Students, staff and visitors at the University of Amsterdam typically use a cavernous central room in the 18th-century Maagdenhuis building as a workspace, gathering under bay windows to read, to tap away at laptops. them or to hold small meetings. But the beautiful hall is also the perfect place to organize events, so any furniture kept inside it should be mobile.
A decade after designing the canteen inside the building, designers Roelof Mulder and Ira Koers returned to find a mobile furniture solution that is as elegant as the architecture demands (because let’s be honest, folding chairs would never cut it). The duo’s mobile bamboo work islands fit together like puzzle pieces and include cutouts for massive potted plants and trees to take full advantage of the room’s grand scale.
The 12 units are on casters so they can be easily rotated into different configurations or out of space altogether. Once in place, they appear to be one large workspace that combines comfortable sofa-like upholstered seating with large platforms that can be used as tables. There is no precise way to orient them, so the spaces inside can be created spontaneously as desired. They are often arranged symmetrically, with an opening in the center so that users can nestle within the vibrant greenery on chairs or at small coffee-style tables.
Made of durable bamboo, the mobile work islands are equipped with bumpers so they can be moved safely. The same semicircular cutouts that wrap around potted plants when placed in the center of the room can also accommodate giant beams along the perimeter. When the units are pushed to the edges, they preserve seating while providing a large open gathering area in the center.
Greenery adds privacy, softens sound and changes the overall mood of the room. What can feel like an overwhelming echoing space becomes intimate and cozy, creating new vantage points from which to admire the hall’s many brick arches that open into other spaces. Mulder and Koers eliminated several existing curtains and frosted glass in the hall to encourage more open sight lines and views of the city outside.
Keeping the use of this central hall flexible pays tribute to the building’s long and varied history. Originally built as a Catholic orphanage in 1780, it was converted into a bank in the 1960s. What was then an open central courtyard was roofed over to create the hall as seen today. That same decade, the Maagdenhuis became the administrative center for the University of Amsterdam, the site of the historic student protests in 1969.
With the mobile work islands of Mulder and Koers, the Maagdenhuis atrium remains open to evolution, responding to any needs the University may have. The design duo recently created an equally lushly planted courtyard effect in the central hall of the Netherlands’ Dijklander Hospital, updating the original 1980s design by Jan Tennekes with a modern aesthetic that “revives it with biophilia.”
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