University of Amsterdam

Amsterdam. 2018

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2018
  • Cost: £77 Million
  • Clients: University of Amsterdam

The University of Amsterdam explores large-scale reinvention. Two utilitarian buildings from a previous era – part of an incomplete masterplan by Norbert Gawronski – are stripped out, sliced open, reconfigured and then knitted back into the city’s fabric to regenerate a post-war university campus in the heart of the Dutch capital. A forty-metre section of low-hung, canal-spanning building is cut out and replaced with a four-storey void. Physically and visually opening up the campus behind and the zoo beyond, the void is bridged by a glazed double-height space and five storeys of workstations, all with new views across the city. A previously solid wall is punched through to create entry into a new triple-height passage connecting the two principal blocks of accommodation; this passage permits the building’s users to gather and orientate themselves while efficiently distributing faculty members to the vertical circulation cores Outside, a new pedestrian bridge draws into play the city’s canal-scape, the neighbourhood streetscape and the campus’ half-realised secondary axis. Inspired by Amsterdam’s historic canals, the bridge connects to a series of public rooms and commercial spaces that activate and open the buildings’ edges. Internally, elements have been removed to accommodate the university’s relocated Amsterdam Law School and the Faculty of Social & Behavioural Sciences by providing seven lecture theatres, seven seminar rooms, 86 tutorial rooms, a Law Library, a Moot Court, research offices, meeting areas, study landscapes, breakout areas, a roof terrace, 1,700 square metres of catering environments and 2,260 square metres of ground floor public gathering space.


RIBA Award for International Excellence 2018 WAF New and Old: Completed Buildings - Highly Commended 2018 WAN Education Award 2015 AIA International Region: Merit Award for Architecture 2014 AJ Retrofit - International Innovation 2014 AJ Retrofit: Overall Winner 2014

Internal organisation  

Office floors are strategically designed as 3.6 metre modules, allowing flexibility. A wide range of programmatic insertions within the building envelopes included teaching spaces, seminar rooms, formal and informal meeting rooms and offices both closed and open plan. In addition to the need to adjust lecture room provision as the brief developed, the more specialist requirements included a moot court and law library for the FdR.  

In REC B/C the inherited architectural legacy of an 18 metre (7.2 + 3.6 + 7.2) window-to-window plan depth around two immovable lines of columns actually presented an opportunity, as Dutch space planning typically favours small one- or two-person closed offices which could easily be accommodated. Adopting other layouts such as a double corridor option, with more casual support spaces in the centre, and an asymmetric arrangement with open plan on one side and cellular on the other assisted in delivering the programme and broke down the scale of very long corridors.  

For REC A, a self-contained suite of rooms for the FdR includes spaces that can be combined or separated and also made available for hire to external bodies.  

The wayfinding solution for the building, begun at ground level and continued through the cores and mini atria, is extended by the interior organisation. The intent is that the architecture does enough on its own with colour used only sparingly to add focus within the confines of the existing structures. Thus by simply painting the sides of the retained columns and making them visible through the facade, different houses and even users’ offices can be identified from the outside. If a faculty expands or contracts, the necessary columns can be repainted. The facade treatment supports this approach.    


The decision to employ a planar skin for REC B/C but a more plastic form for REC A was the starting point for designing the new facade. The internal accommodation then suggested module sizes and some consideration of whether and when occupants would be sitting or standing.  

Overall the facade was designed for a low operational energy-use target with corresponding servicing provision. An assumption against energy-demanding full servicing, in line with Dutch practice as well as the user’s preference, meant openable windows. These and user-controlled vents were also felt necessary to give a degree of local control.  

Differing proportions of solid and void, closed and open glazing and how the amount of glass might vary with orientation were then explored. Finally, how these kinds of treatment might look overlaid on the buildings with their stairs, break out areas and so on was studied.  

Revealing the coloured columns as part of the wayfinding strategy began to move REC B/C’s fenestration toward verticality, with areas of its facade left clear to show these and the mini atria. Fins to augment this were tried but deemed superfluous detail, although they did spark an idea of introducing highlighting within the window module. A differential rhythm across the block was in the end eschewed in favour of uniform, uncoupled windows throughout.  

Overall, a measured vertical emphasis balances the strong horizontality of the block and also responds to the pattern of the original facade, whose own slightly proud cover caps are now re-interpreted as extended cover caps around vision panels. The block is coloured matt black in recognition of the dark brickwork on the traditional houses surrounding the campus but with subtly differing degrees of reflectivity depending on weather conditions, the amount of incident light and the direction from which an observer is looking. The anodized bronze cover caps recall the white-painted window reveals of the houses – both are visible from multiple angles.  

REC A, then, received a horizontal emphasis formed by the black line of its spandrel panels and a glazed line of vision panels. Clerestory windows at each level accentuate its height. To create additional visual tension between the two buildings, its full glazing is shiny compared to REC B/C’s black aluminium. Performance blinds, glass with performance coating and insulation are used on both.  

The podium mediates between the two other blocks, being shiny and vertical. It is experienced much closer to and so has an intricacy of detail that rewards this. The glazing is flush on one upper storey and recessed on the other. ‘Solid’ panels are actually composed of a deep sandwich of two glass panels, the inner leaf being back-painted and the outer fritted with dots large enough to cast visible shadows. The sun’s arc will therefore generate a constantly moving pattern within these panels throughout the day.  

The three facades together set up a subtle interplay between vertical and horizontal, matt and gloss, dark and light, planar and apparent depth.    

Interior design  

The fit out strategy evolved alongside the architecture and services design. Low operational energy use was integrated into the revived buildings whilst achieving an acceptable level of environmental performance.  

Taking advantage of an existing concrete structure with its embodied energy and thermal mass, soffits were left exposed. Luminaires equipped with daylight sensors and aligned both upward and downward, to provide the optimum artificial lighting arrangement, augment daylight. These and other items – acoustic baffles, ventilation ducts – are organised with care given their visibility. This also permits flexibility in case of change.  

The overall design strategy was robust enough to accept alteration if necessary. Thus REC A and REC B/C received a broadly generic fit out but when the UvA administration determined that the FdR should relocate to Roeterseiland from its centuries-old buildings in the centre of Amsterdam, parts of REC A were redesigned to attract the faculty. Cutting holes in floorplates created light wells to improve orientation and amenity in what would now become predominantly cellularised office areas. Bespoke facilities such as research master’s students’ study workplaces, a research seminar suite and moot court were incorporated. Special materials, including timber, were now justified in places.     


Strategic moves















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