A quality workplace is fundamental not only for better productivity but also for better exchange of ideas. Work and wellbeing: the interior space and the quality of the surroundings.
In his book “Labour, work and architecture” (2002), talking about a Swedish car plant in the late 1970s, the architectural critic Kenneth Frampton says: “A feeling of almost deliberate isolation, in the physical and psychological sense, pervades the entire structure and site […] This is distressing when one realizes that this is the landscape in which some 600 men regularly spend the best part of their working day”. Nowadays the belief that the collective wellbeing in a workplace creates a virtuous circle in the whole company is wide spread among architects and employers.
In 2008, London-based studio Foster + Partners completed the project for the new stylish headquarter of Ernst & Young – The Netherlands in Amsterdam, the so-called “Vivaldi Tower”, which can be considered, as an example of this philosophy. We asked Reinhard Joecks, a Partner of the studio, to describe us the building from the architects’point of view.
twsm What was the main reason to have such a stylish office instead of a regular one?
rj For over forty years we have explored the possibilities for open and flexible working environments in which communication can flourish. “Vivaldi Tower” is the Dutch headquarters for the global professional services firm Ernst & Young. As such, it is an expression of their ethos. So, as well as being stylish, the sustainable aspects of the building were equally vital. Moreover as the first building within the new Zuidas district, the tower was conceived as a landmark on the route into Amsterdam, thanks to its distinctive silver diagrid façade.
twsm How does a workplace affect its employees?
rj As architects, we believe that the quality of our surroundings has a profound effect on the quality of our lives. For employees at Vivaldi Tower, there are a wide range of facilities close to hand: the adjacent pavilion building contains a ground floor bar and a restaurant with views of the water-court, along with conference facilities and a fitness centre. In the tower itself, an informal ‘living room’ with armchairs and views of the landscaped setting occupies part of the ground floor and there is a library at the top. While the living room is single height, the entrance area is a grand triple-height atrium that reflects the geometry of the diagrid façade. The building has a highly progressive environmental strategy and, as a result, is ten per cent more efficient than the target Dutch environmental standards. The water-court, accessed by a shaded walkway, is an attractive setting for the offices, yet also plays a role in the environmental approach. It is an ecological pond, naturally cleaned by a planted biotope of reeds, water lilies and grasses – 65% of rainwater is retained on site and the run-off feeds into the Amsterdam canal system to control water levels following peak rainfall.
Mirjam Prins, Sr. Service Manager at Ernst & Young – The Netherlands, and Marco Noort, Sr. Facility Manager who was personally involved in the process, described us the peculiarity and the facilities of the new headquarter and the feeling of working in such a brand-new building. “We call the building ‘The Cross Tower’ because of the shape it has in its architecture. Among our 18 branch offices in Holland this is the most wanted as it offers a 5 star hotel comfort, which has also a very good influence on our clients. It is a very open building which generates wellness and a very good atmosphere for us. Besides the openness, the building offers privacy for everyone as well, with our separated offices. It is usually very crowded here, with all the employees, the clients and the visitors, yet you almost never feel that crowd thanks to the brilliant architecture of the building, that it is definitely very spacious”. According to Prins and Noort the new facilities, such as the coffee bar, are noteworthy: “The furniture, the chairs, the tables, and even the wallpapers are so diligently picked, that it feels like home more than an office cafeteria; we call it ‘the living room’, as you can grab your coffee and spend time with your colleagues and enjoy the cosy environment”. Talking about other facilities they said: “We have a gym within our building, not only for personal training but also for group classes. We have high standard meeting rooms that can compete with 5 star hotels in Amsterdam due to the spectaculare views on the 21st and 22nd floors and the outstanding catering facilities. These offer our staff the possibility to invite their clients to the office and to be attentive to their guests best way they could”.
Photos. The images are courtesy of Foster + Partners.
Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Winter 2009