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nieuws  17-04-2020 

Pointing in many directions

Article: NOOK #1 2020 * Text: Bureau Bax * Images: Egbert de Boer (nhow Amsterdam RAI), NEXT architects (concept)


When NEXT architects won the pitch for the interior design for the nhow Amsterdam RAI in early 2016, its architectural design was already in the specifications stage. “Our starting point was to respect OMA’s architecture by exposing the rough concrete and keeping the glass facade transparent. At the same time, we wanted to add something that is in complete contrast. Banksy-like street art somewhere on a wall, for example, which will raise doubts in the mind of the hotel guest: ‘Does this belong here? Or is it vandalism?’ Curious about what had been implemented of the NEXT concept, Nook, together with architect Marijn Schenk, paid a visit to the recently opened hotel. 


Three tourists with shiny roller bags gaze upwards at the colossal, triangular building volumes above their head before entering the new nhow hotel.  Inside, they are confronted with an explosion of bright colours and graphic images. From fish on the ceiling to skulls, flowers, sumo wrestlers, geisha and mandalas on the floors and walls. They obviously have to take it all in before going to the reception to the right of the entrance.



Crossroads of cultures


The colourful images in the entrance and lobby are symbols and icons that refer to countries and cultures from all corners of the world. “The underlying idea is Amsterdam as a crossroads of culture, a city where traditionally everything comes together”, explains architect Marijn Schenk of NEXT architects. “That has been translated and implemented much more literally than our concept intended. Our idea was to design entirely new objects and images based on that cultural mix.” At the request of developer COD, NEXT designed the interior: walls, ceilings, floors and fixed elements. All constructional aspects and detailing was designed by the office. At the request of the tenant, NH Group, a concept was also developed for the interior, the FF&E. Schenk involved the concept development architect Claudia Linders in the project and Studio WM for the design of the furniture. Although the interior had progressed to final design stage, the subsequent step – translating it into furniture, materials, graphic images – had for various reasons been outsourced to the Spanish firm GLG (which later became part of the Amsterdam-based architect office MVSA). It was frustrating for Schenk and his team, but as the design process progressed, it became clear that there was insufficient synergy in the collaboration with NH. An escalator leads directly from the entrance, where a mirrored ceiling gives the space more body, to the lobby which is located around the central core with lifts. The lobby is decorated with various colourful seating areas, with furniture, lamps and plants which in turn refer to various countries. There is relaxed background music, people are drinking coffee, working, and some are making photos and selfies. The hotel guests are clearly impressed. Schenk: “Because the space around the central core is very narrow in places, we thought up a circular form on the poured floor which, as it were, accompanies you as you move around the core.” The positioning and form of fixed elements such as bars add to the dynamic: they constantly spark curiosity into what you’ll find next. The counter of the reception and bars had, in the design produced by NEXT, a lenticular effect, with images that change as you walk by. This was also intended to promote circulation.



A second layer


The ceiling that is constructed of felt radials also stimulates that circulation. At the same time, the radials act as a sort of filter which allows the architecture above to be visible. NEXT wanted to expose that roughness of the architectonic design and actually increase it by adding here and there something to set the visitor thinking. The starting point was to add a layer without wrapping it up or painting over it. “The basis of our idea was juxtaposition: we added a second layer that retained the value of the basic layer. That is the contrast we wanted to show and on which we based the concept with which we won the pitch in 2016. To this was then added the concept that the hotel group presented of Amsterdam as the crossroads of cultures. This ultimately resulted in a final concept entitled ‘pointing in many directions’.


Recognition is essential


The architect rubs his hand over a bronze-coloured wall with lockers. “Yes, this is how we drew it”, says Schenk. “It’s a pity that part of the aluminium panels has been replaced by paint in the same shade. Probably for budgetary reasons.” He then pulls open a red door to a sanitary area and nods in satisfaction. A little farther in the core are the elevators to the floors above. Schenk presses a button. Which of the 7 lifts will open is uncertain. He points to the ceiling: “Because of air ducts and cabling, we had to make use of system ceilings almost everywhere. We made them all black and located the lighting in such a way that you are confronted as little as possible with the ceilings.” In just a few seconds, the lift silently reaches the 8th floor. There are three options for leaving the concrete core and entering a fairly dark corridor with adjoining rooms. Each exit has its own image made up of triangles of two faces that merge into each other. Schenk: “Recognition is essential. Certainly in this building, in which the orientation is different per eight floors. That makes it additionally complex to understand where you are. As hotel guest, you have to know on which floor you belong, which corridor you must take etcetera. Our proposal was to make each construction volume, each triangle, different, for example by choosing different carpeting. That idea was apparently dismissed during the execution.”



Six cultural styles


There are 35 rooms on each floor. It was an enormous puzzle for NEXT to make everything fit. “The rooms in the tip of the triangle have unusual shapes”, Schenk indicates on a floor plan. How do you arrange things in such a room? Where do you put the bed, where should the closet be and the bathroom? The design of the hotel rooms is inspired by the six wind directions to which the corners of the building point: North, East, South, South-west, South-east and North-west. NEXT designed six styles based on cultures from the various wind directions so that the rooms on all sides of the hotel are different. In those areas where everything comes together – the lobby, the breakfast restaurant on the 11th floor and the meeting and congress rooms on the 23rd floor – the various styles are mixed together. “It is all slightly different to what was presented, less refined and less layered, but I recognise much from the original concept”, says Schenk.
Every room was given, for example, a mirror wall, a headboard extending up to the ceiling and a round rug. The bathroom and closet are made precisely as the team drew them. “We presented our design at the head-office of NH Group in Madrid. There was considerable enthusiasm, but as things progressed we were constantly pushed in one direction which we considered forced and too literal. Budget also played a role. In the next stage – for which we had yet to be awarded the assignment – we were unable to get onto the same line as the hotel group.”


Fantastic panorama


The breakfast restaurant is busy. Guests are enjoying croissants, cornflakes, coffee and tea and planning a day out in Amsterdam in every language imaginable. Schenk: “Wow, this is totally different from what we suggested. In our design you could, just like in the lobby, walk all around the facade so that you had a fantastic panorama everywhere of the city. The kitchen was located in the core, but that was not chosen. A section of the walkway has been enclosed. Capacity was probably the problem. We too were concerned about that. But it’s still a pity. You now miss a number of attractive sightlines and no longer experience the architecture at all.” From the 23rd floor, where the meeting rooms are located and the view is overwhelming, the lift glides down to the 9th floor. Schenk wants to see how they solved the pocket-size gym. Were rooms sacrificed for it or was use made of the widening of the corridor? The corridor option has been chosen. A man with bared torso is working up a sweat in an area behind a glass wall where various pieces of equipment are located. “He’s rather on display”, smiles Schenk, “but this is the best solution. The glass preserves the spaciousness and the concrete material of the core.”


Personal commitment


NEXT had no direct contact with the client. The firm raised a glass of champagne with the first project manager, but after a month someone else with different orders from the top and a different taste took over, and he too was under enormous time and budget pressure. Two other project managers followed. Schenk flew to Madrid, but was unable to speak to those making the decisions. “In a good project, you work together”, is the architect’s opinion. “You need the commitment of the client. You then grow together to something to which everyone is committed. If that personal commitment is lacking, you shouldn’t really accept the assignment.”





Artikel NRC 19 maart 2020


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