Nimble giant accommodates both students and tourists
Casa 400 updates success formula in impressive new hotel
Everyone in Amsterdam is familiar with Casa 400: a hotel in the summer for tourists, and rooms for students in the off season. A unique formula still booking success after fifty years. But Casa 400 refuses to sit on its laurels: in 2010, it took possession of an impressive, brand-new building. More luxurious rooms, more modern facilities, a conference centre and a hotel now operating year round.
The glass and aluminium of the crisp, clean, rhythmic façade sparkle in the sun. The new Casa 400 hotel-student complex is truly striking. Located on Ringdijk, just behind Wibautstraat, it towers 35 metres above its surrounding buildings. Its more than five hundred rooms make it one of the largest hotels in Amsterdam, but what really makes Casa 400 so unique is its special concept: from October to June, most of the hotel rooms serve as student housing.
The new Casa 400 is sited just a few blocks away from the original building that received its first guests back in 1962. But the idea for a seasonal hotel plus student housing first developed in 1957. In the 1950s, during the post-war reconstruction period, there was a severe shortage of housing – and no affordable student housing whatsoever. At the same time, Amsterdam was attracting more and more tourists but lacked the necessary hotel accommodations.
A multifunctional building The formula of switching rooms back and forth between hotel rooms and student rooms proved a winner. Now, a half century later, it still is. Although Casa 400 has always adapted to changing times, it came to the conclusion a few years ago that it was time for an entirely new accommodation. And with it came an addition to the Casa concept: operating 150 hotel rooms year round. The building also has a restaurant and bar, thirteen conference rooms, and a large refectory where students can eat. It is a modern, sustainable concept with applications usually not found together. The needs of the various target groups are so well integrated (and even combined when possible) that the result is a multifunctional residential building.
Casa 400 has been awarded the Green Key eco-label denoting environmentally responsible companies in the tourism and recreation sectors. The building was developed entirely according to the philosophy of socially responsible design that emphasises six dimensions in the design process: surrounding community and location, well thought-out transport, waste reduction and recycling, the use of green materials, efficient water consumption and efficient energy consumption.
Solitary monolith among a jumble of buildings The extensive and ambitious schedule of requirements, however, resulted in a complicated puzzle: more than five hundred rooms would have to fit into a building envelope for which the maximum heights and building lines had already been established in the urban development plan. The solution is the new Casa 400, a building that plays an important role as one of the attractive features in the Eenhoorn area that is currently being transformed into a dynamic combined residential and business zone.
Due to its large scale, the building has inevitably found its place among such surrounding giants as the Hogeschool van Amsterdam’s Europagebouw, the James Watt Building - one of its tenants being a major housing corporation (De Alliantie) - and the office complexes on the other side of Gooiseweg. Surrounded by a jumble of buildings displaying substantial differences in size, colour and materials, the new Casa 400 has definitely taken on its own character: a solitary monolith towering over this motley collection.
The factor that most determines the building’s independent character is its neutral, repetitive and almost abstract façade which is largely clad in glass in only three different frame dimensions. Behind the tall, wide windows on the ground floor are the lobby, the restaurant and the conference rooms. Each of the hotel rooms on the six floors above has three tall, narrower windows. In the part of the building that rises another four storeys, the windows are somewhat wider than the ones directly below. The three rhythms in the façade emphasise the horizontal direction of the total volume, and the vast glass surface makes the building look very light and lucid.
Spaciousness, views and openness On the side facing the ring canal, the building has a spectacular overhang: like a nimble giant, this projecting block balances almost nonchalantly on three openwork supports. The presence of the large round holes in these walls makes one wonder if they can actually support the massive block above it. The views provide a feeling of openness and space.
On the east side, facing Eerste Ringdijk, is the main entrance for the hotel and the conference centre. The spacious, high-ceilinged entrance lobby provides a fine overview and, together with its double-space height, connects the ground floor with the first floor.
Immediately apparent is the unique courtyard sited in the middle of the building. This viewing garden slopes upward to the first floor. Designed by Van Empelen van Aalderen Partners BV, landscape architects, it uses planting material to accentuate the rhythm of the façade. A clearly defined waterline dissects the garden from its highest to its lowest elevation. The single tree directs the visitor’s eye upward to the open sky. Above the patio garden, the storeys rise high above as if enfolded by a light shaft. Light appears to enter from all sides, thus making the building surprisingly clear and transparent.
Amsterdam character The garden has yet another surprising detail: the above-ground pipe for the heating and cooling storage system displays the Amsterdam Ordnance Datum (the famous elevation benchmark in the Netherlands based on the normal water level of the canals in the city) translated into various languages. This is actually a reference to the former building where this line was always visible in the lobby. Based on Casa 400’s desire to promote itself as a real Amsterdam hotel, it was decided to install an enormous panoramic photo of the city running the entire width of the first floor. Repeating this theme is a large photo of the city located on each floor near the lift. Even the colour scheme in the carpets reflects the red of the city’s coat of arms.
From the lobby, gently rising stairs running along the courtyard garden lead to the conference rooms on the first floor. The twelve conference rooms are named after universities, some in the Netherlands, some in other countries. The largest of these (named for the University of Amsterdam, of course) can accommodate 425 people but can also be divided into four rooms by means of sliding partitions. The Erasmus conference rooms, adjoining the bar, are merged into a single large breakfast room during the tourist season. A wide corridor completely encircling the courtyard garden provides access to the various conference rooms; its specially designed couches and sitting areas serve as a second ‘lobby’ for those attending conferences.
Hotel guests versus students Now that Casa 400 has shifted course somewhat by providing permanent hotel rooms and conference rooms, the building must also bring various functions together under a single roof. This means that Casa 400 had to introduce a somewhat stricter separation between students and hotel guests than it had in its former building. In this building, for instance, the students have their own smaller entrance around the corner from the main hotel entrance. Also located there is the reception desk especially for students as well as the spacious refectory. Casa 400 still nourishes its unique double function and this factor still determines the look and feel of the building. Even now, a small-scaled migration takes place twice a year when the students move en masse in or out of their rooms during the changeover weekends.
There is no difference between the permanent hotel rooms and the rooms where the students live. Every one of these spacious rooms is equipped with modern conveniences such as a flats-screen TV. Intensive use makes many demands on the interior: the rooms have to offer hotel guests the comforts of a three-star accommodation yet, as student housing, they also have to withstand some hard use. The storey-high windows provide plenty of light. Like a super-sized windowsill, a maple desktop runs the entire width of the room. At the same time, the desk serves to prevent anyone from falling through the enormous windows. Although these windows cannot be opened, a narrow ‘hatch’ between the large glass panels opens to admit air. This concept retains the streamlined look of the façade but also provides the rooms with fresh air.
In the middle of the room are twin beds that can be combined to make a king-size bed or placed one underneath the other so that Casa 400 can save considerably on storage space. With a headboard covered in padded artificial calf leather, the bed is also a kind of couch. This deep, bronzy-coloured headboard gives the room a warm, inviting look accented even more by the soft linear lighting integrated into the top of it. This integrated lighting in the form of elegant lines, is used in three places in the room.
A spatial and logistical success The new Casa 400 integrates its various functions very ingeniously. The need for separate entrances, the restaurant, the kitchens and other facilities, as well as rooms for distribution and personnel created a complex knot of factors that had to be untangled within the constraints of the building envelope. The solution is a clear, functional design: a building that is highly successful both spatially and logistically. In Casa 400, students, hotel guests and conference participants can easily find their way around and feel at home.