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The test of time

Transformation: from options exchange to NRC headquarters
Text by
Ravenna Westerhout

Nothing exudes charm and architectural interest like a reclaimed building. But what if this building is a building you have designed yourself, and needs to be adapted to the wishes of a new user?

Same building, different user, new appearance. In short, that determined the transformation of the former Options Exchange into the NRC Headquarters. What remained unchanged was the architect who designed it. Cees Dam explains the maximal transformation that his original design from 1987 underwent as follows: “If the facade makes sense from a distance and the details right up close do so too, then everything in between is also good. A constant factor in this is the relationship that the design seeks with Renaissance architecture, an architectural period that is often presented on Italian palazzos, but can also be found in Amsterdam. Both the buildings have the same structure: from base to top, from coarse to fine, from closed to open. The prefab concrete façade of the original design and the transparent glass façade of the current building show this course.”

Glass corner tower of former with its golden ball, Options Exchange, 1987.

The former Option Exchange was a recalcitrant building upon completion. With its glass corner tower with an octagonal pointed roof and a golden ball, echoing the tower of the neighbouring premises, the building was one of the rare, plain expressions of postmodernism in the 1980s in the Netherlands, the style known for its references to historic architecture.

The rest of the building, which covers the entire ground surface between Rokin and Nes, was a very classical building with its vertical windows and the facades built up of three sections, a modern version of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. The base structure on the Rokin was dressed with stone. The central layer of the facades were clad with a screen of pink tinted concrete panels, covered with pyramid-shaped points, reminiscent of the ornaments that adorned Renaissance architecture in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. At the height of the fifth floor, at the prescribed height of the gutters, was a balustrade with rounded indentations. At the upper storeys, which were set back terrace-like, the facades are of white aluminium. The three corners of the building terminated in a round volume. The heart of the building was the exchange hall on the first floor.

Former Options Exchange, 1987.

This palazzo of the former Options Exchange, which already left the building in 1995, has undergone a transformation. The new main tenant of the building, NRC Media, mainly wanted a “transparent” building. What happens inside must be visible outside. Dam & Partners Architecten took care of this in a radical way; the post-modernist palazzo has been turned into a modernist glass palace. The concrete skeleton with columns, beams and floors, has been stripped of its shell. Instead of the concrete facades with vertical windows, glass curtain walls were installed on all three sides of the building, from bottom to top. These glass facades make the new NRC building a distant descendant of the Cineac building, the ‘Nieuwe Zakelijkheid’ cinema in the Reguliersbreestraat in Amsterdam by Jan Duiker in 1934, commissioned by the former Handelsblad. Just like the projector in the Cineac was visible from the street, the passers-by can now see the employees of NRC Media from the Rokin.

Thanks to the transparent facades, editors and other employees of NRC always realize that they are in the middle of the city, which was one of the newspaper’s reasons for moving to the centre of Amsterdam. Originally, from the outside, passers-by could not only look inside, but from the Rokin they also see three large, elongated LED screens on the façade. Here you can show how the newspaper pages are made or how the latest news is processed.

NRC Headquarters, 2012. Photo by Luuk Kramer.

The interior of the former Option Exchange building has also been rigorously tackled, based on a design by Jaap Dijkman. Again, transparency was a guiding principle, as well as the wish of NRC to turn its new home into a public building with a restaurant on the ground floor, combined with the logistics of a newspaper company. In a traditional newspaper company, all editors are situated on one large, open floor, with the so-called central table with the chief and final editors in the middle of it.

With the floor surfaces of the old Options Exchange, such a classic arrangement proved impossible: the editors had to be placed on different floors. Already in the time of the options exchange, a large void on the second floor provided a well-arranged floor for the stock-exchange. Now that the building houses the editors of a newspaper, a large hole of 10 by 10 meters has been cut through the middle of the building across different floors, in order to ensure that the central table is easily visible and accessible,  establishing direct contact with the central editorial floor from four floors. This rigorous intervention created a completely different, open interior.

Interior NRC Headquarters, 2012. Photo by Luuk Kramer.

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