The former insurance bank building on Amsterdam’s Frederiksplein was constructed in 1967 and designed by Arthur Staal (1907-1993). It was a unique project for the fiercely modernist Staal who was challenged to form a relationship in the façades between two historical adjacent buildings. This resulted in a singular office building that was modern while still referencing the past – albeit abstractly. With its much-needed reinvention, Office Winhov worked to further unlock the original façade’s plasticity, materialization, and use of colour – while also using this as inspiration for the interior design.
“It’s always been a polarizing building. Passers-by either love it or hate it,” smiles Uri Gilad of Office Winhov. “We love it – or rather, we grew to love it.” The office building with shops on the ground level is certainly an outlier in the acclaimed oeuvre of the Amsterdam architect Arthur Staal (1907-1993). Four years before completing his most famous building, the Shell office tower in Amsterdam North, he was already known for several office buildings in Amsterdam, including Metropool (1964).
This assignment on the square Frederiksplein was different. As a modernist, Staal was challenged to establish a relationship in the facades with the two historic buildings next to each other. This resulted in a singularly modern office building which still referenced – albeit abstractly – the surrounding historical context of Utrechtsestraat and adjacent Canal Ring.
The historical made modern
“It was a real struggle for Staal. Because he wanted to make a single modern building, but the city aesthetics committee suggested he follow the original parcellation of the two former historical buildings. And I’ve read his response letter – he did not disguise his displeasure,” says Uri. “You also see the struggle in the result: him trying to stay true to modernism while trying to connect the two buildings as well as connect with the wider neighbourhood.”
The smaller corner building became a solid brick volume with windows on the Utrechtsestraat, and the deeper building on the square featured a façade of aluminium-framed bays. A certain unity was established with façade line running through the two, along with the highly expressive roof endings.
“Staal obviously put a lot of nuanced thought into the façade – as well as in the strong roof expression, which is shared with the rest of his oeuvre. In a very modern and abstract way, the roof resembles the historical gables of the neighbourhood.”
External: light, material, action
The new renovation, tries to further unlock the original façade’s remarkable plasticity, materialization, and use of colour. “And while officially, it’s not a monument Office Winhov proposed to treat it like one. With the front façade, while it had to be completely replaced to meet sustainability standards, we definitely stayed very loyal to what he did. And we also used it to inspire the interior.”
“We love the way he thought about bringing so much light into the office. We tried to celebrate that as well: as you move between larger open spaces and more intimate smaller spaces. Many people have commented that it almost feels home-y.”
And while it’s still a very office-y building, Office Winhov perceives “home-y” as a compliment. “This was actually part of our biggest challenge. The client’s current office space is in one of those classical canal houses with wooden stairs and painted ceilings. We wanted to infuse this sense of home and comfort, while staying honest to the simplicity of this building and its use of materials.”
From outside in
After years of neglect and ad hoc renovations, the former bank building was certainly in need of transformation and modernization in terms of sustainability and contemporary office needs. The only remnants of the original interior are the structure of the building and the central main staircase – though the travertine that Staal used in the public areas and around the stairs has been reused.
“This is the sort of project in which the architecture and interior intertwine. And this is really our interior – not Staal’s. But it’s still highly influenced from the proportion and structure of the building, as well as the materials that were already used.”
The rhythm of the warm oak walls – with open and closed panels, doors, and cupboards – certainly correspond to the rhythm of the construction and the facade. And the use of travertine in the staircase and upper level reflects the material used by Staal in the original building. With already low ceilings, a vertical structure of shafts was chosen to enhance a sense of space, which also lent itself to a simple layout with a transparent central core and a surrounding open network of meeting rooms.
The office atmosphere of the original construction period of the 1960s also served as a source for much inspiration for the new interior design, including furniture and lighting by Leon Stynen, Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames, and lamps designed by Verner Panton. However, in order to avoid the sense of nostalgia, many interior elements are custom made in collaboration with local companies – such as textile designer Edith van Berkel’s colourful custom-made carpets for the public conference areas.
The company restaurant is located on the top floor of the building where Staal opted for an expressive roof finish. The result is a very quiet place in the middle of the city, with large windows, a terrace, and an open view over Frederiksplein (and its many classically gabled houses).
In short, the overall result of this project is an integral transformation in which the usability is restored, and the quality of the existing building is made visible again. The building is now ready to provide a comfortable and inspiring workplace – as well as polarize passers-by – for decades to come.
Architecture and Interior design: Office Winhov
Team: Uri Gilad, Rick Bruggink, Anna Janssen, Charles Hueber, Susanna Scholten, Rogier van der Brink, Asli Kolbas
Installation advisor: Wolf Dikken advisors
Building physics/fire safety: Cauberg Huygen
Construction management/project management: MVGM & Circle Real Estate
Contractor: Biltz B.V
Interior construction: Finitouch interieurbouw B.V. & Gebroeders Bos
Project design: Lensvelt
Photography: Max Hart Nibbrig, Stefan Müller
Custom tables: Arco
Bespoke rugs: Edith van Berkel
Mat comfort – seamless acoustic climate ceiling
Skylift – elevators
Forbo – cement-bound cast floor
Desso – carpet
Vescom – vinyl and linen wallcovering
Apra Fenix – furniture laminate
Arco – oak tables