Gerrit Rietveld Academie and Sandberg Instituut definitively settled with new, third building

‘It’s a landscaping solution,’ says architect of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and Sandberg Instituut’s new building Paulien Bremmer as she walks through the completed facility. Its luminous, high and always unexpectedly connected spaces call for exploration and use and, of course, new work by art academy students.

Bremmer herself studied at not only Delft University of Technology, but also both the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Sandberg Instituut. She received this design commission after an internal competition to which teams of students, lecturers and alumni could submit proposals. The Rietveld community and a professional jury both selected Fedlev, the design team that Bremmer formed with fellow Rietveld alumni Maze de Boer, Luca Carboni and Sandra Stanionyte; during the design process, more designers joined Fedlev.

Aiming to work in a multidisciplinary way, Fedlev created so-called ‘white spaces’ inside the design and called upon artists and designers from the art academy to fill them in. These subsequently designed components of the new building and of the redevelopment of the existing buildings. ‘We’re very proud of this,’ says chair of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie’s executive board Annelies van Eenennaam. ‘It also sends a clear message about our principles, giving art academy alumni some elbow room. It may be a little more risky, but this approach always produces unexpected results. We would like to see it applied more widely.’

According to Van Eenennaam, the new building is crucial to the academy because it houses all departments, including the Sandberg Instituut’s Master’s courses, at one and the same location for the first time. ‘The general and technical staff members really have had a hard time of it,’ she says. ‘They had to keep external locations up and running, supervise new construction as well as steer the educational process in the right direction.’

The academy’s head of finance and control Judith Kroon explains that the institute explored various housing options that would meet its need for space: ‘Extending the existing buildings, renting extra space elsewhere temporarily, even moving the entire school. But the Gerrit Rietveld building is inextricably bound up with the Rietveld community and renting extra space elsewhere temporarily time and again takes a lot of energy. It’s special that everything has now come together.’

A team consisting of former users of the existing buildings, Fedlev has added a new transparent building volume that, together with the building Gerrit Rietveld designed in 1966 and Benthem Crouwel Architects’ 15-year-old high-rise, produces a new ensemble. Hootsmans architectuurbureau has complemented and supported the design team from the preliminary design stage onwards.

The new building, located on the southwest corner of the plot on Fred. Roeskestraat that previously comprised parking spaces, balances the spatial relationship of the whole. Its open architecture is consistent with that of the historical Rietveld building. Both buildings now enclose the courtyard, which boasts a beautiful, big tree, and turn it into a central patio. In addition, physical interventions have created actual connections and overlaps. A bridge connects the first floor of the new building with the third floor of the Benthem Crouwel Building, for example, and a staircase ascends from the patio to the roof of the new building, which can be walked on. In addition, the outdoor space can be considered part of the interior in that it can be used as a maker space that complements the assembly hall and wood workshop. Sliding the high façades open makes this possible.

On the subject of the so-called shuffle – moving many departments and functions to new locations in the three buildings – Van Eenennaam says: ‘We’ve tried to allocate appropriate locations to everyone. The way the functions are now linked, inside and around the new building, shows the diversity of the academy at a single glance.’ Another goal of the shuffle was increased interaction between departments and students. The shuffle is partly based on Fedlev’s user analysis of the way in which the departments independently operated spatially. A rearrangement of the programme and the addition of free spaces facilitate contact between departments and disciplines.

‘People have to be able to see each other and each other’s work; exchanging images and ideas creates an inspiring and communicative environment,’ says Paulien Bremmer. The building is the backdrop to this. The prominently located wood workshop and assembly hall on the high, glass-enclosed new ground floor are important catalysts for interaction. Workshop manager Stephanie ter Heide notes that the maker space – the furniture was created in the wood workshop, of course – is now much more part of the community and offers greater freedom. ‘We had the opportunity to carefully design the space ourselves and as a result, it’s now a lot safer and properly arranged. We don’t have to monitor the students every second of every day anymore; they get to do their own thing. We soon noticed that they started to work more independently, figure things out for themselves and help each other.’ Locating the wood workshop next to the library on the ground floor also visualizes that practice and theory are jointly at the heart of education. The library is in fact also a workshop: a theory workshop.

