This is
Architecture
for Society

In the run up to our 40th anniversary, Benthem Crouwel Architects introduces a reinforced team of seven partners. A great moment to offer a closer look at our work and the vision behind it.
 
Amsterdam Central Station © Jaasir Linger.jpg
 

What does architecture for society look and feel like in reality? How does architecture shape the future of society? How does architecture serve private and public interest? Discover this on a tour of some of our most intriguing projects, with our partners as your guide.

Scroll down to start reading, or use these links to jump ahead:

 
Las Palmas office, Rotterdam
Central Station, Rotterdam
Metro Line 18, Paris
 
 

© Anneke Hymmen

 
 

Interviews by Sophie Knight

Portraits and moving images by Jaasir Linger

Project photography by Jannes Linders, Jaasir Linger and Iwan Baan.

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A proud and friendly cloud

Data Centre Equinix AM3/AM4, Amsterdam

 
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“It’s a paradox: we all want our personal data to be safe, but we feel awkward about large data centres in our cities, because we don’t want fortress-like buildings surrounded by high-security fences in public spaces.

And yet, since data centres need to be near strong internet connections and power lines, we can’t store all our data in remote areas. As the amount of data we generate and store continues to expand, we need to build data centres in and around our cities. The challenge is to make them highly secure and friendly looking at the same time. 

Equinix wanted to build a data centre in a science park in the east of Amsterdam. They had to fit in with the campus area while giving clients reassurance that it is a safe place to store their data.

 
 

© Jannes Linders

“For data centres to gain social acceptance in cities, we must make sure their aesthetics relate to their surroundings.”

Pascal Cornips, partner since 2017

We designed a canal as the first layer of security, a less hostile alternative to a barbed-wire fence. Workers and visitors then pass through an ID check-point in the light and high-ceilinged foyer. To reach the data centre itself, which is in a separate building, they cross a bridge, painted red inside, to psychologically prepare themselves to enter a high-security area. 

After scanning their fingerprints, they end up in a clean white space. It’s a far cry from the converted warehouses that often serve as data centres.

From the outside aesthetics are cool and stately: it resembles a large hard-drive, with horizontal louvers that pass out the air from the cooling system. The high-rise building is made out of aluminium, which reflects anything around it. On overcast days it will look exactly like ‘the cloud’(s) that pass it, and that it contains within.”

 
 
 
 

Keep scrolling for a special museum visit.

 
 

The corridor of surprises

Museum de Pont, Tilburg

 
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© Jannes Linders

 

“In most art galleries, you have a sense of what to expect when you enter, since the halls are symmetrical and the route is predictable. In contrast, at Museum de Pont, visitors enter the foyer and are faced with a softly-lit 60 metre corridor ahead of them, ending in a garden. What kind of rooms lead off this corridor is unclear. There is a sense of anticipation, a sense of excitement. What surprises lie in wait?

That was the emotion I hoped to elicit when I designed the corridor, making a completely new opening in an exterior wall to do so. Even when the museum renovates or changes exhibitions, the long corridor remains: it’s a vital element for us.

 

“The gallery is a hidden place, a quiet place you have to discover. It’s all about the art, and the architecture helps you to discover the art.”

Mels Crouwel, founding partner

 

Converted from a former wool factory, we wanted the museum to retain its sense of history in contrast to the clean, white aesthetic of a modern art gallery. The steel and glass ceiling, though unusually low for a gallery, was restored and kept: now, the light that flows through it casts unusual moving shadows on the Anish Kapoor works through the day, bringing them to life in a unique way. And the exterior brick walls, bearing signs of their age, have become part of the new interior with an extension that includes a restaurant.

The decision-making process when renovating was long. Deciding on the height of the interior walls alone took us two years of experiments. Unlike bustling urban galleries, where you feel yourself hurried and distracted by the din of other visitors, the Museum de Pont has become a refuge for reflection and the purest appreciation of art.”

 
 
 

No building has a single designer. Let's have a look at a unique collaborative project.

 
 

A daring design game

Goede Doelen Loterijen HQ, Amsterdam

 
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“Leaving their beloved villas next to Amsterdam’s favourite park was a daunting prospect for the Goede Doelen Loterij (Charity Lotteries) staff. By organising co-creation workshops and by offering constant collaboration on the designs and plans, we managed to create a new office building where they will feel even more at home.

