Team V Architecture has transformed the outdated headquarters of the Dutch insurance company a.s.r. in Utrecht into a contemporary work environment with lots of daylight, lofty atria and impressive interior gardens. The building was officially opened on 29 June 2016 by Minister of Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The celebrations mark the end of a three-year renovation period, during which the building was continually in use.
The appearance of the building has changed to an astonishing extent. It now looks spacious, light and airy. Only the thick concrete pillars give away that this is not a new building. The climate façade makes the building lighter and more energy-efficient. Winter gardens – bright open spaces with mature trees – have been laid out between the outer and inner façade. The highest winter garden admits daylight to the underground conference centre.
A gift for the architect
The dark, dismal-looking building from the 1970s, with a floor area of 86,000 square metres the largest office building in the Netherlands, proved to have hidden qualities. “Buildings with impossible dimensions, like the a.s.r. head offices, are a real gift for the architect when it comes to renovation,” said architect Jeroen van Schooten, Director of Team V. “You can improve their spatial quality by introducing atria and interior gardens. In the present restrictive economic climate, such extra space would often be omitted to cut costs.” Walls have been cut away on each floor of the office space, admitting plenty of daylight to what used to be dark and gloomy worksites and creating a very attractive, open working environment.
It was announced during the opening ceremony that the building has been awarded a BREEAM Excellent in-use certificate. The renovation reduced energy consumption by 50%, improving the energy rating from G to A++. This makes the a.s.r. head offices one of the most sustainable renovation projects in the Netherlands. “What is special about this project is not only the high level of sustainability achieved,” said Jeroen van Schooten, “but also the excellent spatial quality of the new building. As architects, we always try to introduce added value somewhere in the building – something that makes it unique, a place where people enjoy being in and working in.”
Good looks combined with excellent technical performance
The façade design combines good looks and well-thought-out technical performance. The faceted façade sparkles like a crystal in the sun. The orientation of the windows on each floor varies, giving the building a layered appearance reminiscent of the original façade. At the same time, the slanting façade sections ensure that reflected daylight penetrates far into the building and guarantee optimum circulation of ventilation air. Moreover, the light-weight prefab façade cladding can be mounted quickly, cleanly and without undue noise.
Unique, surprising overall concept
The architecture, interior design and garden lay-out combine to form a strong overall concept, which is worked out to the finest detail. The slanting lines of the façade are repeated in the walls of the conference units, the edges of the atria with built-in worksites and the design of the tree planters. The building is divided into three wings, which are given individual colour schemes – green, yellow ochre and purple – for ease of orientation. These colours are repeated in the floor and wall finishings, and even in the choice of the plants in both the internal and roof gardens. These features distinguish the design of the a.s.r. offices from that of a conventional office building, giving it a surprising, instantly recognisable look.
“It’s a pleasure to work in this building!”
The 2,800 flexible worksites provide room for 4,000 users. The variety of worksites offered, from enclosed spaces for making phone calls or concentrated work to comfortable lounge areas for informal meetings and flexi-work tables, ensure that there is a suitable worksite for every user. The public area, with a coffee bar, brasserie, conference centre, work lounge and restaurant, offers a varied and inspiring work environment. This is reflected in the appreciative comments made by users: “attractive and full of light,” “all features of this building are just right,” “inspiring and energising,” “absolutely beautiful,” “it’s a pleasure to work in this building” … these are just a small selection of the user responses to be found on HappyBuildingIndex.nl, which gave the new a.s.r. office building a score of nine of ten, placing it third on the list of the user-friendliest buildings in the Netherlands.