The Afsluitdijk Experience Centre

Abstract simplicity in service of nature
  • public buildings
    public buildings
  • energy neutral
    energy neutral
  • Design & Build
    Design & Build

Paul de Ruiter Architects’ design for the Afsluitdijk Experience Centre was among the final four shortlisted entries selected for consideration by the deciding panel. The centre was initiated by the New Afsluitdijk (De Nieuwe Afsluitdijk), a partnership that aims to provide a novel and comprehensive, educational and recreational experience of the dam on the basis of its merits with respect to sustainable energy, ecology and design. The proposed design reveals a context-sensitive building that lends itself fully to the breathtaking beauty of its natural surroundings. The design’s clean-lined form was inspired by the aesthetic and abstract simplicity of the Afsluitdijk itself.

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Simple, linear volumes with distinct identities

The building consists of two linear volumes and adapts itself to the terrain of its natural surroundings. The ground floor walls are of lightly gleaming basalt-shaped stone, in reference to the Afsluitdijk’s honeycomb-patterned outer layer. This accentuates the building’s compact appearance and invulnerable air, the latter echoing the invulnerability of the dam itself, whose quiet strength keeps peril at bay. A floor-to-ceiling glass facade offers generous views of the Kornwerderzand settlement beyond. The first floor sits perpendicular to the dam, in contrast to the ground floor, which runs parallel to it. This floor consists of a floating glass box that cuts through the solid mass of the ground floor, symbolising the way the dam cuts through the sea.

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Open and unassuming

The opaque-walled spaces, such as the exhibition room, the meeting rooms and supporting facilities, are on the ground floor, thus keeping the bulk of operational activity out of sight. The restaurant and the remainder of the centre’s functions are situated in the floating volume that makes up the first floor. The visibility afforded by this volume’s transparency and the volume’s delicate beauty arrest the attention, whether the centre is beheld from the highway or from the water.

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Clear functional distinction

Visitors come in on the ground floor, passing through one of the two entrances that make up part of the glass facades. The transparency of these entryways beneath the huge cantilevers of the upper volume gives the building a welcoming and accessible character, while the overhangs frame the doorways as shelters from the elements. The foyer includes a reception, shop and coffee bar and adjoins the exhibition space, which features a 4D theatre that separates the exhibition room from the educational room. The themed rooms, back-of-house functions and toilets are situated on the opposite side of the foyer. A spectacular spiral staircase invites visitors to ascend to the first floor, where the restaurant it located.

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An experience to remember

The transparent volume that is the first floor provides a 360-degree panoramic view of the Afsluitdijk, the Kornwerderzand settlement, the Ijsselmeer, the Fish Migration River (an opening in the Afsluitdijk through which migratory fish can swim to reach the IJsselmeer from the Wadden Sea and vice versa) and the Wadden Sea. The side directly overlooking the Ijsselmeer includes an informative lounge with tower viewers so that visitors can peer far into the distance. The serving area extends from the centre of this open-plan floor like spokes from a bicycle wheel, thus encouraging visitors to move about with their drinks and nibbles and treat the entire floor, including the rooftop platform, as one continuous observation deck. Breathtaking views can also be enjoyed from the offices and meeting rooms on the mezzanine, which are available for catered corporate events.

Visitors are encouraged to treat the entire floor, including the restaurant and rooftop platform, as one continuous observation deck.
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Sustainability made comprehensible

The site marked out for the centre is part of an ecologically sensitive strip of land. As a result, the building’s design, the materials of its construction and its systems have been kept as simple as possible. The building’s architectural details do not call attention to themselves, its steel structure allows for easy expansion and its green roof not only helps create a measure of visual harmony with the surrounding landscape when viewed from above, but also contributes to the area’s biodiversity. The mechanical and electrical systems include demand-controlled ventilation and floor heating/cooling, which modulates room temperature and airflow according to anticipated changes in CO2 content, temperature, relative humidity and other determinants of thermal comfort. The centre is both energy neutral and CO2 neutral, by virtue of its supply of tidal energy from Afsluitdijk’s publicly accessible tidal energy generator. These and other sustainable measures as well as the building’s aesthetic fit with its natural surroundings allow the centre to represent a fresh approach to ecotourism.

Project details


Program Design-Build commission for an experience centre with exhibition room, catering facilities and panoramic observation deck
Start design January 2016
GPR 9.24

Project Team

Client The provinces of North Holland and Fryslân and the municipalities of Hollands Kroon, Súdwest-Fryslân and Harlingen
Project architects Paul de Ruiter & Noud Paes
Tender team Martijn van Gameren. Sander van de Weijer, Eleni Elia, Robert Saat