Alkmaar City Office / Proof of the sum
Alkmaar as most innovative 100k+ municipality
The Municipality of Alkmaar (The Netherlands) has set itself a challenging target. It aims at becoming the most innovative 100k+ municipality of the Netherlands by 2021. Innovative in the area of providing services and the manner of in- and external cooperation. To this end, an organisational development plan has been drawn up. Parallel with changing the organisational model, customization of the own accommodation is stated as an essential to step to realize the objective. Working procedures shift from departments with fixed teams and their own clearly defined range of tasks to an organisation with constantly alternating teams on the basis of competencies and own responsibilities. A municipal officer emerges who is empowered to take responsibility, who cooperates optimally with colleagues and partners, who pro-actively meets with residents, community centres and entrepreneurs. What counts is output and not just the physical presence at the office. With respect to accommodation, the development plan states: “Create a flexible, sustainable working environment that stimulates an efficient and effective way of working and that reflects the organisation’s identity and enhances it.”
Until recently, the employees of the Municipality of Alkmaar worked at some five locations spread out over the town. Through a drastic redevelopment of the entire back office of the city office on the Mallegatsplein, they now are all based on the same location. From there, they serve the region Alkmaar, Schermer and Graft – De Rijp.
One and a half years from budget determination until the first day of operations in the new working environment – the absolute max timeframe for the entire process. Without any compromise in terms of ambition and quality. A challenge that demands clear choices and sometimes bold ones. Together with YNNO, the municipality drew up an ambitious programme of requirements to facilitate the high ambitions and the new way of working. Alkmaar is one the first municipalities that opts for an accommodation without a sector plan. Employees and managers decide themselves how, where and with who they work; departments no longer have their own territories. And 200 workstations for 600 civil servants is quite ambitious as well.
What stands out in the process, is the virtually parallel completion of process steps. Setting up the programme of requirements synced with the extensive architect selection process. Finally, two firms (in return for payment) worked out a complete sketch design to enable a positive interaction in terms of influence between design and programme. In May 2017, the municipality chose Proof of the sum on the basis of their vision ‘the power of magnetism’. With the design commission, Proof was given the responsibility for the entire design from structural adjustments and interior design up to the choices and design of separate fittings, furnishing, graphic design and indoor plants and green accents.
The design and tendering processes also overlapped. On the basis of a Final Design, the search was started for the most suitable contractor. A party that could manage parallel engineering and building processes within a tight time frame. An intensive process of synchronous engineering and implementation was completed with Verwol Integrale Projectinrichting. During the process, 15% savings were realized on the initial tender price to secure project feasibility. By linking the design vision and the implementation knowledge in an early stage, this proved possible without major concessions in terms of concept or materialization.
And it worked. Mid-June 2018, the new working environment was rolled out to the employees of the municipality who were happy to take it into use. And successfully so, as is clear from the first responses. And not in the least because the municipality undertook the entire training and counselling process for its employees itself. Organisational change and accommodation (innovation) go hand in hand.
A place in and for the city
The original Alkmaar city office was taken into use in 2001. The building was designed as a modern town gate on the edge of the old fortress creating the gate(way) between the historic city centre and modern urban district ‘Overstad’. The protracted building designed by Bonnenma, has five floors and it is a clear landmark for the northern access road into town. The second floor houses all public functions of the municipality, Employee Insurance Agency UWV and regional Benefits Office Haltewerk. The three top floors accommodate the back office of the municipality and constitute the project area for this redevelopment.
The challenge for the design is to turn the location into an appealing workplace for the 600 municipal officers. In a time of digitalization, remote working and pro-active visibility close to the residents, the employees need a central and attractive base. A clear location in town full of dynamics and so magnetic that colleagues can’t wait to meet each other there.
A building with great potential
The Alkmaar city office is a building that makes quite an impression. The 150-meter long volume in red-brick masonry towers over the town and accentuates the bend in the old defence line to the Noordhollandsch Kanaal. A modern gatehouse with a number of strong characteristics. The construction has a very short span of 12 metres without columns and with a highly repetitive facade perforation. Because of the clear east-west orientation, the rhythm of the day becomes tangible in the building; most clearly reflected in the movement of the rising and setting sun. The two sharp points of the protracted volume offer splendid views and form characteristic ends to the floor plans. The fact that the building houses multiple users, offer special dynamics; and the moving walkway from ground level to the public toilets creates a moment of peace that lasts almost two minutes.
