An Economics Boost

Dutch design firm Tjep. gives the ground floor of a university building new life.

Designers often like to say they work from the ground up; it’s less often that they claim to have worked from the floor up. But that’s exactly what Dutch firm Tjep. did with its whimsical reception area, completed last summer, for the economics department of the vocational training school ROC, in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.

The designers covered the floor with economics-related symbols and then extruded them into three dimensions to create the necessary furnishings—reception desk, conference table, foosball arena. Inlaid with bright-yellow icons of everything from pencils to gears to airplanes, the shiny beige base is busy and industrious (almost—fancy that!—like the field of economics). In the middle of it all lies a figure with an oversize heart. And that metaphor—focusing on “the heart instead of the wallet”—was at the center of the design approach, says Frank Tjepkema, who founded Tjep. together with Eindhoven classmate Janneke Hooymans.

At first look the space seems incongruously playful, almost supplanting the seriousness of the subject at hand—for money and its movement is Very Serious Business Indeed—but reconciling a fun aesthetic with the legitimacy of the department’s work wasn’t a problem for Tjepkema. “We found it interesting to create a space full of sym­bols,” he says. “We approached the subject with the idea that this should be a temple for economics.” Tjepkema means it literally as much as meta­phorically. “In ancient temples there was an overload of symbols and references,” he points out. “We tried to translate symbols for modern aesthetics and modern production techniques.”

The financial-emblems-turned-interior-elements include a sixteen-and-a-half-foot-long key-shaped conference table that sits in the middle of the room, as well as a literal interpretation of stadium seating—miniaturized for student use—around the foosball table. The conference room—a stylized visual mixture of bricks, arched doorways, and gears—takes its inspiration from old-school factories, while the reception desk points to the global reach of economics by being made of what looks like a bunch of crates.

“The school reception is the starting point of the day,” Tjepkema says, arguing that his direct approach to the subject at hand was fitting. “The people passing through are very active. They’re not there to contemplate.” And that is why it is some­how appropriate that this vocational school, ded­icated to helping adult students continue their education, picked such an ambitiously playful firm as Tjep., which confers on its projects names like “Heartbreak,” “Water,” and “Love Heart.” This one, “Economy,” was designed with—aesthetically at least—anything but.

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