Analysis Of Centraal Beheer Offices Created By Herman Hertzberger

In 1967, there was an international competition for the new headquarters of the Amsterdam City Hall. A vast number of architects from all around the world came together to propose their designs to come up with the solution to the political-social situation in the city. These proposals were encompassed by the idea of architecture as a city. Between these architects was Herman Hertzberger, a Dutch architect, teacher and theoretician, who developed the concept and plan of an office complex.

A year later, Hertzberger was commissioned to move forward to create the Centraal Beheer offices for an insurance company in Apeldoorn, Holland, from 1968 to 1972 with his original design for the Amsterdam City Hall. Hetzberger decided to focus his design on the complex but crucial relationship and unification of man and architecture. He stressed many important components within his design such the different ways the arrangement of spaces would influence the working individuals, how his entire plan, which consists of numerous cubic elements would be organized in such a way that they would be configured as a city, but most important of all, how the individuals inside the complex interact with the created public, collective, and social spaces as well as with each other in different visual and auditory contacts. The Centraal Beheer offices sit on a site that is adequately served by necessary public facilities. Just outside the building lays one of the main highways in Apeldoorn as well as a train station along with a few residential areas, which makes the location of the offices very convenient for the employees who commute to their jobs every day. Its accessible location also provides a variety of commercial areas like stores and restaurants, which allows the employees a variety of places to visit besides their offices in that area.

The site plan shown in Figure 1 can help understand the relationship that the building has with the site and how they behave with one another. It helps create an image of where everything is located and how distant things are to each other, as well as how people come into the building from the street as well as the different paths the people who enter the building take depending on if they are visitors or employees.

The Centraal Beheer company management stressed that the most important issue that the design had to focus on was the worker’s productivity. Because this was the problem that Hertzberger was asked to tackle with his design, he decided to create an extremely livable yet functional building.

The building’s plan is placed on a grid that is rotated 45 degrees that is composed of straight lines that vary in width and distances, crossing at right angles. There is a clear arrangement of fifty-six tower-like concrete cubes that go beyond the simple placement of elements within the established grid, which delineates the main and secondary axis paths of the structure.

The study of the relationship between the design and the grid can be appreciated in Figure 2, which provides a detailed illustration of how the grid influences the plan. The main axis cuts down the middle of the plan both vertically and horizontally while the secondary axis cuts diagonally through the plan allowing the cubes to follow its direction. The building works around an inter-penetrating grid of circulation that create spaces for interpretable spaced that can be adapted for different purposes. In “An Analysis of the Evolution of a Workplace,” Linda Stewart Gatter stated that “architecture in this sense does not simply contain a program but has the power to launch one - when forms, through their adhesive power to draw association from the users, stimulate the individual to play the roles through which his identity will be enlarged, form and program become reciprocally evocative.”

