The Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam wanted their new building to reflect a new kind of educational environment. As the heart of a renewed campus, the building is a central meeting point for various user groups, providing space for education and research as well as for culture and recreation. The design solution to best accommodate these competing purposes was not obvious at the outset. In fact, the exact project parameters and user groups were not fully defined until the building was finished. The lack of specificity in the brief was a powerful argument for the final design, which focuses on facilitating flexible use and future development.
At the centre of the building a spacious atrium is designed to feel like an urban square, rather than an interior. Most publicly accessible functions are grouped around this atrium, including a café, study center and lecture theaters which are also used for performance and film screenings. The broad footing and low incline of the steps in the main atrium allows them to double as stage areas for performances, speeches and gatherings. The auditoriums are also multipurpose and can be used for lectures, theater performances and film. These are grouped in one building which can function independently, while the atrium serves as a foyer. Lighting can be adapted so that only the lower portion of the atrium is illuminated to create a more intimate setting.
The New University Building has a special flooring system (Slimline floors). This hollow flooring system integrates all service installations, such as electricity, ventilation and heating, inside a floor structure thin enough to create an additional floor layer, while remaining within the prescribed building height. A system of floor coverings provides easy access to the installations at any location, making it possible to adapt the installations and layout of each floor to accommodate various activities.
The New University Building received a BREEAM Excellent certificate for sustainability. It is energy efficient, fitted with a green roof and finished in natural materials such as bamboo and natural stone. Parts of the building are separately accessible so if necessary, these areas can function independently and be leased to third parties. A three-level car park beneath the building extends under the adjoining site, so should demand require it, a second building can be constructed.