Design Studio Space Encounters Brings a Dash of Eclecticism to Amsterdam

As part of our 2018 Design Cities issue, Metropolis looked at projects, firms, and places that are driving global design culture today.

Space Encounters Amsterdam
Space Encounters has designed several workplaces in Amsterdam’s north, including offices for Sony Music Entertainment. Courtesy Space Encounters

For our annual cities listings, Metropolis took a novel approach to avoid the typical ranking: We surveyed 80 leading architecture and design professionals, asking them to nominate places in three categories—design powerhouses, buzzing cultural hubs, and cities that inspire or personally resonate with them. The results turned up the usual suspects as well as some unexpected newcomers, and our coverage is similarly heterogeneous, from profiles of local firms to spotlights on grassroots initiatives and sum-ups of cities’ design goings-on.

This undertaking in Amsterdam reflects the city’s position as a “buzzing” global Design City. Stay tuned to our homepage as we publish more 2018 Design Cities!

“It’s very difficult if we’re partners to reach a consensus,” says Stijn de Weerd of Space Encounters, the Amsterdam-based architecture office he helms with three partners. “But we all know what we don’t want by just eliminating the things that aren’t logical or rational and taking that to the extreme.” It’s a curious work process, but one that jibes with the heterogeneity of the studio’s body of work, which has been growing in recent years in both quantity and scale.

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Space Encounters’ wide range of projects has found particular accommodation in the northern neighborhoods of Amsterdam. Amsterdam Noord, as the area is known, is located across the IJ River from the historic, more recognizable city center, and is its opposite in many ways. Tempered by a lack of accessible public transportation, Amsterdam Noord’s slower pace of development has resulted in a layered patchwork of land uses, lot sizes, and building typologies, with nightclubs and DIY spaces existing a short bike ride from some of the capital’s more pastoral suburbs. The addition of attractions like the futuristic EYE film museum, the cultural venue Tolhuistuin, and popular waterfront bars has made the north a recreational hot spot in recent years.

Within this whirlwind of development, Space Encounters’ quietly ostentatious designs are right at home. Take the firm’s adaptive-reuse project, the ClinkNOORD hostel: a collection of bright- yellow raised platforms inserted into the poured- concrete atrium of a former energy laboratory. The studio was tasked with a difficult brief—to design a restaurant, cinema, nightclub, and more, all in a relatively constricted area. The solution? Blend all these functions within a single integrated space—a logical, open-ended program that changes as the day progresses.

Space Encounters Amsterdam
Gezondheidscentrum Buiksloterham is a temporary health-care structure (pending the construction of a permanent health clinic) comprising an asymmetrical, bright-yellow perimeter fence, rounded at one corner and obtuse at another, and 12 prefabricated container units. Courtesy Space Encounters

A design for a temporary local health center, Gezondheidscentrum Buiksloterham, further demonstrates the firm’s embeddedness in Amsterdam Noord, as well as its willingness to pursue what is often a simple but clever fix. Here, a canary-colored perimeter fence surrounds a dozen prefab units housing patient rooms and a small lab. A courtyard provides a small garden for staff lunches or smoke breaks, simultaneously constituting an extra security and privacy measure for the facility. By making it yellow, De Weerd says, the studio brings “a little brightness” to what was once a drab and polluted corner of the cloudy city.

A desire to integrate nature and culture, austerity and whimsy, also pervades the practice’s workplace portfolio. For the offices of the company Joolz, Space Encounters installed a lush, foliage-filled enclosure to host breaks and impromptu meetings. “We sacrificed a sizable portion of the usable floor space and gave it back to the landscape,” partner Gijs Baks says of the project. It’s an odd prescription, but their reasoned approach is unswayed by flavor- of-the-month design trends, like what fellow partner Joost Baks refers to as a lazy “collection of choices” in office interiors.

Through an iterative process of editing and reinventing, the Dutch studio creates spaces with both flexibility and an element of surprise. “We try to find all the parameters that lead to something logical,” De Weerd says, reflecting on the firm’s far-reaching body of work. “But we take that to such extremes that our work still looks specific.”

This unflashy pragmatism—a kind of anti-design that some architects might see as anathematic or lowbrow— unites Space Encounters’ disparate projects. But with urban plans and ground-up mixed-use projects across the Netherlands on their plate, the quartet seem poised to continue doing what they do best: developing solutions that are context-driven, intuitive, accessible, and intensely attractive.

You might also like, “Metropolis Magazine’s 10 Powerhouse Design Cities of 2018.”

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