Michiel Hofman, co-principal of Hofman Dujardin Architects, has a simple take on the interiors his Amsterdam firm creates for its private and government clients.
“We don’t want to overpower people with design; it should just work well and feel good,” he says. “The clients should even have the idea they could have done it themselves.”
That commonsense approach won the firm the commission to transform
a four-story 1950s office block in The Hague into a new, light, and
airy headquarters for the prestigious BarentsKrans law firm.
Letting light in
The 56,000-square-foot building had previously been leased by the Ministry of Justice and contained a warren of offices divided by two central light wells. As Hofman recalls, the light wells “were the only distinctive feature of the building, but they were sealed off and looked awful. We saw the potential to open them up and connect them.”
The architects called for turning the light wells into atriums surrounded by balconies on the three upper levels. That simple move gave the building a heart, provided abundant natural light, and fulfilled the client’s goal of bringing all 150 employees together, centrally. One
of the atriums contains a library with long worktables and bookshelves; the other serves as a coffee bar with high stools for staff and visitors. This area hosts happy hours on Friday evenings, encouraging a mix
of work and play.
“We needed far more space for seminars, business events, and social interaction,” says Cosima Stroeve, BarentsKrans’s director of operations. “We wanted a fresh look with a warm, friendly feel.”
The welcoming tone of the office is set by the elliptical, light-oak reception desk inside the entry, and the dramatic black steel staircase that spirals up to the fifth-level penthouse. Hofman calls this helix “the DNA of the building” and justified the cost and difficulty of installation by explaining to the client that it would ensure the central meeting areas were fully used. He was proved right: Most BarentsKrans employees prefer this vertical link to the elevators and conventional staircases at the front and back of the building.
The low-ceilinged reception area is furnished with Vitra
sofas and a changing selection of art rented from a private gallery,
and serves as a portal to the soaring volumes on either side. “In architecture, there are four things people are looking for,” Hofman
says. “They need to breathe, so there has to be air and light; they crave protection and quietness; they want to be in touch, and, on occasion, to be surprised. They constantly seek a balance of these four elements.”
Open plan versus private offices
When designing space for a respected law firm, the challenge is to balance innovation and legacy—without mistaking legacy for stodginess. “We tossed tradition into a ravine,” Stroeve says. “What matters to us is that the office works as well as it looks.” Hofman was surprised to discover that older staff members were in favor of an open plan that would encourage people to work in teams, while the younger lawyers were looking for the status of a private office.
After much discussion, it was agreed that partners would have individual, glass-fronted rooms to achieve a mix of transparency and enclosure, and associates would share a double. Each was invited to choose chairs, finishes, lamps, and colors from a menu the architects compiled, and to make their own choice of art. Clerical staff members work in flexible workstations. “I would have welcomed more diversity, but the client wanted rooms that would work for new partners when the old ones left,” Hofman says.
The neutral tones of the walls and marble floors are warmed by the extensive use of oak and other natural woods, especially at the core, and upholstery adds splashes of bright color. Bands of acoustic plaster and perforated ceilings absorb sound in the atriums and open meeting areas. There is an easy flow of space up and across, so that users feel they are moving through one expansive cocoon, sheltered from the elements but open to the sky.
- Architect: Hofman Dujardin Architects
- Client: BarentsKrans
- Where: The Hague, Netherlands
- What: 56,000 total square feet on five floors
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- Two atriums provide both natural light and a central gathering place for employees.
- A helix staircase connecting all levels also serves as a dramatic focal point.
- The material palette is neutral and includes natural wood, marble, and acoustic plaster.
- A mix of open and glass- enclosed workspaces offers a compromise between generational preferences.