A Building like an Adaptable Shelving Unit

On show at the Hoorn Architecture Centre until June 10 is an exhibition devoted to FLEX Buildings. Architectural firm Ruimtelab (Space Lab) is presenting a fictitious multi-company building completely geared to accommodating change.

The design and exhibition are the fruits of a study project, commissioned by the RPD, into the requirements that contemporary multi-company buildings have to meet. The underlying idea is that today's society requires buildings that can be rapidly transformed without any major construction work and can therefore easily accommodate various types of businesses in changing constellations.

The advantages of such buildings are not just financial and organizational; they also have significant advantages in terms of longevity. Our living and working environment is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Today's buildings, unlike those of the past, can change many times within a single lifetime. Cycles of construction and demolition are visible for everyone today but are seldom taken into account in the design.

According to Ruimtelab, to facilitate changing use a FLEX Building must be large, sturdy, and above all beautiful. The most important rules of thumb for the design of FLEX Buildings are:

1 Oversizing is a Plus!

A deliberate over-dimensioning of both space and structure allows a building to accommodate future developments. A FLEX Building is large and sturdy!

2 Beautiful!

A beautiful building is less likely to be demolished. People become attached to buildings with a distinctive architecture. Cultural longevity can make a well-functioning FLEX Building a success.

3 Functional Range

A FLEX Building must not by definition be able to accommodate all possible functions. It is therefore advisable to define the 'functional range' of a FLEX Building. Which functions should and shouldn't the building be capable of accommodating?

4 Facade

Since a FLEX Building is subject to constant change in terms of its uses and users, the traditional composition methods for facade design loose their validity. The double-skin facade is a promising new facade concept that makes it possible to develop expressive facades for flexible buildings.

5 Active Management

A FLEX Building demands an active management approach. In addition to routine maintenance and repair work, policies governing the building's uses (which functions are desirable and in which proportions) and the manner in which users can advertise themselves (on the facade for example) need to be drawn up.

FLEX Buildings can be enduring because no major construction work is needed when users require change. In a FLEX Building various functions can profit from one another by, for instance, sharing parking, reception and canteen facilities. Energy consumption and refuse disposal too can be co-ordinated. Over-sizing dimensions also has financial advantages, according to Ruimtelab. A flexible building is no more expensive than a conventional building. Calculations in which the savings from future rebuilding work are compared with the higher new-build costs indicate that a FLEX building more than recovers its investment in the long run.

To demonstrate the principles in a concrete design, a fictive multi-company building was designed for Dampten industrial site in Hoorn. The Dampten FLEX Building consists of a series of lamellas between which are large glazed areas. These glazed and roofed interstitial spaces are the oversized areas of the complex, which can be used in a flexible manner. Parts of the glazed areas can be annexed for particular functions. Letting out one complete glazed area together with the adjacent lamellas creates one large unit. Dampten FLEX Building is not suitable for everything. The scope of functions is limited to offices, business units, shops and dwellings. A building next to a railway line must have a sound-proof facade (i.e. double skin). The facade is designed as a window display. The double skin facade is more than two metres deep and contains stairs, corridors and lifts. The transparent facade not only reveals who is in the building but also what happens in the restaurants, showrooms, shops, offices, and business units. The changing use of the double-layered facade determines the building's appearance. The outer layer keeps the wind and rain out, allowing the inner skin to be easily detailed. Accordingly, everything behind the outer glass skin can easily be adapted. Nonetheless, an active management policy is needed to control the process of change.