Architect Jan Hoogstad landed the commission after winning a limited entry competition. The contents of his samples case and his initial design sketch evidently proved the most convincing. For some time now he has been successfully touring the Netherlands presenting the ‘glazed buffer space’ model that he developed for the offices of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (VROM) in The Hague. Variants of this comb-shaped structure are now to be found in Leeuwarden, Roosendaal and Tilburg. It was the demand for optimum work stations in a noisy urban setting that gave The Hague this Dutch variant of the atrium office block. An added advantage is the substantially improved heat regulation resulting from the buffer effect of the glazed spaces. This model has also shown its applicability outside large cities, where its organizational benefits and effects have proved particularly decisive. When the various departments of the VROM were brought together in one building, the glazed spaces took on an unforeseen role in the fusing of the organization. The opportunities for (informal) meetings evidently had their effect. In this sense there are unexpected echoes of Team Ten and even Ginzburg with his apartment building as ‘social condenser’ in the work of Hoogstad the rationalist. Obviously a case of market-oriented commitment.
The malleability of the buffer space concept is amply demonstrated in Hilversum. There the comb shape has been distorted into a zig-zag pattern which sits better on site and improves the lines of vision. The rigidity of the U, H or comb shape is replaced by a pliable linear form, a snake, that can be extended at will. Moreover, the stairs and lifts are located not in the outer corners of the structure but in the middle of the glazed spaces, and are linked by footbridges. This generates enormous flexibility in the division of space and size of departments. In the VROM building this was fixed at units of 20 employees. The glazed spaces are also incorporated in the routing in a far more structural and organic fashion. Turning these spaces into bamboo gardens (to a design by West 8) elegantly enhances the concept.
True to form, Hoogstad worked up his sketch design into a mathematical scheme so as to keep control of the design over time. The first extension to the building, which was on the agenda even before it was built, is effortlessly incorporated in the grid. It looks as if it will be more difficult keeping further extensions in line with the requirements of geometry. Surprisingly, Hoogstad has admitted a degree of symbolism: the building registers in the affluent villa neighbourhood as three rounded heads along ‘s-Gravelandseweg, a trio of building parts for three broadcasting organizations. One part leads to the entrance and has a somewhat independent air through its position square to the others; this houses the three offices producing the TV guides of the three broadcasters. Might this be an ironic comment on this anachronism of each broadcaster having its own mag? The symbolism of the building’s shape is entirely lost on the broadcasters, as each wants a floor rather than a volume.
Hoogstad again shows himself to be a skilled office designer with a good eye for the user’s needs: views out, air and space. Despite its substantial volume, the building will not appear too massive amid the surrounding villas. The yellow brick facades complete with ‘Dudok jointing’ wed the new-build with the existing premises of the broadcasters and give the building a ‘Hilversum look’. If the three broadcasters also use the glazed spaces for their programmes, as Hoogstad hopes, something of the dynamism of the broadcasting business will be expressed to the outside world. This enrichment of the functional office building compensates for having missed the opportunity to make the recording studios, the core of broadcasting, the architectural theme. They are now largely buried in the back garden of the complex: attractively accessed internally by voids but invisible from outside. Evidently neither the client nor the architect saw logo potential here. Working with a type as design method ensures clarity and certainty, but there is a price to pay: loss of specificity. Not that this worries Hoogstad, who puts his trust in a neutrality coloured in by the context.