Hoofddorp Fort Island – In this transformation project, Serge Schoemaker Architects, acted not only as architect, but also as entrepreneur/developer. They have taken on the landscape, architecture and interior in a cohesive manner, partly because these are historically inseparable. The fort island has been transformed into a city park, a meeting place with space for catering, culture and educational activities. Serge Schoemaker Architects has partly restored the fort building and partly left it untouched. This approach has created a lively dialogue between past and present. By carefully integrating new additions and consciously preserving the historical details and characteristic atmosphere, they merged history and present into a new whole.
Architizer chatted with Serge Schoemaker, Founder at Serge Schoemaker Architects, to learn more about this project.
Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?
Serge Schoemaker: The aim of the project was to save the fort, a neglected 1904 UNESCO World Heritage monument, from decay and open it back up to the public. Since there was no clear program at the start of the ten-year development process (2010-2020), we have always strived for a building that can be used flexibly in the future and that is suitable for different and changing users. Our design therefore provides an infrastructure and fundamental layout that makes this possible.
During the renovation and furnishing we chose to remove all non-authentic parts of previous alterations and to take the atmosphere and spatial qualities of the original fort as the basis of our design. All our additions build upon, provide a dialogue with, or are inspired by this historic architecture.
What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?
The most unique component of this project is the fort building itself: the architectural quality of this robust unreinforced concrete shell which is hidden in the landscape under an earthen cover. The spatial and sculptural qualities of the interior are exceptional, as is the effect of the daylight entering through windows and firing openings. Since the building was designed for a purely functional (military) purpose, we felt compelled to allow society to look at this building with new eyes, to expose the quality of this architecture and strengthen it where necessary. This can now be felt best in the “empty” spaces of the fortress: the casemate, the stairwells and underground passages. Our design allows for these spaces to be seen in their best light.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
How do you provide modern services for a massive concrete building complex with meters-thick walls and vaults without losing the strength and simplicity of the existing architecture? That was our biggest challenge. We did not want to install construction pipes in the building, but we did want to provide the fort with heating, air conditioning and new pipes for electricity and water. This led to a search for the optimal pipe routes and required strategic thinking about integrating the installations into the design. In the end, we succeeded in modernizing the entire building and providing it with, among other things, underfloor heating and air conditioning with heat recovery, without this being visible. The most thinking involved in this project ultimately went into everything that you don’t see so that all that is left over is the grandeur of the historic buildings.
How did the context of your project — environmental, social or cultural — influence your design?
Fort van Hoofddorp is part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam, a circular defence line around the Dutch capital, constructed between 1880 and 1914. When this defence line was built, Fort van Hoofddorp was still in a rural area, outside the city. However, due to the exponential growth of Hoofddorp in the twentieth century, the fort is now part of the city centre. This was positive for the conversion (after all, now many potential visitors live around the fort), but also politically and socially sensitive. Many local residents were concerned about the preservation of the monumental values and the potential increase in traffic. It took a lot of information evenings to show the neighbourhood residents that we would transform the island with care and, with this restoration, would preserve the fort for future generations.
What drove the selection of materials used in the project?
Firstly, we looked for materials and colors that complement the rough, gray concrete of the complex. For example, we have added hardwood partition walls and dark blue steel elements to the interior, which provide warmth and contrast.
In addition, we applied two color palettes: one for all the historical parts of the fort, and one for the new additions. The colors work as a kind of coding, they connect the historical parts but also show which elements are part of our architectural interventions.
What is your favorite detail in the project and why?
One of my favourite details in this project is a historic stair railing, which emerged after the initial demolition work. The curved staircase connects one of the underground corridors (posterns) with the elevated outdoor area. The railing is made of cast iron and is recessed into the solid concrete wall. The railing was recessed to prevent soldier’s from getting caught on the railing when they had to rush out to respond to military threats. The ends of the curved railing are shaped like a curl, giving the railing an almost alienatingly elegant and graceful character – the detail attests to the attention and craftsmanship with which the fort was built in the early twentieth century.
Were any parts of the project dramatically altered from conception to construction, and if so, why?
One element has been radically changed in our vision and that is the approach to the concrete inner walls. In the past, the concrete walls were covered with a white lime paint, and it was always our intention to paint the inner walls with this historic layer again. But after cleaning the concrete, we found that the tectonics of the fort look even better without this coat of paint. We decided, during the renovation work, to adapt our design and leave a large part of the concrete bare and exposed. This decision has led to the recognizable brutalist look that the project now has.
How do you believe this project represents you or your firm as a whole?
We are not renovation architects, but we have a great affinity with transformation projects. We like to work on existing buildings with long histories. Buildings that need to be worked on with care and attention so as not to lose the ‘soul’ of the place. We therefore spend a lot of time “reading” the building, looking and analysing it, and then looking for the potential that the existing architecture has. This search takes place at our office through design research, drawing and building physical models. With projects such as Fort van Hoofddorp, we strive to create a new whole through a number of strategic interventions, which does justice to the different layers of time, and at the same time provides a surprising, new experience. An end result in which the hidden qualities of the place take on new meaning.
Project team: Serge Schoemaker, Sanne Knoll, Alexander Beeloo, Max Hart Nibbrig | Arun Bourdon, Maiara Camilotti, Farimah Chaman Zadeh, Anthony Dann, Yunqiao Du, Dik Houben, Niklas Kühlenborg, Roxana Vakil Mozafari. Photography: MWA Hart Nibbrig.
For more on Hoofddorp Fort Island, please visit the in-depth project page on Architizer.