The project for ‘De Nieuwe HEF’ is situated in a closed block on Noordereiland, a characteristic Rotterdam enclave near the city centre. The assignment involved realizing living accommodation and commercial space for HEF Publishers, which publishes books on architecture and design, in two former commercial halls and a common-entry house. The premises are a typical example of post-war reconstruction architecture and design: a building with small commercial halls on the ground floor and a four-storey apartment building above. This type was constructed to meet rapidly the demand for housing and commercial space just after the bombardment of Rotterdam during the Second World War. Nowadays such buildings provoke much discussion, as they no longer seem to dovetail with present-day requirements while their design is somewhat indefinite. Nevertheless, they do form an important layer in the history of Rotterdam. This renovation wishes to demonstrate the value of this architecture for the future.
There is mention of an exceptional situation on the Maaskade. As a consequence of the many valuable buildings along the quayside, the entire waterfront has been included in the List of Protected Buildings. Almost nothing on the street façade may be altered. As a result, the HEF has become a ‘hidden treasure’.
In view of the lifestyle of the two clients, the premises must accommodate an unorthodox programme. The clients jointly run a publishing house, and each exercises a second profession besides this one: he is a businessman, she is a landscape artist. In addition, they possess countless books, sufficient to cover 160 m. of book shelves. In everyday life, their public and private lives intertwine, so that there is no necessity for a traditional residential programme with a workplace. The programme is based on a large range of spots where, in the course of a day, the residents can work, study, settle in and rest. Moreover, the presence of books is the main theme of the renovation. Their business and private lives revolve around books and these must be available everywhere, for every occasion. Finally, the clients also specified one absolute condition: there had to be a direct relationship with the river and the passing ships.
The available volume of two adjacent commercial halls and one superposed apartment provided many spatial opportunities. Horizontal: by combining the halls on the ground floor, an enormously wide space was created. To make this tangible, the design concept starts with zoning across the width. Viewed from the street there are five zones: an extroverted zone with an exhibition, a central zone with a meeting plaza, an introverted zone for working and sleeping, an exterior zone with a patio, and a functional zone with an open-plan kitchen and storage space. Vertical: the building had an industrial concrete structure of columns and beams that have different dimensions to meet different situations. The constantly irregular structure is the feature of the space and accordingly has been kept in full view. At a height of 2.4 metres a new height feature has been introduced. Below this height, separations in the form of bookcases, giant swing doors and closed walls. Above 2.4 metres, everything is closed off with frameless glass. In addition, the core of the house has an opening giving access to the first floor where the southern sun streams in and links the world on the ground floor to the lounge situated above. This lounge provides a wide panorama out across the River Maas. On the ground floor, bookcases and partitions have been placed in the space like proscenia, in such a way that a relationship with the river is generated via sightlines from almost everywhere in the interior. At the same time, the logistics within the premises have been very well-considered. All activities can take place without adversely affected the others.
Paul de Vroom partner in charge DKV architecten