Concrete, a multidisciplinary architecture, interiors, and graphic design firm based in Amsterdam, had grown tired of its open-plan office in an unadorned church gymnasium on a busy avenue. The 40-person firm, which was named Dutch Architect of the Year in 2012, operates more like a family than a corporate business, according to founder Rob Wagemans. So it chose to move into a former residential building and design new spaces to better fit firm culture.
Occupying a 133-year-old, four-story townhouse, the new office is aptly named House of Concrete. Its location in Amsterdam’s Red Light District adds some urban edge—neighbors include an erotica shop and sex show venue. But that is the context of central Amsterdam, and as visual marketeer Sofie Ruytenberg points out, the narrow streets are more human-scale than Concrete’s former address.
Still more like a house than an office
The project team, comprising Wagemans and Concrete’s department heads, was not able to alter much in the historically protected house,
so major design moves were based on furnishings and art placement. The design of spaces was inspired by domestic archetypes and contains hints of orange—the color of the Dutch royal family that is used often in Amsterdam.
A formal meeting room is called “the better room”; the informal meeting room is “the best room”—and nicknamed “the snug”—and the three-story bookcase ingeniously slotted into the central staircase
is “the library.” The kitchen walls are covered with witjes—white tiles typical of 17th-century Dutch homes—and a kitchen table, encircled by cheerful Eames chairs, has a large lazy susan. Four workrooms feature inspiration walls populated by images hung in neat grids, nearly stretching from baseboard to ceiling. Employees hold a meeting—more like a party—to decide which images will go and which will stay in the coming year.
As in most families, every staff member has a seat at the table—40 plywood IKEA stools customized by employees are stacked in the formal meeting room for use in company-wide meetings. Each employee is also assigned a workspace with a custom-made steel trolley topped with orange cushions. The trolleys double as seating and storage, and casters allow employees to scoot them over to team meetings. The “lunch tunnel,” a custom-made steel booth with a
zigzag base and powder-coated in Concrete’s signature orange color, provides an intimate space for staff meals as well as meetings.
Movement encourages thinking out of the box
The lunch tunnel, tucked into the hallway outside the kitchen, is an example of how the firm looked for ways to give every square foot a double function. Additionally, a coffee pantry is carved out of the second-floor stair landing, and the bookcase snaking through the stairwell both stores books and serves as a social connector. It provides a place to sit down, read, and relax, as well as to meet people on their way up or down. “The main thing connecting us is inspiration [symbolized by books],” Ruytenberg says. “Now that we’re divided into different workrooms on different floors, you have to move around the building to see your colleagues every day.” The shelves disrupt the rigidity of the Victorian-era townhouse and provide a stylistic counterpoint to the stairway’s white marble floors and ornate newels.
The firm’s designers find “the best room” (on page 96) to be particularly inviting. Its two low Chesterfield sofas tucked beneath sloped ceilings and cozy beams are perfect for conversation and casual work sessions. “There’s a different vibe when you’re on a couch than when you’re sitting on a chair,” Ruytenberg says. “We’re trying to facilitate different types of designing.” A May Day lamp by Flos, perched on a child’s high chair, accentuates the space’s playfulness and can be easily carted elsewhere.
Compared with Concrete’s previous home, their new office gives employees a variety of spaces from which to choose and move between. “It’s nice to change scenery within the same building,” Ruytenberg says. “Everyone enjoys that very much.” She jokes that Concrete was an annoying, demanding client for itself. This was exacerbated by a short timeline—the design and installation process was shoehorned into six months. But so far, it has all been worth it.
House of Concrete
- Designer: Concrete
- Client: Concrete
- Where: Amsterdam
- What: 5,170 total square feet on four floors
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- Design choices primarily involve furnishings and art, in the interest of preserving the interior details of the historic structure.
- Space-saving solutions make the most of the former townhouse’s narrow floorplate.
- A variety of spaces for individual and team work encourages employees to regularly leave their desks and move through the building.
- Pops of orange, carefully curated art installations, and residential-scale furnishings give the office a lived-in, cozy feel.