Over the past 5 years, the obsolete Technohall of the University of Twente in The Netherlands has undergone a large-scale transformation. The hall had lost it’s original function of process technology hall due to technological improvement years ago. But the building had such great architechural, functional and cultural value and possibilities that the university decided to give it a new purpose, and transform it into a modern TechMed Centre, with focus on durability and circularity.
The large scale transformation started in 2015. The University made it very clear that they aimed for a durable and generic building which would be fit for multiple purposes. It should be a place where both students and staff members meet, that houses enough lab- and study space, and with flexible office spaces for staff members.
The furniture should also be sustainable and circular. It was a given that the University wanted to keep as much of the furniture they already owned as possible. For the refurbishment, a mini-competition was held, and Rohde & Grahl was convincingly chosen as the best candidate for this job. Not just because of their knowledge of and experience with circularity, but also because of their expanded plan of action. From the start, Rohde & Grahl approached the project not just as any project, but as the start of a new way of working, that is going to evolve in the years to come. Hence, the plan of action does not only include the refurbishment, but also takes in account the maintenance and eventually the recycling of the furniture.
Rohde & Grahl’s mission is “working well”, originally based on the mission to create a durable, inspiring and healthy workplace for everyone. But in this context it has another meaning: the workplace as a well of physical elements to create a new and better working environment.
Rohde & Grahl’s starting point was not to use the available furniture as it was , but to refurbish it as much as possible, and complement it with new items that suit the total picture. First, they spent two days making an inventory of all the furniture on all the different locations, so they knew what they were dealing with in terms of available materials.
Next, in cooperation with architect Jos Bogaarts (a member of the team of architects working on this project, called 'Team T') a plan was made of how the available furniture would fit in and match the new design of the building best.
The most important question they had to figure out at this point: how do you get old furniture, of different styles, to have the same look and feel?
During the project, the team faced multiple challenges.
'When working circular, there will come a point where you’ll find it is easier said than done. How do you get an old frame to look as good as new after it has been sawn into pieces? How do you place a sawn table top back on it’s frame and make the edges look nice and smooth?’This last topic proved particulary difficult: because of the compact tops, it was impossible to recycle the tables. Hence, they decided to keep the material and give it a new look and feel by applying a new topcoat' says Jos Bogaarts.
Léon Hindriks (account manager at Rohde & Grahl) explains: ‘Because of the different teams that were working on this project, the biggest challenge was aligning all the activities, so that the delivieries and assembllies are on time. For instance, the inventory of the available furniture was made considerably long before the start of the project. While working on the project, we found that the number of chairs that qualified for refurbishment had changed. Fortunately, we could rely on the flexibility of our partners, and we were still able to deliver everything on time.’
Working with these partners had another advantage, according to Hans Bloemendaal (Sustainability Manager at Rohde & Grahl): ‘The mending and adjusting of the furniture was done by local partners, and because these activities were perfect for people with a distance to the labour market, we were able to apply Social Return.’
Recently, the TechMed Centre has officially been opened. Different teams that have been working on the project look back at it with a positive feeling. Architect Dirk van de Pol of Team T says: ‘It is fantastic that we were able to maintain this building. The old structure, the old steel: everything is still visible. Our aim was to expose the structure, and to maintain as much of the building as possible. When we needed to implement new materials , we made sure the new ones match the style of the building perfectly.’
On every floor of the building there is room for people to study or consult each other. Here, students are in direct contact with the offices and the laboratories. By mixing old and new furniture, it was possible to create a space where everybody feels at home. Architect Jos Bogaart says: ‘You can really see how the architects and Rohde & Grahl worked together to make sure the building and furniture form a whole. We are very satisfied with the results of this cooperation. We are glad that during the whole process of refurbishment, Rohde & Grahl perfectly understood- what we needed‘.