First, we held a creative workshop to discuss the staff’s wish list for the building. These wishes reflected the organisation’s core values: sustainable, courageous, fun, and sharing. They wanted the highest sustainable rating on the BREEAM scale and many of their requests centred around being eco-friendly: a green roof, solar panels, using greywater for the toilets.

Their courage and sense of fun became very evident with the design for the interior atrium.“We don’t want the typical atmosphere of an office building,” the chairman of the company said. That’s when we decided to abandon the usual design process and invite the staff to contribute their own ideas for their new interior. Their sketches of old Amsterdam canal facades will be echoed in the new atrium, that feels like a city square surrounded by houses.

 
 

Virtual maquette © Benthem Crouwel

“This really was a process of co-creation; they knew what they wanted, we added our expertise so they could realise their dreams.”

Saartje van der Made, partner since 2017

Lastly, sharing. The client wanted the office to be as open and transparent as possible: a public restaurant, an open foyer, and glass exterior walls, so neighbours can see exactly what’s going on inside. The elevated ground floor will even be lowered to street level to put the organisation ‘on the same level’ as people outside.

There, they will be shadowed under the new roof, cut out of aluminium in such a way that it filters light like leaves, creating an ‘indoor park’ that will hopefully make up for the park the staff are leaving behind.”

 
 
 
 

Our next stop is Amsterdam Central Station.

 
 

Opening the Amsterdam waterfront

Central Station, Amsterdam

 
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© Jannes Linders

 

“Amsterdam is sometimes called the Venice of the North, but it didn't always have a pretty waterfront. When the state decided to build a central train station in the late 1800s, they made a new island by the docks to base it on. And with that, Amsterdam lost its view over the water.

In the 1990s, the waterfront was a derelict, neglected area. And the city side of the station had become chaotic and difficult to reach, with all the different types of traffic running through one another. We were brought on board to help create a 20-year masterplan for the entire station. One of the goals was to link the city to the water again. It took one smart and effective spatial solution: by moving all the infrastructure from the city side to the waterfront, such as creating a tunnel for car traffic, and placing busses on the same level as the trains, we were able to clean out the station square and at the same time redevelop the waterfront.

By moving the infrastructure, the ground level became free for pedestrians and cyclists to move safely from the IJ to the city, without crossing any fast traffic. A new canopy that mimics the older glass arches inside the station, provides just enough rain cover while giving a view of the IJ river. Enormous red letters spelling ‘AMSTERDAM’ are painted across the canopy, announcing the city to passing tourist cruise ships. 

 

“This project is not about architecture, it’s about solving a complex puzzle, with an outcome that makes sense to everyone”

Joost Vos, partner since 2005

 

The roof is a metaphor: the city is here, the river IJ is over there, and we connect them with this arch. The roof also can adjust due to its hinges, and move, which means the station can also move. It's never finished.

There was a need for more passages between the ‘old town’ and the waterfront. Cyclists were particularly frustrated, as they had to cycle a long way round. We decided to make a new cyclist-pedestrian tunnel on the west side. 

To make the tunnel safe and easy to use, we split the cycle path and the sidewalk into black and white segments. To improve comfort, we put plenty of acoustic material in the walls to create an apparent absence of sound — tunnels usually have a terrible echo, worsened by the scream of mopeds.

The detail everyone notices is the beautiful ceramic wall on the pedestrian side. Made up of 80,000 hand-painted tiles, the mural, designed by graphic designer Irma Boom, depicts a traditional scene of sailboats on the side of the old town, becoming more abstract on the seafront, which represents the ‘new’ end of the city. The ceramic is not only beautiful, it's also vandalism-proof, since spray-paint can easily be washed off. Although the tunnel was invented to help passenger and visitor flow, it’s now become a tourist attraction in its own right.”  

 
 
 

How do you create a landmark that respects its neighbours? Here’s how we did it.

 
 

A rooftop gesture

Las Palmas office, Rotterdam

 
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“The Las Palmas offices, right in the middle of Rotterdam’s Wilhelminapier, had to be a recognisable landmark, but not a flamboyant one. It serves as a symbol of renewed urban life on the south side of the river Maas, opposite the old city center. Sitting on top of an older building, it had to be more of a subtle ‘gesture’ than a ‘structure’, a building in its own right.

That’s why we took hints from the surroundings, such as the rounded white chimney and the maritime setting, to come up with a retro-futuristic oval pod, with rounded windows at either side that look like they belong on a cruise ship.

