7 May 2018 • HNTB Martijn Tamboer
‘THUAS is the centre of the world’
The striking main building of The Hague University of Applied Sciences was designed by the equally striking architect, Hans van Beek. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary on Saturday 21 April, Hans delivered a lecture about his architectural ideas to returning alumni and (former) employees.
Hans established the Atelier PRO architecture bureau in 1976 with Sjoerd Schamhart, the well-known architect from The Hague, and his colleagues, Cees Nieuwenkamp and Ernst Verheij. PRO stands for Plan en Ruimtelijke Ontwikkeling (planning and spatial development) which reflects the mission of the dedicated architects to enhance liveability and carefully match building design to the surroundings. “Buildings always stand in a context full of meaning, historical references, stories and memories.”
Countless urban renewals have passed through Hans’ hands. His oeuvre is extensive and always revolves around liveability and people. As a champion of habitability, Hans puts his efforts into The Hague. In the 1970s, the city was depopulating fast and had terrible traffic congestion. “When we saw the urban plans for the new main building of The Hague University of Applied Sciences, we thought that it was not possible. That first plan marked the end of the regeneration of the surrounding neighbourhood. The plan to connect this disadvantaged neighbourhood to the city was completely dashed. This was not a reflection of THUAS, which was trying to be open. THUAS wasn’t on an island but at the centre of the world.
We then received a letter from the Executive Board inviting us to draught a plan. We were shell shocked. We had ‘big building fear syndrome’. In this period there were architects who specialised in schools. We had absolutely no experience in designing school buildings. We had two months in which to come up with a plan. That was, of course, crazy for so many square metres.
We closely observed the people who would worked there before starting the design. It was naturally a fusion, a melding of different degree programmes. We wanted the element of merging and diversity to be reflected in the design which was a central building with distinctly individual buildings surrounding it. Once we decided this was the way to go, the rest followed logically – a clear entrance on the sunny side, a low wall that provided shelter from the wind.
Research showed that more than 300 people a minute entered the building in the morning rush. This volume was why we did not include a lift. It would have caused so many long queues that it would have taken ages to enter the building. And a staircase would have been claustrophobic. This is why we decided on the elevated ramps and a diagonal spiralling staircase. This has helped THUAS have one of the healthiest student populations in the Netherlands. Everyone has to climb the stairs.
Furthermore, all six sections needed their own lecture hall. We needed a flexible design to fit in the space so that the communal spaces would be connected to section specific spaces. If a sector grows or shrinks, it could be flexibly redesigned. Because you have so many neighbours, you need that flexibility. A different way of thinking. Not a unique building, but one that is idiosyncratic. We call this ‘the philosophy of idiosyncrasy’.