On the American walnut floor, alongside the glass wall, leather Chesterfield armchairs invite you to sit and enjoy the view of the Museum Park.
An oval espresso bar, also walnut-paneled, is close by. Right behind this luxurious hangout, a grand hall drenched in daylight with even more walnut furniture, opens out in front of you.
Rather than being in the lobby of a five-star hotel, you’re in the brand-new Education Centre of the Erasmus University Medical Centre.
By bathing this building in daylight and giving it a larger-than-life aesthetic appeal, the Rotterdam office of architects practice Claus en Kaan are encouraging students to treat the building with care and take pride in their university.
When Claus en Kaan Architecten started planning the project in 2003, the area where the Education Centre now stands was a large, triangular square. This was the heart of the Medical Faculty at the time: an outdoor space on top of a car park, with a pond, benches and flower arrangements.
The square was the access point to different medical specialities, each of which formed its own little bastion, which included classrooms, student rooms and a library.
Dikkie Scipio from Claus en Kaan explains, “In organisational terms, the former layout was not at all practical; Claus en Kaan Architecten won the competition by removing this fragmentation.
Our view was that a student is a student, irrespective of his or her medical speciality. Therefore, we proposed making seminar rooms, study areas and libraries completely communal. But the crux of the design was that we wanted to respect OD 205’s original architecture. That was why we retained the square.
It remained one large space, but now under a glass roof. In this way, it’s still an open meeting place that brings all the students together.”
As a result of Claus en Kaan’s clever solution, the central hall is still surrounded by the original building: three levels of classrooms, study areas and lecture theatres.
These buildings were stripped down to their concrete core, after which they were re-organised and re-built.
On the second level is an elevated open gallery which runs around the entire hall: a large walkway past many classrooms with immense glass partitions that bring daylight through to the ground floor.
Certain elements of the old building are clearly recognisable. For instance, two sturdy white spiral staircases that once stood on the square, covered in a frosted glass jacket are now at the edge of the hall, exposed rather than enveloped.
American walnut provides great warmth in contrast to the white concrete and glass. “Walnut has the timeless quality which we believe is in keeping with the medical world,” explains Scipio. “We regard it as the third hue of a three-colour palette, in addition to white and glass.”
Wim van der Plas, director of the bespoke joinery firm Van der Plas Meubel en Project in Hertogenbosch, was responsible for the wood used. His company installed all the wooden walls, most of which are located around the central hall and form the outer walls of all the study and seminar rooms on the bottom two floors, alternating with glass partitions.
Van der Plas explains: “There was only one way to do it: by joining forces with flooring supplier Finesse Parket to buy a single batch of wood. Wood is like good grape: each harvest is slightly different. Because everything now comes from a single batch, the floor and walls are of the same timber.”
Both the walls and the floors were clad in strips 1200mm long, 100mm wide and 12 mm thick with a top ply of American walnut and a bottom layer made up of triplex. The decision was made to use tongue-and-groove joints in which the flooring strips are nailed blind (on the tongue) to the fixing battens beneath it.
One amazing thing about the project’s installation is that the architects wanted the walnut strips on the walls to line up with the strips on the flooring.
Van der Plas comments proudly, “We managed to join the walls to the floor board by board so the floor looks as if it is curling up into the wall.” However, many complications had to be overcome to achieve it. This was particularly true for the wooden parapets around the light wells that were created in the gallery on the first floor to bring daylight into the ground floor.
One of the memorable features of the Education Centre is the monumental bookcase that stands stoically the Medical Library. The giant bookcase, which stands along the wall where the hall, is at its widest and includes openings at regular intervals to let the daylight through.
This bookcase, the study islands, wooden furniture (designed by Claus en Kaan and manufactured by 13 Speciaal) and wooden walls work together to make the hall a pleasant environment for students to study privately or linger with friends.
The result achieved by Claus en Kaan Architecten in both the master plan and the finer interior details reflects their great understanding of the human interaction with the space.
Location: Dr. Molewaterplein 50, Rotterdam
Client: Erasmus University Medical Centre Rotterdam (erasmusmc. nl)
Design: Claus en Kaan Architecten Rotterdam (clausenkaan.nl); Kees Kaan, Vincent Panhuysen, Dikkie Scipio
Design adviser: Aronsohn Raadgevende Ingenieurs Rotterdam (aronsohn.nl)
Main contractor: J.P. van Eesteren Barendrecht (jpvaneesteren.nl)
Bespoke joinery walls & doors: Van der Plas Meubel en Project ‘s-Hertogenbosch (www.vanderplas.biz)
Solidwood furniture: 13Speciaal, Rotterdam
Parquet flooring: Finesse Parket Rosmalen (finesseparketvloeren.nl)
Bespoke joinery (study islands): Retera Veldhoven (retera.nl)
Coffeebar: Roverdi, Berkel en Rodenrijs (roverdi.nl)
Gross floor area: 34,000 m2
Construction period: November 2010 – August 2012
Cost of construction: €52 million, excl. VAT
Photography: Bart Gosselin