In the new design for the interior of the city hall of Almere, all public counters, consulting rooms, and waiting facilities are in open setting to comply with new service concepts. Apart from changing the scheme of the ground floor, which means that the public service area moves directly to the main entrance, Fokkema & Partners succeeded in completely changing the appearance of the interior.
The concept for the public service area mainly focuses on emphasizing the original qualities of the building (architect: Cees Dam, 1986) and at the same time creating an interior with its own unique signature. Qualities such as the characteristic ‘CD-wall’ (once inspired by the initials of the architect), the concrete structure, the generous construction height and the golden tile inlay in the columns were no longer visible in the previous interior. In order to showcase all of these characteristics, the (fire) installation and ventilation concept were completely rethought, opening up the area and increasing the ceiling height by 1.2 meters. These interventions made a dramatic difference to the spatial qualities of the public service area.
New architectural elements, such as the entrance front, the white acrylic stone public counters and the meeting rooms materialized in bamboo, have been carefully positioned and were integrated with the original architecture. This, for instance, shows in the form-concept for the counters. The pattern on the central counter is a direct derivative of the new city plan for Almere once kicked off with the build of this very building.
Due to all these interventions, old and new merge into a clean and luminous architectural shell for the service area in a way that might seem obvious, but nobody would have expected.
The design process for the public service area began in July 2012, to be finished in a time scale of only five months. The municipality of Almere had put together a program of requirements which was, or so it seemed, too ambitious for the available amount of space.
In order to meet the demands set, a part of the solution was to “fill the voids.” Areas which were never intended for use like the voids under the central staircase are utilized for private counters and a room for declaration of marriage, both of which now carry the nickname “chapel” due to their special spatial qualities. Also, the space needed for the central counter was minimized. Introducing the bar-like shape and optimal (ergonomic) placement of all the equipment needed for each counter, the designers of Fokkema & Partners were able to allocate all required counters within the custom elements.
The project for the public service area is paid with public money. Within the current economic climate where a lot of public services are being cut, the municipality didn’t want to make “golden counters,” therefore a strict budget was set. In order to stay within this budget the investments had to be made strategically. The choice was made to leave the structure of the building untouched. The concrete structure wasn’t cleaned, all the steelworks were restored and painted and the installation and ventilation ducts were left in sight. Only the newly placed elements which are to be heavily used are completed up to a high standard to increase durability. This reflects in the use of robust materials that are easy to maintain.
The contrast between the new high-quality additions and the old building structure makes for an interesting tension. Furthermore, it complies with the city’s revolutionary “Almere Principles” which states that each development should contribute to a durable, healthy and inspirational environment.