As university campuses lie empty and remote learning continues to substitute for in-person tuition on account of the coronavirus pandemic, the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences is busy planning for the future. Among its plans is the construction of an uplifting and light-filled sustainable building at its Kralingse Zoom campus, to serve as a training ground for the young economists and business leaders of tomorrow. The building will be energy-neutral and easily adaptable, and will be built according to circular construction principles. Its design was developed in collaboration with a student advisory group, whose members were invited to imagine their ideal learning environment.
The 14,000 m² expansion of the existing faculty complex will enable the consolidation of all of the Rotterdam Business School’s economics departments under one roof and result in a combined floor area of 35,000 m² for the daily traffic of up to 10,000 students. The entire ensemble, a significant part of which Paul de Ruiter Architects completed in 2018, will boast purpose-built study areas and a new main entrance. The extension’s double-height, see-through base will house a media library and an incubator zone, including a business lobby and a grand café, and is set to be the centre of activity for life on campus.
Connected to the world around it
The building is defined by its transparency and relationship with its surroundings. Its most immediately striking feature beyond its transparency is the large, stepped atrium on the north façade, with its solid wood framework and double height main entrance.
Paul de Ruiter (head of Paul de Ruiter Architects): “A straight wooden staircase runs parallel to the atrium’s glazed façade, connecting the various floors and study plazas and offering an unobstructed view of the campus. Opposite the atrium’s glazed wall, and mirroring its grid façade and outline, are a series of projects rooms, whose north-facing, floor-to-ceiling glass walls also offer splendid views of the campus. Just as the glazed façade frames the world beyond for the building’s occupants, so it does for those outside the building, but in reverse, creating a visual spectacle of the activity inside the building for passers-by and others beyond its confines. The clear-glass walls thus produce an optical effect whereby the building’s surroundings appear to flow into its interior and activity inside the building appears to be taking place outdoors.”
A learning environment determined by students’ needs
Since the majority of the building’s users will be students, we convened a brainstorming session in which we asked representatives from the student body to envision their ideal learning environment. Many of the ideas and suggestions rested on a single fact: undergraduates spend a great deal of time on campus, in one building or another, whether studying or not. As a result, the most common request was for a building that offered functional variety sufficient to the students’ multiple needs, which largely related to studying, alone or in groups, and socialising. Our design caters to these needs by offering a variety of easily adaptable study areas and communal spaces that recall the public spaces of a large public library. The meeting areas have the ambience of a reading café or hotel lobby while the areas for socialising feel more like living rooms. The design thus includes lots of spots for quiet study, but also for relaxing, socialising and for getting together to swap ideas.
Future-proofed through adaptability
Academic instruction has changed a lot over the last twenty years, and if anything is certain, it is that it will continue to change over the next twenty. New methods will replace or supplement old ones, new concepts will be trialled and introduced, and new areas of study will emerge and attract new generations of undergraduates. To accommodate these developments, the new extension is designed to allow the spaces within it to be repurposed with relative ease. In addition, footbridges on all floors enable easy access to the surrounding buildings, a convenience that along with several others promises to yield benefits for decades to come as new educational needs emerge.
Fred Feuerstake (Dean of HR Business School): “The business school and its students play a major role in shaping society. And we do this not at a remove, but by placing ourselves at the centre of things. The new building will boost this capacity enormously. Once it is operational, we won’t simply be ready for the future; we will be the future.”
Sustainable and healthy
The parts that aren’t flexible, such as the load-bearing structure and the facade, are made of highly durable and maintenance-free materials, and boast a high rate of circular material use. Furthermore, the extension will be energy-neutral. Its compact design, the quality of insulation materials employed, and the presence detection-based lighting, heating and ventilation systems will help minimise energy wastage. Its energy needs will be met by rooftop solar panels, among other natural means of energy generation. A great deal of thought has gone into supporting the health and well-being of the building’s intended users. Thus, various measures are in place to monitor and facilitate the supply of fresh air, regulate room temperatures and ensure the most comfortable acoustic experience wherever one may be in the building. It is common knowledge that natural light is conducive to human well-being, in addition to its role in facilitating an energy efficient strategy. The atrium roof and façade are thus designed to enable the admission of natural light without undesirable side effects, such as glare or excess contrast.
The demolition of the old building began on 20 April and is scheduled for completion in October 2020. The work is proceeding according to circular construction principles. We are aiming for a 95% reuse rate, and to preserve as much of the value of the salvaged materials as possible.
The building is due to open in 2023.