The curtain-like louvers on south facade, blocking sunlight from penetrating the highly transparent building, had to be individually designed and laser-cut so that they could rotate in the irregular oval shape. The lines of the cladding and the walls intersect perfectly, creating a visual harmony. And the roof, which appears perfectly flat, is actually made up of white steel grids so that rainwater can fall through, preventing pools of water and residue. 

 
 

© Jannes Linders

“We wanted to contribute to the city and create value for the users of the building. To do that, we had to bring technical details together without boasting.”

Marten Wassmann, partner since 2005

To us, the building evokes the nostalgic sense of optimism that was around in the ‘60s, when the original Las Palmas was built. So, for example, you can drive your car into an elevator and take it all the way up to the bottom of the office building, park next to the pod’s legs, and stare out over the vista of Rotterdam harbour. Or you can take a ladder up to the roof and clamber through a submarine-like door, feeling on top of the world. 

This centre of urban life would have been different if this building hadn’t been on top. Now there’s a synergy between contemporary architecture and the original Las Palmas building. And for the people inside, there’s this sense: you’ve seen it from the outside, now you’re part of this place.”

 
 
 
 

For our next highlight, we’ll stay in Rotterdam.

 
 

The right kind of grand

Central Station, Rotterdam

 
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© Jannes Linders

 

“Rotterdam needed a new station to accommodate a new high-speed trainline. The local council were adamant that they wanted to stick to a tight budget and said that they didn’t need any ‘grand building’.

But we were equally adamant: locals needed a station they could be proud of and a station which put Rotterdam on the map and allowed it to compete with other European cities. It had to have a grand, uplifting atmosphere, at all costs. The other architects bidding for the tender had the same idea, but it was only ours that fitted it into the budget — by building much of it with wood and using a simple greenhouse construction.

One of the main aims was to make the station into a public place again, at a time when rail companies were privatising and parts of the station were becoming inaccessible without a ticket. We worked hard to make the platforms feel like a calming interior space where people can relax, even read a book.

 

“The station should fulfil the role of the city square. If it’s a destination in its own right it will be a place of connection rather than separation.”

Jan Benthem, founding partner

 

We wanted the station to give the city a new lease of life, and to connect its two sides; the modern high-rise city centre at the ‘front’ of the station, and the low-rise traditional residential area at the ‘back’, which used to be seen as inferior. By making attractive public squares at both sides, they managed to equalise the two and connect them together. 

People talked about it as ‘our station’ from day one. They had felt proud of the old station, but they liked this station immediately. There is no graffiti, even though there are many wooden walls. They have a feeling of respect for it.”

 
 
 

And now it’s time for a trip to Paris.

 
 
 

Car-beating comfort

Metro Line 18 (in development), Paris

 
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“No transit, no city. Good public transport not only connects the city and makes people feel part of something larger, it reduces inequality and creates social cohesion.

After building many stations around the Netherlands, we wanted to take our expertise further afield. We're now working on four of the 68 new metro stations planned for the outskirts of Paris, which is expanding with dozens of new towns as the old city has reached its limits. Having learnt from its mistakes with the ‘banlieues’, which exacerbated social inequality, the French government are eager to make this expansion inclusive. 

We knew that these stations had to function so well that they feel more pleasant and convenient than taking the car, and make people want to use them every day. You don't force transit onto people, they choose to use it because they want to. The way to do this, we believe, is to get the principles right from the beginning, even if that takes long negotiations with the various stakeholders over regulations and other obstacles.

One of these principles is getting people flow right. 

 
 

“We hope these stations will play a role in reducing the differences between groups in society.”

Daniel Jongtien, partner since 2017

We thought it should be easy to orient yourself by following daylight. As you go in, you see the light coming from the platforms, and you go towards that. On the way back, on the mezzanine level, you instinctively go towards the exits because that's where the light is streaming in.

Likewise, we designed the paths from the ticket barrier like funnels, with sober design details, to encourage people to move through, whereas the platforms are designed to be light, calm and peaceful so that people feel relaxed and at ease waiting for a while. 

Finally, the design of these three stations and the viaduct that runs between them is intended to create a sense of cohesion and make them feel like an extension of Paris, though each station will be deliberately unique to give each a sense of place and identity.”

 
 
 
 

Thanks for your time and attention. We hope you enjoyed the tour.
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