Other collective spaces, like the library and the robotics workshop, are also centrally located, mainly on the ground level. The architect describes the building as ‘landscaped’ because it invites people to move forward and to look ahead. ‘There are no central stairwells and no corridors and there are several entrances. You always have to traverse a space if you want to go somewhere, so you can see what people are doing.’ In addition, there are lots of views between spaces as well as between floors. ‘Theory and practice are directly linked, like a metaphor for the creative process. Due to these views, the auditorium is almost part of the assembly hall and vice versa,’ says Bremmer.’

The design includes a number of project spaces that are shared by departments: different rooms with different qualities that students can claim to create and show work and in which interdisciplinary programmes can take place. Project spaces such as these are not only found in the youngest building (which includes a generous space on the roof with connections, anchor points and a transport lift) and outdoors, but also throughout the existing buildings.

The selected materials intend to generate a feeling of freedom. ‘Materials, composition and finishes clash in various places,’ says Bremmer. ‘Some elements have been executed quite straightforwardly and coarsely, while others include fine details. This creates a sense of relaxation and opportunities that encourages students to think and work.’

The concrete floors that end in concrete stairs sometimes almost look hilly. A descent to the basement from the assembly hall leads past an illusory tile wall. The spatial tiles are designed by Caro de Jonge, ceramics student at the academy. De Jonge: ‘The tile patterns in the porticos of Amsterdam’s inner city reminded me of temple floor plans. On the basis of this impression I made three-dimensional sculptures that jut out and level off across the surface.’ The result is a suggestion of movement along the partly sloping wall. All of the 1,400 tiles were handmade in the academy’s ceramics workshop.

The auditorium in one corner of the basement extends as far as the ground floor, adjacent to the courtyard garden and the assembly hall. The ‘voyeuristic curtains’ used to cover the windows around the auditorium were designed by Rietveld alumnus Anastasia Starostenko. ‘Think of a porous leaf you can see right through when you take a close look,’ says Starostenko. ‘Likewise, the curtains invite people to press their noses up against the glass from the outside and tempt those on the inside to look out.’ The slight translucence of the heavy cloth is the result of a weaving technique that partially deconstructs the fabric.

In the other corner of the basement, the library is also bathing in light due to its double-height space. With regard to the interior, the librarians proposed working with designer Nils Norman and he contributed to both the design and the construction of the interior. Norman: ‘The intention was to create a polyphonous and playful design. We reflected on the ways contemporary libraries should function, not only as academic facilities but also as comfortable environments, as social spaces for meetings and presentations.’ This is why the furniture can be used in different and unexpected ways. For example, table legs can be folded out to lean against during meetings. The labyrinthine bookcases have benches built into them, for which the textile department made cushions.

The Sandberg Instituut occupies the first floor of the new building and the third and fourth floors of the Benthem Crouwel building. In the new building, the various Master’s courses are only separated by transparent overhead doors. Only students from the Fine Arts department have individual studio spaces in the form of a separate row of roofless garage boxes that reach halfway up the ceiling. The heart of the Sandberg is on the third floor of the Benthem Crouwel building. Architect Anne Dessing, responsible for the interior of the Sandberg spaces, says: ‘The departmental spaces were left unfinished; students could finish them to their own tastes. The collective spaces show more design and finishing.’ The entire entrance on the third floor, for example, is clad in a 3M film that creates an oily, moving sheen. ‘There is also an industrial kitchen that allows proper, large-scale cooking, for example during events.’

The original courtyard garden was designed by renowned landscape architect Mien Ruys. Designer Jan Konings is working on a plan for the new garden that builds on the work of Ruys, whose washed gravel tile has ended up in the collective memory of the Netherlands. Konings: ‘What’s funny is that this tile is now used to cover entire front gardens, whereas Ruys used it in planting schemes to make room for greenery.’ The design for the new courtyard garden uses a variation on the legendary tile. The tiling will have different porosities: ‘From polished tiles to walk and sit on to coarse, scattered tiles that make room for the garden to grow.’

Although the courtyard garden is still very much under construction, the Fedlev building has been in full use since January 2019. It has become an integrated part of the site and its landscaped character has given new meaning and functions to both the existing buildings and the outdoor spaces between them.

Mark Minkjan