Polak Building / Erasmus University Rotterdam

The learning environment of the future
  • education
  • interior
  • GPR

The changing educational landscape calls for a learning environment that is continually linked to society and the world around it. That was also our brief from Erasmus University Rotterdam. They approached us to design both the interior and exterior of the new university building. This was the perfect opportunity for us to design a fully-integrated and sustainable building, in which the pleasant study environment indoors is linked to campus life outside. A learning environment where students and staff can inspire each other.

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Students and visitors are free to walk from the adjacent plaza straight into the building. This takes them directly into an open inner area: the atrium. In this lively part of the building, there are opportunities to visit the hairdresser, go shopping or share experiences and ideas with each other in one of the cafés. A large platform staircase then leads you to the heart of the atrium on the first floor, where the teaching building begins.

On the higher floors, you can find a calm you need to devise new ideas.

From commotion to calm

The interior has been designed completely to meet the needs of the various users. In order to enable the large groups of students to move freely between the entrance and their classes, the lecture rooms are located right on the first floor. Students working independently or in smaller groups can find a calm working environment on the floors above. These are reached via the two staircases that lead in a spiral shape to the higher floors.

From floor to seating with a lot of wood

The outfitting is playful and unconventional. The strip of wood separating the meeting area near the atrium from the walking routes is truly multifunctional. Along its length, this structure transitions from being part of the floor, to convenient seating, and even into functional work desks. Thanks to all of the wood and the bright colours you encounter everywhere, the interior has a pure and warm look and feel. Of course, only natural and sustainable materials have been used here too.

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Working with sunlight

The division into stages makes the atrium become more spacious towards the top. This gives the sunlight free rein, enabling it even to reach the platform staircase at the bottom of the building. The glass top of the atrium has been designed to prevent sunlight entering directly. This enables users to gain maximum benefit from the daylight whilst keeping the temperature pleasantly cool.

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The wind comes from all directions

Our aim was to design a transparent façade that enhances the relationship between inside and out. In order to allow daylight to enter whilst preventing excessive heat from the sun, we designed special blinds. The blinds vary in depth depending on the wind direction, helping the glass to protect against direct sunlight and shade effects. Outside, the blinds look slightly offset, giving the transparent university building a playful and modern look and feel.

Natural where possible, mechanical where necessary

Our vision is: natural where possible and mechanical where necessary. With a sustainable climate control system and optimal insulation, we ensured that the university building is energy-efficient. By carefully making use of the flow of air, we have created natural ventilation for the entire building. This even applies to the daylight, making artificial lighting redundant. We also incorporated numerous sustainable technologies, including aquifer thermal energy storage in the ground and energy recycling.

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Project details


Total floor area 8.400 m²
Program Multifunctional education building
Start design March 2012
Start construction May 2014
Completion September 2015
Location Woudestein Campus, Rotterdam
GPR-score 8,6

Project Team

Client Erasmus University Rotterdam
User Erasmus University Rotterdam
Project architects Paul de Ruiter & Noud Paes
Project team Laura van de Pol, Richard Buijs, Marieke Sijm
Adv․ construction Van Rossum
Adv․ installations VIAC
Adv․ building physics LBP Sight
Contractor SMT Bouw
E-installations Croon
WTB-installations Wolter & Dros TBI Techniek
Project leader Marlous Vriethoff
Adv․ construction costs bbn adviseurs
Constructor Palte
Interior architect Paul de Ruiter architects
Urban planning Juurlink[+]Geluk, bureau JvantSpijker
Photography Jeroen Musch, Tim van de Velde, Sebastian van Damme