In recent years, circular architecture has made the leap from fantasy to reality. Through adaptive reuse, harnessing salvaged materials, and even grafting new buildings onto existing ones, architects the world over have developed innovative solutions to mitigate the impact of the construction industry, which accounts for approximately 40 per cent of global emissions. New construction remains a necessary evil, but what if architects could make it easier to repurpose these buildings at the end of their usable life? This is the concept behind Rotterdam firm MVRDV’s latest project: a laboratory and office space dubbed Matrix ONE which has been designed to later be dismantled into its component parts.
Located in the heart of Amsterdam Science Park, the six-storey building is the main social hub of the Matrix Innovation Centre, a seven-building complex where scientists and entrepreneurs at companies like Qualcomm and Skytree are working to tackle environmental issues. As the largest building on the campus, its goal was to set a precedent for sustainable architecture while providing a collaborative community space.
Matrix ONE embodies an ethos of sustainability from the outside in. Its dynamic façade features angular swaths of aluminum cladding modules that make for a striking street presence — and are screwed directly to the wooden facades for easy disassembly. The building’s compact shape improves the floor-to-façade ratio, thereby saving on materials and energy use to reduce its carbon footprint. The envelope and skylight maximize natural light to reduce energy use, while automated sunshades work to control the heat loads on sunny days.
To foster biodiversity, some of the façade’s modules host nesting boxes for birds, while on the green roof (which helps to insulate and cool the upper floors) gravel beds act as another spot for nesting alongside an insect hotel. 1,000 square metres worth of solar panels on the roof meet much of the building’s energy needs. A heat pump that recovers air from the workspaces connects to underground heat-and-cold storage, which is accompanied by a large stormwater retention tank. The temperature and lighting conditions are controlled with an app that uses sensors to monitor and optimize performance. The resulting building is nearly energy neutral, meeting Amsterdam’s ambitious municipal standards.
MVRDV worked with another Dutch firm, up architecture, to develop the interiors. A quintessentially Scandinavian palette of white and blonde wood imbues the social spaces with a soothing ambiance, while lush green walls and plants inject a dose of biophilia — and improve the indoor climate. Soft felt finishes (which are cradle-to-cradle certified) optimize the acoustics — ensuring that socialization can take place alongside collaborative work.
At the south corner, a “social staircase” next to the main entrance welcomes workers into the complex, mirroring the zig-zagging paths found elsewhere on the campus. Integrated into the staircase, stepped seating for presentations, casual meeting areas, and coffee stations offer places for workers from different industries to connect, while also encouraging employees to take the stairs instead of the elevators. Vents in the floor let fresh air in, while an operable roof allows it to escape, enabling passive ventilation. A restaurant on the ground floor and a bar on the uppermost level bookend the dynamic circulation system.
In addition to these amenities, which are accessible to employees from all the surrounding Matrix properties, a 100-seat auditorium serves as a venue to exchange knowledge and ideas. Spacious bike storage and on-site showers accessible from the central atrium encourage commuters to cycle to work (the building is also located nearby public transit), integrating the complex into Amsterdam’s existing network.
Remarkably, Matrix ONE can be taken apart almost as easily as it was put together. Its steel frame and prefabricated hollow core slabs were designed without any fixed connections, with the concrete normally included on top of the floor elements replaced with thin steel bracing underneath. MVRDV ensured that less durable components like furnishings could be upgraded without impacting those with a longer lifespan, and simple connections such as screws and bolts ensure over 90 per cent of the materials can be detached and replaced or recycled.
Even the prefab concrete floor slabs were made without any fixed connections, allowing them to be reused at the end of the building’s life. The designers utilized online material database Madaster to document the materials of over 120,000 components, creating a roadmap for its potential reuse.
MVRDV thoughtfully considered every contingency plan, from total disassembly to adaptive reuse. The steel structure and continuous flooring make for an open and flexible plan, where walls can easily be moved or removed to accommodate changing needs. According to the architects, the project presented an opportunity to test many of the carbon-reduction strategies the firm has long been exploring. “The building is state-of-the-art now, but it also acknowledges that the state-of-the-art is constantly changing,” says MVRDV partner Frans de Witte. “In the decades to come, it will become a source to harvest materials from for other buildings. In the future, we hope this is how all buildings will work – and we’re excited to see Matrix ONE become a standard-bearer in our own office.”
With Matrix ONE, Rotterdam firm MVRDV pushes the boundaries of sustainable design.