure time, rather than a work-life balance. Amsterdam’s “NL Architects” handled the conversion of the “NS Statiosn” HQ (a subsidiary of the Dutch railway company), realizing different usages and a variety of quality working spaces in an “old” office building. The latter dates back to the 1970s and proved to be astonishingly flexible when it came to fulfilling the requirements of a brave new working world.
Drawing © NL Architects
The tower is 55 meters high and seemingly floats over the Utrecht railway station – it was last subjected to conversion work in 1999, when the striking façade, typical of 1970s brutalism, disappeared behind a dual glass curtain wall. What looked like a cosmetic move actually had dire consequences for the offices behind, as the open plan structure was rescinded in favor of single cells. And suddenly the interior had as good as no natural light.
Drawing © NL Architects
The brief “NL Architects” received was to create a work environment that was bright, well laid out, and allowed the introduction of flexible work structures. To this end, the architects removed all the walls dividing the single cells, relocated the toilet block and server room to the high rise’s narrow sides. As a result, the depth of each story is opened up, and the structure of the reinforced concrete skeleton that so strongly defines the individual character of the offices becomes apparent for all to see.
Drawing © NL Architects
“Thick Walls” are modular wall cupboards that can be used in many ways and these now structure the 800 square meters of each story, creating zones for a variety of purposes. In this way, a clear, uncluttered layout is possible, freed of monofunctional furniture and useless corridors and instead affording various opportunities for visual contact between the different sections.
Photos © Marcel van der Burg
In workshops held jointly with the railway company staff layouts were defined and adapted to the respectively individual requirements. In this way, the zoning of the various stories differ, depending on the ratio of flexible to fixed work and the number of meetings zones, quiet zones and shared areas. The workshops had the additional effect of conveying to staff the new potential for open ground plans; after all, many had been used for decades to working in single-cell offices.
Photos © Marcel van der Burg
In order to imbue each story with an identity of its own, in each the architects introduced an element specific to it alone. This “special” could be a swinging chair, an unusual set of seating, or something you can casually lean against, and in each case the item is custom-made.
Photos © Marcel van der Burg
Moreover, NL Architects introduced an additional flight of stairs in each floor that links two stories respectively. Since the position of the staircases changes, the result is different layouts and leisure settings.
Photos © Marcel van der Burg/div>
Lunch together is an important part of any Dutch working day. And to make certain staff members from a particular story do not dine alone, one of the nine floors was converted into a large shared space containing a cafeteria and various seating and leisurely settings.

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