Mediahaven | Amsterdam

I don’t know anything about urban design and architecture. But since I retired I’ve started to take an interest in my old neighbourhood. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of changes and I wanted to know more about the how and why. Years ago, my father started a small workshop in Mercuriushaven where he worked on ship’s engines; later on it became my business. It was dark, cold and always damp, although the work was interesting. The workshops that are there now are of a different order altogether. They’re buildings for creative businesses, big, well-appointed, dry and warm. They let me look around one of them. Mediahaven it’s called. The woman who showed me around told me how friendly the light is in that building and I knew at once what she meant. It lets people see one another and the outside world. It’s a nice detail and no one has ever been worse off for that. Sometimes it’s simply good that things change.

Creating a workplace is one thing, creating a place where people want to work is another. The Mediahaven building stands in Amsterdam’s western docklands. It is a building where a number of creative media businesses feel at home and where TV programmes are recorded. The building looks and is precisely what the users want: a welcoming environment in which to make theatre with pleasure and passion.

Being seen
The fully glazed north elevation offers staff a spectacular view of harbour life. As well as providing visitors with an impressive entry, the big atrium allows daylight to penetrate deep into the building and affords sight lines that facilitate interchange between the different floors of the building. This transparent interior lays bare the entire process of television-making. From script writing to camera recordings, from montage to the celebratory drinks party for a TV show: Mediahaven combines all these aspects in one building and turns it into an experience, for both visitors and staff.

A television studio is the place where producers create a world that subsequently comes to life on living-room screens and touches, delights or astonishes audiences. As such television-making is almost magical, which is unfortunately not evident in most studios. Mediahaven is an exception to this; it is an open and robust building with a wonderful view over the Houthavens, Amsterdam’s former timber docks.

Now that the trans-shipment of timber no longer takes place here in the Houthavens, this part of the city is gradually turning into a mixed creative area while retaining the industrial character. Before long the area will be home to a heady mix of big ships, trendy fashion, down-to-earth factories, scintillating television recordings and theatre shows. Douwe van der Werf of Tuvalu Media seized on the city council’s creative ambitions to give shape to his own studio concept. Together with an investor (Van der Heijden), an operator (United) and a developer (Impact) he launched an initiative to develop Mediahaven in Minervahaven, a virtually undeveloped spit of land in the western docklands. And with success, too, for Mediahaven is one of the creative pioneers that have translated the transformation of Houthavens from word into deed.

Robust and open
The architecture of Mediahaven combines the creative world of television productions with the functional pragmatism of the harbour. The scale of the building and the palette of no-nonsense materials – concrete, glass and steel – are in tune with the language of the harbour. With its black elevations Mediahaven looks very solid, even somewhat monumental. At the same time, it’s a friendly building for visitors and users. With the all-glass north facade and a welcoming entrance staircase, it opens up to the waterside and embraces its surroundings. Mediahaven is proud of its milieu and draws it inside wherever possible.

Immediately upon entering, the public is presented with a large atrium. This void runs the full height of the building, turning the entrance into a foyer. On the water side it can be fully opened by means of five-metre-high glass folding doors. This not only provides for added allure, but on festive occasions turns the ground floor into a stage in the docklands. And the atrium does even more. It brings daylight deep into the building and renders the entire process of television-making visible for makers and spectators alike. For example, one of the two studios borders the atrium which, at special moments, can be included in the studio by opening the glass dividing wall. The atrium also creates a transparent work atmosphere and an open business culture and encourages co-productions between various businesses in the building. Thus, from their workplace, the television-makers see whether the directors are present on the upper floor and the receptionist on the ground floor waves enthusiastically when she spots one of the producers on the third floor.

Rough is finish
The interior, too, takes its cue from the rugged, industrial character of the harbour. The principle of ‘rough is finish’ was adopted, resulting in an interior with an industrial ambience. In fact, the best of two worlds come together here: the honesty of the structural shell is combined with the ingenuity of cutting-edge building services technology. For example, the construction of the building is clearly visible in the interior. And the pattern the timber formwork has left in the concrete bears testimony to the artisanal construction method. Because of this Mediahaven radiates authenticity. The services are incorporated in the concrete floors, which were all poured-in-place. This has several advantages. It made it possible to incorporate floor heating and ceiling cooling in the concrete frame, providing a high degree of user comfort. It also provides an aesthetic quality in the form of a lucid,clear-cut interior. The only added elements are the light fittings, which also deliver an important acoustic value, and the sprinkler system.

Solid and flexible
Mediahaven manifests as a solid structure and yet the building is highly flexible. The large spans, the circulation clustered in a single core, the services in the floors and the generous ceiling height deliver freely subdivisible spaces capable of accommodating different functions in future. Moreover, the possibility of future expansion was taken into account in the construction: on the roof of the large studio there is an inbuilt possibility for adding two more office floors. In addition, the U-shaped floors around the atrium can easily accommodate several different tenants. All in all, Mediahaven is a building capable of constantly renewing itself, making it an important building block for the future of Amsterdam’s Houthavens.

Project details
commission: new-build TV studio with offices | location: Minervahaven Amsterdam | client: Mediahaven Vastgoed B.V. | project management: Impact Vastgoedrealisme B.V. | structural engineer: Zonneveld Ingenieurs B.V. | acoustics and building consultant: LBP Sight B.V. | building services consultant: Hori raadgevend ingenieursbureau B.V. | contractor: Uijtewaal Bouw B.V. | program: offices, 2 studios, dressing rooms, deliveries bay, parking | floor area: 7.100 m² | design: 2010 | completion: 2014 | publication Architecture Yearbook 2013/2014 | photography: Jeroen Musch