The building also has a number of areas of attention that the design concept had to address. The length of the volume creates distance between the users. This is enhanced by the large number of building entrances and the various floors that seems to function as layers of clay for the organisation. Colleagues remained unnoticed, anonymous and there was hardly any awareness of each other. A limited ceiling height suppresses the feeling of spaciousness and the curvature of the floor plan creates interrupted sight lines resulting in a fragmented experience of the building. Or could the latter actually be a strength?
The power of magnetism
‘Servient’ buildings such as a city office must and can reinforce knowledge sharing between their users. Aspects such as distance, awareness, proximity and visual transparency play an important part. For knowledge is only shared when the opportunity is offered and trust between colleagues is strong. So, the challenge is to create a single place for 600 people. And… creating room for the individual. For privacy and concentration. This area of tension forms the core of the design concept.
To break through the building’s clay layers, two large new mezzanines were realized in the building to create a strong connection between the third, fourth and fifth floor – both spatially and programme-wise. To ‘activate’ the building so to speak and to have the officers make use of the entire building in a natural manner in the course of their workday, all common functions are projected around this spatial axle. One single three-dimensional space for all colleagues.
A typical workday will start on the third floor in the network cafe and service center. A question about a meeting space or a mobile device? A cup of tea with an external relation? Or a start-up meeting with a newly formed project group? This is all possible here. Even the locker area has a prominent position and is designed as an informal consultation space.
The big bleacher stairs lead to the fourth floor, where, around the mezzanines, the Alkmaar Academy is located. This internal training programme disposes of a range of learning and education spaces. Varying from a big instruction space to small break-out rooms where small groups can work on various challenges. A more modest stairway to the next mezzanine leads to the meeting center with room for both bigger and smaller groups. So, even far into the building, large groups are invited to make use of the whole building.
The dynamics and activity around the new mezzanines create a sharp contrast with the peace and privacy on the adjacent work floors. Their focus lies on an individual scale and small teams. Concentrated work, videoconferencing, agile and scrum sessions and smaller meeting rooms determine the rhythm of these areas.
And eventually, the user will be enticed to use the whole of the building up to the pointed edges. The striking heads of the building offer more meeting opportunities albeit on a smaller scale. Here the programme manifests itself in pantries with coffee and cooled water, long reading benches and room for stand-up sessions and brainstorming. Circulation up to the final fibres of the building.
By playing with the positioning of various shared functions and individual spots, an interesting magnetic picture has been created in the building. Not all attention on one focal point but strategic programming and careful positioning. This will generate expected and unexpected contacts. And this is the catalyst of innovation.
For the detailed elaboration of the floor plans a number of clear design principles were applied. Crucial city office functions are positioned centrally in the floor plans and made visible for the entire organisation. Next to the network cafe on the third floor, the service desk is located for all employees with questions on IT, HR and facilities. The Alkmaar Customer Contact Center has a central location on the fourth floor as a circular call center. Clearly visible for everybody to stimulate awareness of the quality of the own services. Furthermore, no lockable space borders on the exterior facade. Meeting rooms are ‘dispersed’ as separate volumes in the floor plan. They assist in integrating the human scale in the building and orchestrate the flows in the floor plan. When users walk round these spaces, their look is subtly pointed towards the town. The town they are working for each and every day. Another form of awareness. Finally, the design also ensures that never more than 16 people have the feeling that they are sharing a single space. Each day new small communities are formed this way that offer value at that time. And the following day their composition changes once again.
Less is stronger
The design has been realised with a limited palette of materials and colours. Because of the restricted floor height, a great deal of attention was given to removing ceilings and the design of installations that were not covered from sight. A central installation strip in the middle of the floor plan functions as the new technical artery to which all functions are connected. Meeting spaces with intensive climate control requirements are located under this strip. The primary workstations are located along the facades; height is created by the application of integrated climate islands. Lighting, ventilation, cooling, sprinkler and smartbuilding sensors are all included in a single modular island concept. Uniformly and clearly following the building’s curvature. With regard to lighting, on the facade side a luminaire with a high light yield was opted for that did not create a distinct light line on the ceiling in order not to emphasize the building’s length effect with repetitive light lines. In the central strips, the points of the building and the spaces around the mezzanines, track lighting systems and directable spotlights are used to be able to realize an intimate and divers lighting effect.
