The Canal Zone
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 11/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Having coined the mantra "Just Do It" for Nike 20 years ago, Portland, Oregon–based, multinational advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy has long championed young design talents. Office commissions from the pop-culture makers have launched nascent careers into the stratosphere—most notably its headquarters, a 2000 project by Allied Works Architecture founder Brad Cloepfil. Now, this corporate Medici anoints the Dutch firm Next Architects as one to watch. Transforming a linked pair of historic canal buildings into Wieden + Kennedy's Amsterdam satellite, Next has paid homage to Cloepfil's precedent-setting work with a hint of Low Countries' subversion.
The eldest of Next's four principals—Bart Reuser, Marijn Schenk, Michel Schreinemachers, and John van de Water—is just 35, an age at which most architects are still toiling for established practitioners. Reuser and Schenk bucked the trend as students at Delft University of Technology, placing second in a competition devoted to envisioning Holland in 2030. Attention and assignments followed. "It was kind of impossible not to start an office at that moment," Reuser says. Fellow classmates Schreinemacher and van de Water were invited to join, and the quartet hung a shingle in 1999.
Alongside residential commissions, Next's early portfolio included fences, products for Droog, and competition entries. The young guns were little prepared for meeting Wieden + Kennedy two years ago. Still, "Next had the closest cultural fit to Wieden + Kennedy," says Wieden executive creative director John Norman. Their work incorporated a sense of "the human condition and . . . wit."
The two Amsterdam buildings, a late Renaissance structure and a19th-century neoclassical bank, are located on Herengracht, the innermost of Amsterdam's three concentric canals. The buildings, which together comprise 60,000 square feet on seven floors, seem as if they could accommodate an atrium like the one Cloepfil devised for the Portland headquarters. But despite a desire for a similar "central area with possibilities to interact between different floors, the buildings just didn't allow for a large atrium," says Van de Water.
Openness characterizes each of the daylit work areas, where staffers can quickly move from workstations to conference-type arrangements of custom MDF tables and chairs. Generous common areas like the rooftop bar or the reception entry—in which broad bright red steps and integrated projection screens can transform the foyer into an amphitheaterlike presentation room—ensure the 150 employees congregate and interact.
Next also played a shell game with the atrium concept, breaking it into smaller volumes and shuffling it around the interior. Both buildings feature a column of alternating double-height glass meeting rooms, allowing occupants to see the surrounding floors. "These are the places where teams come together," Schreinemachers adds, "so we put them in the center."
In accordance with Next's predictions for office culture in the future, three working styles are accommodated: Team players have the large meeting rooms; independent workers get Lilliputian carrels; and networkers are provided with banquette-dotted hallways for grabbing quick conversations with colleagues.
The project also allowed the architects to incorporate their product-design skills. On the top floor, a table's top slides open to reveal a bar. Magnetized blackboard panels attach to storage cupboards for brainstorming. Even without an existing portfolio of office projects, Schenk says it was as if Next had been preparing for the Wieden + Kennedy commission its whole career. "Sometimes these things just fall into place."