Poppies, too—that's what a conservative law firm in the Hague got from the architects at Eijkingdelouwere
Rineke van Duysen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Architecture isn't what it used to be. Time was, a prospective client inviting a firm to make a pitch could reasonably expect a full-blown presentation complete with extensive renderings and models, complicated explanations, and profuse self-aggrandizing. What exactly did SRK Rechtsijstand, an insurance-law concern in the Hague, get from today's top young talent? Card games.
That's what rising stars Bart Eijking, 34, and Patrick O. de Louwere, 35, of Eijkingdelouwere brought to the table. "We designed a whole set of cards representing work spaces, lighting, art, bathrooms, the whole deal," Eijking explains. "Then we sat down with a cross section of people, from board members and partners to secretaries. Each one chose five things they liked and five they didn't. After we created a mood board from the commonly liked elements, we were home free—most of what we eventually did originated from there." Clever and practical, like all good things coming out of the Netherlands these days.
Eijking and De Louwere met at the Delft University of Technology. By around 25, Eijking had a position at the urban-planning think tank Vereniging Deltametrapool, and De Louwere was cutting his teeth at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. After working together at a large firm, Bo.2 Architectuur en Stedenbouw—and staging an unsuccessful buyout attempt be- fore leaving—the two founded Eijkingdelouwere in 2004.
But back to that card game. As Eijkingdelouwere's first client, SRK took a real gamble. That daring came back into play when De Louwere proposed a flower motif for the 215,000-square-foot space. "Flowers are neutral," he says. "You bring someone flowers when they're sad. You bring someone flowers when they're happy."
More specifically, Eijkingdelouwere proposed two patterns, one of full-blown roses and the other of tall slender poppies. Because a warm-and-fuzzy motif needs a warm-and-fuzzy medium, the architects came up with the idea that soft, accessible felt could be laser-cut in a large format and used to cover entire walls. SRK gave the go-ahead despite warnings of considerable production expenses.
The whimsical floral doodles, translated into digital files, were sent to a top felt manufacturer for color matching. Once the signature colors were produced—baby pink, lime green, steel blue, poppy red, warm gray—the assembly of the designs came next. An industrial textiles company accepted the challenge of cutting and fitting the flower motifs into contrasting backgrounds to create tapestries, performing the job in between standard orders over the course of three months.
A thin, pliant nylon backing allowed the tapestries to be rolled, unrolled, and adhered
to a flat surface. The result: entire walls covered in treatments that are striking, not to mention kitten-soft. Think red poppies on fields of green, green roses laid on blue.
Whimsy is in evidence in three dimensions as well. Throughout the open office areas, Eijkingdelouwere positioned 10 mail stations, simple red-painted structures reminiscent of a child's rendering of a house. Employees now routinely gather around these hubs to pick up the envelopes and printed messages stashed in the rows of individual slots. "You introduce architecture that creates community, and people will totally change the way they interact," De Louwere notes.
Clusters of workstations vary in size; some accommodate six employees, others four. Partners and senior staff get individual offices. And every desk proudly displays a lamp topped by a shade printed in that rose motif, in one of three colorways.
The canteen and library share fine oak parquet flooring and a suite of chunky red-painted custom furniture: refectory tables, circular banquettes, high-backed benches, notched shelving. To create a break area, Eijkingdelouwere carved out part of a wall and painted the alcove a cerulean to evoke the sky, in contrast to the green field of the felt flower tapestry on either side. "It's a bit of a Magritte moment," Eijking says with a laugh.
Laugh he may. The finished project met with unanimous approval from SRK's 450 employees, who work at what must surely be the sexiest law office in the entire BeNeLux region, and Eijkingdelouwere's star is well into its ascent. Architecture may not be what it used to be, but there's still truth to the old adage: Play your cards right.
Top, from left: One of 13 conference rooms. The room's felt tapestry. Another conference room's aluminum-framed glazed front. Custom benches with felt-covered cushions in the canteen. The rose pattern at 50 times life size. The same tapestry installed in a small meeting room. Bottom left: Arne Jacobsen chairs and Kasper Salto tables outfit the reception area. The desk is surfaced in strips of red oak. Bottom right: Near the library's HDF shelving, chairs by Charles and Ray Eames pull up to tables like the ones in the canteen.