Buildings within an urban environment
TEXT: EMMA WESSELING | PHOTO © FRANK HANSWIJK
Design on every scale is nothing new to Jo Coenen Architects and Urbanists. Their architects can easily start their day by designing a building, only to create a new urban environment by lunchtime, and move on to handpicking curtain fabrics for a hotel room before the end of the day.
Jo Coenen is widely celebrated in his home country of the Netherlands, for designing buildings such as the Vesteda Tower in Eindhoven or the Glaspaleis (glass palace) in Heerlen, but his firm has been involved in designing many well-known buildings internationally, even having an office in Dusseldorf.
While the firm has been around for 40 years, founder Jo Coenen himself is still very active within and is helping it to move towards a younger, more modern company. Their current team is young and ambitious but continues to work with the expertise of their teacher, which helps to push the firm into a new era.
Thomas Offermans, director of the Amsterdam office at Jo Coenen Architects & Urbanists, says: “We use the experience of Jo Coenen to move forward with the new generation. Even though he still works closely with us on many projects, we’re also keen on transitioning the firm from all the important buildings Jo Coenen has designed in the past and creating a new focus on the work we are doing right now that’s equally as impressive.”
A project that beautifully sums up this transition, is the current renovation of the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA), the public library of Amsterdam on the Oosterdok island. The building was originally designed by Jo Coenen himself in 2007 and is currently being renovated by the new generation of architects that work at his firm. The project also demonstrates that the firm designs on multiple levels, aside from building and urban landscape design, they also focus on the interior work to make sure everything connects seamlessly.
The redesign of the OBA is much needed to suit the changing times. Offermans says: “Important municipal buildings such as libraries are less subsidised now than they were in the past. This demands a new way to generate income. In this case, thanks to its central location and comfortable interior, this library could rent out meeting rooms, and they required more of them. Another important aspect of this renovation is the focus on international books to facilitate the 180 different cultures living in Amsterdam.” Besides this, they are also working on a new restaurant and café to give people a boost to hang out in the library.
OCC The Hague (together with Noahh architects)
Another building that has required a lot of dedication from the firm in the last few years is the OCC The Hague, or International Education and Culture Cluster. The project turned out to be very time consuming to get right because of its unique place in the city. “Not only the location but also the function of a building is very important to incorporate in the design. In this case, it’s located right in the city centre which always makes a building more complex, but it also has a very large social function that requires a lot of attention. A new building will replace and cluster multiple cultural buildings in The Hague, and will provide accommodation for dance and theatre groups and orchestras such as the Nederlands Dans Theater, Het Residentieorkest and the Royal Conservatoire. Besides this, it will function as a meeting place for people who live in The Hague and serve as a public space,” Offermans explains.
Jo Coenen Architects & Urbanists takes pride in their young team but also values working together with experts from outside the firm. Offermans says that the location of their office makes this possible: “Our office is located inside a building with multiple architectural firms. This allows us to interact and share information with other passionate, driven and creative architects and we can attract people from outside our own bubble to work with us.”
Thomas Offermans is keen on embracing the work and philosophy of Jo Coenen. This means that every building is part of a larger environment and looked at in that way, and never as a separate object. The cultural heritage that was brought to the firm by Jo Coenen will continue to flow through their work as they take their firm onto their next adventure.