The design of ACTA

Benthem Crouwel Architects as Architects

In August 2010 the Amsterdam Academic Centre for Dentistry (Dutch initials ACTA) moved to new premises on Gustav Mahlerlaan in the Buitenveldert area of that city, next door to the VU University Medical Centre. The urban principles informing the Zuidas business district in which it stands together with its prominent position along the A10 ring road served as a frame of reference for the building's basic form of three stacked volumes: a sturdy city block for the low-rise portion, a narrow 'waist' above that and a cantilevered volume on top.

Each of the three volumes has a different shade of grey for its glazing, light grey for the low-rise, transparent above that and dark grey for the uppermost volume. This dark grey emphasizes the mass of the jutting block and ensures that the building has a strong silhouette at all times. The glazing bears the stylized digital image of a cloudy sky in alternating patterns of stripes and staggered window configurations. These patterns are printed on both panes of the double glazing so that the facade's appearance changes subtly with changes in the angle of observation. The real skies are reflected in the smooth glass facades.

Logistical considerations and the brief together determined what each of the three volumes was to contain. Areas for the public, rooms for patients and education and workrooms for general staff and professors are all in the low-rise portion. Above that in the intermediate volume is a two-tier restaurant whose upper level doubles as an examination room. In the topmost volume are the labs and offices for the specialized staff.

A two-level basement parking facility extends below the adjoining plot, where a research tower for the VU University Medical Centre will shortly be built. This disposition of functions in the building means that the number of its users decreases with height, so that the lift capacity could be reduced. By the same token, having the restaurant on the middle-height storeys, offering a spectacular view across Amsterdam, reduces the use of lifts at peak times such as during lunch hours.

The standout space is the central atrium in the low-rise, where a spectacular cascade of escalators stitches the floors in that volume together. These floors are open on the side of the patients' treatment rooms and closed off on the opposite side with a glass partition bearing white and green floral motifs, behind which are the rooms for the staff.

Patients, students and staff all make use of the escalators which give them a good overall view of the open treatment rooms. Patients will feel more at ease in the roomy well-lit atrium as they can see where they need to be and that others are being treated. The open layout and clearly organized zoning also encourages encounters between the three groups. The revolving circular platforms fitted out with dental chairs are an eye-catching departure. This set-up looks friendlier than the customary rows of chairs and makes it easier for teachers to supervise several students at once.

All the materials, the smooth finishes and pale colours are attuned to creating a professional and hygienic working environment for the Academic Centre for Dentistry, which aspires to be among the best of its kind in the world.

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