The building is meant to create a work space for 1000 people and because these people work most days a week and end up practically spending more time at work than at home, it was Hertzberger’s goal to create a pleasant work environment with the use of architecture. The fifty-six structures are assembled into a geographical coordinate system that separated them into North, South, East and West, though they are unified by the center of the building with an open common area. This layout was used to create different spaces where the individuals would feel free and connected to one another. The building provides a sense of continuity between the structures and it is achieved by the numerous connections between the cubes as well as the roof terraces that are accessible to whomever decides to access it. The use of the roof garden serves as a way of eliminating the boundaries between interior and exterior; it expresses the qualities of a public space but from inside the building. The structure itself provides an innovative work atmosphere that would allow the employees to feel comfortable in their office space; the spaces the Hertzberger has created are meant to make the individuals that work in the building feel as comfortable as possible, in other words, it aimed to create a home-like environment. The structure has a great sense of flexibility and organization that allows the different work stations to be at different levels and are visible to everyone, removing any type of hierarchy between the employees. The different levels create a series of islands and bridges that form voids that rise to the full height of the building in between them, allowing and encouraging vertical and horizontal contact. There are numerous modules that contain mix-use areas that can be used for work, for relaxation, as recreational areas, and many other operations that can be interpreted by each in their own way. These spaces will work to benefit the relationships workers and it can help generate a quality work environment. There is a certain complexity as to how a city is laid out and how it interconnects different elements such as the streets and pathways or just the creation of spaces within itself. Hertzberger decided to implement these ideas and qualities that characterize a city into his own design. The introduction of an urban style plan inside the office building seeks to combine work environment and social interaction. He became one of the first architects to develop a style that be composed of an elongated atrium that would encourage and define social interaction. The accessibility to different spaces that the paths simulates a walk through a city; it allows for experimentation and discovery of new areas within the same building. Hertzberger stated that “the openness is intended to contribute to the reconciliation of the building and the city, public and private. Mother and children may have a walk in the building to see where the father is working and what he is doing. They may have a drink together, or as many families do, go have lunch in a restaurant.” The variety of spaces allows for the type of freedom for the individuals inside the structure that simulates the freedom a person has when walking through a city. The use of all of the pathways within the structure helps create a sequence of scenes that vary throughout the entire building because each one provides access to different spaces allowing for an individual to take alternative paths within the defining grid and urban character. Despite being an interior space protected from inclement weather, overhead lighting, surface finishing, accessibility, and even maintenance; they introduce the reality of the public road inside the office building. One of Hertzberger’s most stressed ideas was the importance of the interactions and relationships the individuals created with each other inside their work space. There are three different areas inside the office complex that are meant to serve as three fundamental concepts that allow the structuring of the building and they are: public space, collective space, and social space. These spaces encourage a series of different interaction between the individuals inside the buildings. The arrangement of rooms and seat placements around these areas allows for these people to intermingle with each other from different location in many different matters such as personal, social, and public interactions. Public spaces within the complex is defined as a space where people come together freely without any access restrictions; it consists of places where employees and non-employees can gather. This is composed of places such as restaurants, coffee bars, nursery, reading rooms, library, etc. These public spaces may also be considered social spaces, depending on whether its configuration incites the social use of space. Collective spaces can be considered both public or private because they entail some access restriction, but it is independently used by individuals. These spaces are defined as those that host a large number of people, but whose intention is not to serve as a social space. They tend to consist of the actual working or office spaces within the different cubes along the entire complex.

The social spaces of the Centraal Beheer are those spaces that are less accessible than a public space but more accessible than a collective space. Although this building can be considered somewhat public and collective with a few accessibility restrictions from the outside world, the life inside the office complex is organized in such a way that it encourages the encounter of people, promoting the social use of spaces. These social spaces successfully encourage users to utilize them through the interpretation of built objects such as seating, tables, etc. With this, Hertzberger manages to define social use in the spaces he has created. Besides the compositions of spaces, Hetzberger dedicated large amount of attention and detail to the different distances between the people inside these spaces. By analyzing the diverse scenarios throughout the building, there are clear interactions between the individuals in same rooms, rooms that are close to each other, and even rooms on different levels. Starting with personal distance, which is considered a conversational distance between people, is one of the most frequently seen distances throughout the entire building. One of the many areas where this type contact is used is inside the office spaces because some of the employees work in the same table, which allows them to participate in a personal interaction with one another. Additional to the personal interaction, there is also spaces that allow for social distances. This type of distance is of ordinary conversation and can it can be performed in spaces such as the coffee bars, reading rooms, etc.

Lastly, the presence of public distance is a crucial for the communication between the individuals that work at Centraal Beheer and it can be experienced between the offices because thanks to the seating arrangement, people can interact with each other in a personal, social, and public matter, but it can be also executed from one cubic element to another as well as from one floor to another. This is thanks to the sense of continuity and unification Hertzberger wanted to provide between the employees by eliminating any barriers between offices whether they were horizontal or vertical. The variety of the placement of the seats and different social interactions can be seen and analyzed in Figure 3 which represents a detailed plan that includes the existing seating arrangement inside one of the fifty-six cubes. There is a large number of workers inside every work station and they are relatively close to everyone in that same area. The distances vary but at most, they are at a public distance. There is also a direct relationship between the different floors due to the voids that meet up to the ceiling, allowing fluid communication from one floor to another. This can be understood in Figure 4 which provides a section of two cubic elements where you can clearly see Hertzberger’s intention of creating visual relationships. Herman Hertzberger proceeded to accomplish everything he set his design to be; an interactive and modular space that followed certain qualities of a city that allowed maximum interaction between people through architecture.

03 December 2019
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