Vision regarding transformation

‘Patchwork model’: the beauty of imperfection

Demolition and newbuild have given way to a new approach. The focus has shifted to transformation, the sustainable improvement of something that already exists. In every transformation project, the tricky part is to find a balance between the existing and the new – a combination of old and new, with the beauty of imperfection.

For Marlies Rohmer Architects & Urbanists, the existing situation is a point of departure and a source of inspiration. The office continues on what is already present (which is sustainable and cost-efficient), while at the same time giving the building or the area a new identity by amplifying the existing quality and making well-judged new additions. The modifications have an uncontrived character. Marlies Rohmer creates plans that are both unique and harmonize with their context. In some respects the design adapts in a timelessly modest way to the situation, while in others it is clearly a child of its time, a refined made-to measure solution.
The flexible “patchwork model” upholds the cradle-to-cradle principle, and is based on the partial retention and refinement of existing structures, layouts, materials and infrastructure. We apply this model both to urban renewal projects and to individual buildings. The generic shell is a sustainable building structure and hence is highly flexible and amenable to transformation and change. The load-bearing frame, fire/smoke compartmentalization and escape routing remain unchanged in principle. Spaces with installed plant such as kitchens and wet areas are reutilized.The flexible patchwork is a substrate which is wholly appropriate to accommodating irregularity, randomness and change. The approach starts with the possibilities that are already there. In urban renewal projects, application of the patchwork model supports an open planning process and flexibility. It makes it possible to continue rearranging the various buildings and other components until far into the process, without conflicting with the essence of the master plan.

The patchwork strategy has now been applied to the transformation of the Dobbelman Site (2008), to the office of the Dutch Food Safety Authority (2011), to The Government Service for Land and Water Management (DLG) in Utrecht (2011), to the Mitros Housing Corporation (2013) and to the Belgian Embassy (2013).

Patchwork model: flexible urban development
Conducting transformations at the scale of urban planning is rather like repairing a car engine while it is still running. In the master plan for the inner city area development on the Dobbelman Site in Nijmegen, the autonomous position of the site was a primary starting point. The basis for the master plan was established in a very short period (approx. six months) in consultation with the residents. The patchwork model made it possible for the residents to think along with the designers to a significant extent and to rearrange scheduled components without conflicting with the urban design concept. The urban design concept was, after all, from the outset based on the possibility of rearranging functions. This patchwork model is inherent to the fragmented layout of the original industrial site, so rearrangement actually reinforced the concept. Last-minute changes were possible due to the open planning process. The result is a composition of volumes of varying scale and with a diverse programme, related to the organization (the fragmented character) of the former factory site but with a new function. Working is replaced by dwelling.

The semi-public space, designed like a long factory assembly line, forms a strong backbone which unites all the separate components. This “street”, paved with Stelcon industrial anchor plates from the former factory site, was deliberately left unprogrammed. Here, too, flexibility was uppermost. Residents have appropriated this public strip over the course of several years, and in the future it will continue to gather new functions according to the wishes of the neighbourhood. The new urban vitality of the Dobbelman Site provided a boost for new activities and for the development of the adjacent district.

Patchwork model: workingLANDSCAPE
Conversion enriches the character of the new accommodation. It is a challenge to endow the building with a new lease of life, given the identity,   possibly rawness and the atmosphere it already possesses. The new openness of the transformed office interior admits a huge amount of daylight and stimulates interaction and knowledge sharing between members of staff. The open space meanders over the floors and is organized into a patchwork of places. The former corridors have disappeared, the entire corridor area has become working space resulting in a very favourable net/gross ratio. Retention of lavatories and some of the original rooms yields a mix of open and closed spaces. The whole interior has a warm, lively atmosphere which, unlike the rather desolate emptiness that typifies a clean desk policy, offers a pleasant, non-sterile appearance.

The concept provides continuity, but also underlines the flexibility of the interior. The carpeting for the offices of Dienst Landelijk Gebied in Utrecht, for example, consists of multiple colour blocks made up of carpet tiles. This flooring extends over the entire office floor area independently of the working layout, so it can easily allow for future changes. Greenery is an inseparable part of the interior and are integrally designed under the patchwork model.

Specific accents make each office unique. The identity of the client is reflected in the interior and is different for every project. Sustainable, simple materials like wood, glass and fabric, and natural tints were chosen for the offices of the Dutch Food Safety Authority, for example. Brightly coloured panels with enlarged map images were designed for the headquarters of The Government Service for Land and Water Management.


Patchwork model 

Patchwork model 

Urban transformation: Dobbelmanterrein, Nijmegen 

Urban patchwork model: Dobbelmanterrein, Nijmegen 

Transformation office interior: Government Service for Land and Water Management (DLG), Utrecht 


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