Van­berlo’s In­no­va­tion Pow­er­house

WHAT USED TO BE THE BOILER HOUSE AND EN­GINE ROOMS FOR THE PHILIPS POWER PLANT IN EIND­HOVEN IS NOW A CRE­ATIVE HUB FOR ONE OF EUROPE’S HOTTEST DE­SIGN FIRMS

Azure - - CONTENTS - By Gio­vanna Dun­mall

In­side Ate­lier van Berlo’s trans­for­ma­tion of the aban­doned Philips in­dus­trial park in Eind­hoven

Not ev­ery­one gets to say they work in one of their city’s most iconic build­ings. But lead­ing Dutch prod­uct de­sign and in­no­va­tion agency Van­berlo re­cently achieved th­ese brag­ging rights by re­lo­cat­ing its head­quar­ters to Eind­hoven’s Philips power plant, a mas­sive man­u­fac­tur­ing com­plex that had been shut­tered since 1992. Orig­i­nally built in 1955 and spread across three vast in­dus­trial parks, the en­gine room and boiler house known as Strijp-t used to power all the Philips fac­to­ries. The build­ing, which was con­verted and ren­o­vated by three prac­tices – Rot­ter­dam’s Ate­lier van Berlo, and Eugelink Ar­chi­tec­tuur and De Bever Ar­chi­tecten of Eind­hoven – is now known as the In­no­va­tion Pow­er­house. The se­duc­tive idea is that the fuel be­ing pro­duced here is no longer coal, gas or oil but – you guessed it – in­no­va­tion. Turn­ing an aban­doned plant into a multi-ten­ant hub des­tined to at­tract the best start-ups was nei­ther a swift nor pain­less un­der­tak­ing. The site was of­fi­cially des­ig­nated as a mu­nic­i­pal mon­u­ment a year into the de­sign process, and the project there­fore re­quired more per­mits along the way. What’s more, the in­te­rior was rid­dled with as­bestos that took four years to re­move. Even the ma­chin­ery was cov­ered in the stuff. “There were th­ese beau­ti­ful steel wheels, for ex­am­ple, but they were con­nected by rub­ber that had as­bestos on it,” ex­plains Janne van Berlo, prin­ci­pal and founder of Ate­lier van Berlo. Noth­ing could be sal­vaged, but since the ar­chi­tects were af­ter a cre­ative work en­vi­ron­ment, much of the equip­ment would have had to be moved out any­way. “In Eind­hoven, there are al­ready so many of­fices that are filled with old ma­chin­ery,” says van Berlo. “We wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

The in­te­rior may have been stripped bare, but it hasn’t lost its char­ac­ter. The cof­fered con­crete ceil­ing has been re­tained along with 5.2-me­tre-high win­dows typ­i­cal of their era. The space fea­tures two orig­i­nal coal chutes, now con­verted, re­spec­tively, into a meet­ing room and a 30-square-me­tre au­di­to­rium. Lo­cated on the sixth floor, they are rented out by another ten­ant, a com­pany that cre­ates in­door Led-driven farm­ing so­lu­tions. What’s more, the con­ver­sion project has reinstated a “miss­ing” sec­tion of the power plant. “If you look at the ar­chi­tect’s orig­i­nal draw­ings, the build­ing was meant to be sym­met­ri­cal,” ex­plains van Berlo. “The build­ing, which had been mod­i­fied sev­eral times over the years, was never fully com­pleted.” Two miss­ing grids have now been added in the form of a ver­ti­cal steel gar­den that dou­bles as an un­usu­ally at­trac­tive fire es­cape and houses a meet­ing room and a glass el­e­va­tor. Do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent was a de­lib­er­ate choice. “Com­plet­ing the build­ing with­out show­ing what was old or what was new didn’t do the mon­u­ment jus­tice,” says van Berlo. “We wanted to show what could have been there and not pre­tend it had al­ways been there.” As an­chor ten­ant and project ini­tia­tor, Van­berlo wanted its of­fices to set the tone for the rest of the build­ing. A new con­crete storey the ar­chi­tects in­serted was given a board-formed fin­ish so that it had the same lived-in look as the orig­i­nal con­crete. Var­nished spruce was used on the floor, adding a warm at­mos­phere that im­presses but doesn’t in­tim­i­date. You en­ter the com­pany’s 2,500-square-me­tre of­fice via a re­cep­tion area, where there is a desk made from bat­tered H-pro­file con­struc­tion beams. Above it, in a neat ref­er­ence to the build­ing’s ori­gins, hang sev­eral old-school Philips

flu­o­res­cent tubes that have been retro­fit­ted with the com­pany’s lat­est range of Wi-fi-en­abled, colour-chang­ing LEDS. “It’s a nice mix of new tech­nol­ogy and Philips his­tory,” says van Berlo. In keep­ing with the idea of a shared en­vi­ron­ment, the heart of the agency is a cen­tral com­mu­nal space. In this dou­ble-height area are a sculp­tural wal­nut ta­ble and re­fec­tory-style ta­bles as well as a Viroc cof­fee counter at one end. On the other side is a space with ban­quette and sofa seat­ing, cof­fee ta­bles and a show­case wall of spruce shelv­ing units filled with projects the firm has been work­ing on. This is where clients are wel­comed and where in­for­mal meet­ings are held. The lounge is raised one step up on a tim­ber plat­form and con­nected to a wooden am­phithe­atre de­signed for group lec­tures. The mas­sive room – lit by tal­ented young Dutch de­signer Alex de Witte’s cur­va­ceous Big Bub­ble lights hung as low as pos­si­ble and pop­u­lated with vi­brant chairs and so­fas by the likes of Vi­tra and Hay – feels a lot co­zier than you’d ex­pect. Even if you are sit­ting there alone and work­ing, it feels in­ti­mate and pro­tected. The of­fice’s de­sign stu­dios are lo­cated around this cen­tral space in a U-shape and sep­a­rated by glass walls and over­sized pot­ted plants. “I am not a big fan of green walls be­cause they’ve be­come a cliché,” says van Berlo. But putting in pot­ted fid­dle-leaf fig trees had the dual func­tion of pro­vid­ing green­ery and shield­ing the stu­dios where con­fi­den­tial work takes place. The build­ing has its own cof­fee counter and kitchen, but, in true col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit, staff are en­cour­aged to go down to the ground floor and eat in the restau­rant, which is open to all the ten­ants and will even­tu­ally serve the pub­lic as well. In nice weather, ta­bles and chairs spill out­doors. The ground floor also houses a glazed cen­tral “street” where staff and vis­i­tors can ac­cess the main stair­case. “This space has mul­ti­ple pur­poses,” ex­plains van Berlo. “It gives struc­ture to the build­ing where all the ten­ant en­trances are lo­cated, and it brings day­light in through a large sky­light.” In lieu of a ster­ile lobby, this lu­mi­nous space is where you can ask for directions or or­der a cup of barista-made, freshly ground cof­fee to en­joy on the ter­race.

“In Eind­hoven, there are al­ready so many of­fices that are filled with old ma­chin­ery. We wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent”

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