The interior walls are closed parallel to the facade; at a right angle to the facades, they are transparent This results in long lines of sight running through the building. By including sliding doors in the transparent walls, new walking routes emerge when the (meeting) rooms are not being used. And, even with intensive use, this is the case nearly 30 to 40 percent of the time. To tailor the floor plans even more to the human dimension, translucent writable walls have been installed at numerous places These pyrasid walls separate the spaces but also create co-work places for scrum and agile working methods. And secretly they tempt the eyes to look outside.
The colour pallet is limited, as said. Ceilings, outer facades and installations are pure white. Interior walls, stairs and balustrades are soft grey. Frames and fixed furniture are black. Finally, accents were created in the floors and individual interior elements. In the collective zones, the floors have a black linoleum finishing while old rose carpeting was selected for the more individual working environments. The soft reflection in the technical installations on the ceiling creates a warm glow effect. Atypical for an office. The green accents in the separate interior elements combined with plants results in an expressive but calm whole despite the limited range of colours used. The transparency of all right-angle interior walls functions as binding element.
Recycling and local as basic principle for individual interior elements
The design of individual interior elements shows a maximum commitment to recycling. The primary workplaces consist of existing frames which are fitted with a new worktop with charging options. The old worktops are the basis for the acoustic panels between the workstations. More than half of the meeting tables are existing tables that were freshly colour-sprayed. The chairs with the tables are partly recycled ones and new items. Where new chairs were decided on, these are manufactured for more than 50% from recycled PET bottles. A city office belongs to the city. Involving local parties will reinforce this. All curtains were produced and installed by a local entrepreneur. A local artist designed a number of special (side-)tables that tell part of the town’s narrative. And even plant maintenance is carried out by residents with a disadvantage on the employment market. For the city and with the city.
Identity: the second layer
A city office wants to identify with the region that it serves. For this, Proof searched for the less well-known stories of the region. Together with fashion designer Anouk van de Sande graphics were developed that tell those unknown stories and that add a new layer to the building to be explored by its users.
The transparent walls of the meeting rooms all have graphics. On opening the sliding doors, two layers of glass move on top of each other and the graphic patterns shifts. A boat that is sailing through the polder. A vaulting pole note that becomes legible. A flapping wing of Victory. The graphics raise questions with the user. Each design contains a hint to the actual story. The layouts of the scrum walls have been fitted with characteristic facade profiles of a number of typical Alkmaar buildings. Of course with a hint in the form of a speaking note. In conclusion, a number of ‘orphaned’ statues have been given a new spot in the city office. Too vulnerable or maybe too sensitive for the outside world. But as a natural part of the building ready for a next story.
Technology ready for the future
Alkmaar will be the most innovative 100k+ municipality of the Netherlands. And in terms of technology, the building is ready. A smart grid of sensors in the ceiling already controls the installation with respect to CO2, occupancy and presence. But these sensors will later also return information to each individual user. Where is my colleague? Where can I find a warmer workplace in the building? Is there a less quiet workplace available, and where? And which space can I book last minute to work out that interesting idea with a small group? Everything in a single intelligent platform.
Proof of the sum did not do this project on its own. Together with the core team of the municipality, YNNO was responsible for workplace concept, programme of requirements and the project management up to and including the tender process. Daily supervised by the project team of Alkmaar, WFO Bouwadvies was committed to construction design and HE-adviseurs for all installation-technical design aspects. Nieman Raadgevende Adviseurs supplied its expertise in the field of fire-safety and acoustics. The tender for the contractors was streamlined by ICS adviseurs. Verwol Integrale Projectinrichting emerged from the process. Together with Warmtebouw and Gouweloos as main subcontractors, the project has been realized. Workplace design and individual interior elements were realized by Gispen and Koninklijke Ginkel Groep was responsible for plants. A genuine team performance.