Creative agency Mediaxplain’s slanted view of Amsterdam’s port makes workers feel like they’re operating from the prow of a ship
Long gone are the days where working at an advertising agency spelt print campaigns, billboards and endless cigars. Today the language is that of hits, reach, audience and engagement – and understandably the physical spaces these companies occupy have evolved to keep up.
The latest collaboration between VMX Architects and i29 interior architects for Dutch strategic media agency Mediaxplain’s new HQ in the old Amsterdam port of de Houthavens is one such project.
Its interior scheme, which features a sable black floor-to-ceiling stripe that dissects the vast industrial volume, was centred around the company’s desire to integrate its digital work into the fabric of building. This darkened ‘corridor’ provides the perfect environment to project Mediaxplain’s top campaigns and films, while also dividing the open-plan communal spaces from more private meeting areas and viewing rooms.
“Integrating digital works or screens into the workplace is something that we’re getting asked to do a lot of at the moment,” says i29’s Jeroen Dellensen. “It’s really important to make it part of the overall design – we don’t want to just hang some TVs in the middle of the space.”
Aside from weaving digital media into the interior, Mediaxplain’s brief to VMX and i29 was refreshingly open, explains VMX’s Leon Teunissen. “They wanted a contemporary office space with a lot of internal contact and communication opportunities, so an open-plan design was the most logical solution.” Dellensen adds: “The brief was quite abstract in some ways. The client explained how they worked as a company, but interestingly a lot of their ideas weren’t anything to do with advertising – they particularly liked a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Holland called de Librije, and showed that to us as an indirect example of the kind of quality they liked.”
The site’s port-side location offered prime aesthetic inspiration for the building’s overall look, which combines the area’s stark industrial feel with maximised sea views. “It’s a very particular site because it’s the last part of the harbour to be redeveloped on the west side of Amsterdam,” explains Teunissen. “On this spot, we have the connection between the old and the new, so we wanted to express that in the building.”
The result is a two-storey raw concrete skeleton that opens up to an impressive facade of full-height glazing overlooking the port. Inspired by aeronautical engineering, the glass has been tilted to avoid distracting reflections for those working on the north side of the building, equipping its profile with a reference to the wheelhouses of neighbouring ships. Because of the site’s distance from the city centre, VMX wanted to create some outdoor space for employees to eat their lunch, so the practice tucked a subterranean car park underneath the volume, leaving plenty of perimeter space for a garden. Inside, it was a case of maximising the 1000sq m floorplan by using as few supporting columns as possible, and carving out a central void to foster connectedness between different departments, ready for i29 to later fill with a bespoke perforated steel staircase.
Division was important, too. i29’s design for the interior splits up communal working spaces (at the north port-side of the building) from private meeting rooms and screening areas (at the south). A ribbon of black carpet, painted walls and a suspended acoustic ceiling – chosen to shelter the digital projections from the immense amount of natural light at the north side of the building – creates a clear visual marker. In contrast, spaces behind this dramatic stripe have been painted a very pale grey, with furniture and kitchen cupboards picked to maintain the optical illusion-like monochrome split. These kitchen-lined breakout spaces were a vital part of Mediaxplain’s brief, as the company prefers to hold its weekly
meetings in communal areas and on foot, rather than in enclosed meeting rooms.
Handed over VMX’s slick angular shell, i29 wanted to keep the industrial feel of the space intact but the vast atrium and open-plan design signalled an acoustic challenge. The designers decided that the space needed carpet to dampen the noise, so i29 came up with the innovative idea of working closely with flooring manufacturer DB2 to create a digitally printed carpet that gave the visual impression of concrete flooring. “We sent the manufacturer some photographs of the walls in the building and they started printing some samples,” says Dellensen. “After around ten, the tone started to look right and it really meshed well.” The carpet had the desired effect, at least for VMX’s Leon Teunissen: “The first time I came out of the elevator, I thought there was something wrong with the concrete floor – it was too soft. I then of course realised that it was carpet.”
Nods to the industrial area also feature in the furniture, which was created bespoke for the space by i29. The desks and port-side benches have been made from a dense rough oak that has been sandblasted so you can feel, as well as see, the grain. “We like simple forms,” says Dellensen. “We didn’t want to create any disruption of the interior, so kept the furniture nice and clean.” Simple storage banks have been created from the same oak and a matt black plastic, with just enough height to function as a dividing wall when sat but allowing easy interaction between teams when standing.
This thoughtful creation of collaborative spaces is something that has worked especially well now that the building is occupied. Mediaxplain director Gun Nieuwenhuis says: “The designers have really been able to incorporate the way our teams operate into the interior design. Working together at large desks has improved the quality of people’s work, and therefore the final product for our clients. Our office is beautiful, combining the ideas of both the architecture and the interior design seamlessly.”