When a Rotterdam coalition of universities and companies purchased an old disused warehouse, it turned to Dutch architects Groosman Partners to transform the sprawling space into a mix of open-concept areas and private enclosures for conferencing and classes. But the firm elevated this basic plan with an unexpected gesture that actually added more space: a floating, yellow-painted volume that accommodates a variety of functions.
Originally called the Rotterdam Dry Dock Company and used for shipbuilding, the cavernous warehouse in the Heijplaat district already boasted a few features – a soaring ceiling and a wall-free floor plan – that allowed the architects to carve it up by drawing a city-like grid on the floor. Still, it could not provide the containment necessary for small-group meetings, educational instruction and recreation.
Luckily, the building offered its own solution: horizontal cranes, running like structural beams below the ceiling. They were once used to lift heavy components during shipbuilding, so they would be capable of supporting a 1,000-square-metre box – the architects’ concept for more structured intimacy.
This steel volume, accessed by stairs or elevator, boasts three main sections further divided by walls that can be moved around as needed. One end of the platform holds a dining area painted in a buoyant yellow, with tables, chairs and bank seating, while the remaining two zones are turned over to offices and classrooms sealed behind sound-insulating glass.
Columns penetrate the volume to create skylight-like apertures, diffusing natural light all the way through and allowing people on the ground floor (reserved for events) to gaze up to the building’s glazed roof. Also, the volume’s underside is emblazoned with a massive satellite image of Rotterdam’s ports – a vertigo-inducing reminder of the building’s former life, and of the neighbourhood bustling just outside.