“This is a sort of preview. Many details are still missing before we can say the building is complete. Domus readers will have to come back,” says monsieur Jean Nouvel. He is referring to the new office building for the European Patent Office erected in The Hague, or more precisely in the municipality of Rijswijk, which he designed with Dam & Partners Architecten from Amsterdam. This branch office of the EPO, divided into a main wing called New Main and a smaller wing called New Hinge, inaugurated on 27 June 2018, but some parts remain unfinished. A reflection pool is planned to surround the complex; a tower is waiting for demolition; a series of glazed walls have yet to receive waterfalls; and the plants still need to grow on the terraces cascading down the inner facades in different sizes. These trifles are expected to take another two years, but the idea is already quite clear. The building is imposing: 107 metres tall, 156 metres long and 24.7 metres wide. The exterior is made of glass with a studied percentage of iron to reflect the colours of the Dutch countryside and the built-up surroundings.
The effect is a convergency of materiality and immateriality. On the outside, the building is a mirror that blends with the backdrop, turning immaterial. But the landscape is material. “The building’s materiality is given by the site: sky and water. These key elements make for a changing impression throughout the day and with the passing of time”, says Nouvel, as he and his partner for this job, Diederik Dam, show us the model of the project. Dam explains the light, “It’s not just a simple reflection. What counts in architecture is how the light is perceived”. Nouvel finds it reasonable that some see a similarity with the Fondation Cartier. “I understand the people who say that, but there is a difference here”, says Nouvel. “The buildings in this area are all oriented in the same direction, like boats. The new EPO complex looks toward the horizon, the sea. The foliation (feuilletage) of the facade, the advancing gardens and the extension of the office space stretching out into a virtually endless space are elements that accentuate the inside volumes. Thanks to reflections, they repeat themselves in the horizontality of the Dutch landscape. I have never built such a device before. For Fondation Cartier, I worked on a different scale, another dimension of transparency and reflection that is not the same here. Here, there is the extension of the building. The big facades are entirely duplicated. The horizontality of the space repeats itself”.
“What’s nice is that the people who work here will be able to lift their eyes and look out over the horizon”, says Nouvel. Said infinite horizon is composed of different levels of flatness modulated by vegetation, houses and sky. The construction was built in record time starting in 2014 with a budget of 205 million euros, fully funded by the European Patent Office, which is a European intergovernmental body but does not receive funds from the European Union.
Equipped with rooftop solar panels, the new building is sustainable and meets the Dutch and German (seeing that the EPO is headquartered in Munich) criteria for environmental respect. The use of LEDs for illumination saves 430 thousand kilowatts per year; a thermal water system saves energy and reduces CO2 emissions. What were the difficulties of the design for the European Patent Office? “The hard part of this type of project generally lies in the concept phase. You work with diverse companies and many parties in the decision-making process. The architect does not always have complete control over the details”. Yet the details are fundamental here. “Overall, things turned out well, but not without a few tough moments”, says Nouvel.
We are very curious to know his impression of working in The Netherlands, where architecture follows precise parameters originally stemming from historical and cultural Calvinism. “It was a successful Jansenist meeting point. I am not in competition with the Dutch school, rather I find it very seductive”, he replies, and concludes by sharing a tenet of his belief: “Every design for a building must contain the ultimate aim of architecture”. Which, we might add, remains firm regardless of the school.
- European Patent Office
- Rijswijk, The Hague
- Ateliers Jean Nouvel and Dam & Partners Architecten