Unilever Foods Innovation Centre

Paul de Ruiter Architects as Architects

The building of the future for innovative collaboration

Hive, the Unilever Foods Innovation Centre in Wageningen, a new state-of-the-art research facility for innovations in healthy and sustainable food, is officially open for business as of December 2019.

 

The facility was designed by Paul de Ruiter Architects, who, according to Unilever, have created “an inspiring, sustainable and yet practical building that facilitates innovative collaboration.”


This energy-neutral facility was certified “Outstanding” by the Dutch BREEAM environmental performance assessment body, making it one of the most sustainable multifunctional buildings in the world. Its design is based on Unilever’s desire to facilitate knowledge sharing and the free flow of ideas, and the facility functions as an interaction and collaboration hub for the company’s nutritionists, researchers and students from Wageningen University & Research (WUR), and local start-ups and knowledge institutes involved in food-related innovation.


Unilever: “Paul de Ruiter Architects have created an inspiring, sustainable and yet practical building that facilitates innovative collaboration.”


Open-plan design plus strategic location
The open-plan design and the building’s strategic location at Wageningen University provide for an optimal degree of interaction between Unilever and the various parties with whom it will be working in the city’s food ecosystem. This emphasis on interaction extends beyond industry professionals, as evidenced by the accessibility of a major part of the facility to the general public. All of which helps to boost the city of Wageningen's ambition to become the global centre of knowledge for the (agri)food industry and the life sciences.


Layout designed to support end user’s health and well-being
Visitors to most commercial buildings are forced to negotiate some form of security barrier the minute they step through the door. Unilever envisaged the complete opposite: a building that would be “welcoming by default”. Here, you step into a vast, light-filled, six-metre-high lobby that is not only liberating in its openness but also makes evident the facility’s dedication to food. Thus, the traditional fixtures and fittings of a typical reception have made way for a spacious food bar, where visitors, students, foodies, etc. can enjoy a nice cup of tea or a nutritious spot of lunch while following the activity in the pilot plant, the facility’s mini-factory.


Opposite the food bar is a large demonstration kitchen, where culinary sessions and tastings are to be hosted every day. The facility’s open-plan design extends to this kitchen, allowing these sessions and tastings to take place in full view of the visiting public. A bit further down is an open auditorium, which functions as a town hall for food innovators to share their knowledge through lectures and symposiums.


The auditorium connects the ground floor with the publicly accessible Food Market, meeting rooms and first floor restaurant. Adjacent to the Food Market is a concession zone, where Unilever’s partners can set up shop and become an active part of the Foods ecosystem. This zone provides Unilever an in-house catalyst for cross-fertilisation of ideas between itself and its agri-food partners at Wageningen University.


The Foods Experience Kitchens are also located on the ground floor. These four “innovation kitchens” and the large demonstration kitchen form the creative showcase for Unilever's chefs, who will use the kitchens every day not only as test kitchens, but also for culinary sessions with external parties, cookery classes and special receptions.


A light-filled atrium with a skylight and a wide wooden staircase links the ground floor with Unilever's offices and laboratories. An underground car park immediately beneath the building and covering an area the size of its footprint provides staff parking for both Unilever and Wageningen University employees.


One of this building’s distinguishing features is its sheer openness. This quality runs through the entire facility, as evidenced by a layout that allows direct visual access to most functions from anywhere within the building. The layout and the various innovations included in the design also contribute to the health and well-being of Unilever’s employees and visitors by spurring people to move about the building and interact with their fellow occupants.


Unilever's Foods Innovation Centre is a perfect illustration of what sustainable architecture means in practice.


A team of design and construction pioneers
Unilever’s key desire was for a design that corresponded seamlessly with its performance goals and sustainability ambitions. To ensure its achievement, the company produced an integrated tender brief that demanded a joint response from the various parties that would be involved in the facility’s design and construction. In response, Paul de Ruiter Architects got together with other specialists with expertise in designing and building according to the principles of the circular economy, forming a consortium dedicated to creating the most innovative building possible for the achievement of all of Unilever's operational and sustainability ambitions. These were Dura Vermeer, for construction, DWA for building services engineering and sustainability measures (BREEAM) and Fokkema & Partners for the interior architecture.


Intensive co-creation
This consortium of design and construction experts worked closely with one another every step of the way, designing, shaping and developing the exceptionally sustainable, user-friendly facility that stands today. The intensity of the collaboration included close contact with Unilever, ensuring that everyone was equally invested in the project from start to finish. This degree of collaboration was facilitated by our use of simulation tools linked to a BIM (Building Information Model), which allowed us to create and coordinate detailed simulations of various design and construction decisions.


This approach is a staple of our practice, as it allows teams to be more creative and innovative, and to make good plans even better!

Unilever Foods Innovation Centre

Fokkema & Partners Architecten B.V. as Architects

To stimulate co-creation and exchange of knowledge between employees, academics and other companies, Unilever decided to centralise its Foods R&D facilities at a state-of-the-art Innovation Centre named ‘Hive’. The interior of the purpose-built facility was designed by Fokkema & Partners Architecten in close collaboration with the employees. The building is an example for sustainable design and circular interior concepts - innovative - confirm Unilever’s ambitions. It includes a mini-factory for the small-scale production and testing of new products, a bar and costumer experience area, a food court, five innovation kitchens and two levels of labs and offices.

Moving the security barrier to the centre of the building, has generated ample public space to showcase innovation, host workshops and simply welcome foods-, sustainability- and health enthusiasts. In order to realise a fully circular interior, nearly all furniture for the state-of-the-art facility was moved from former locations. Integration of the interior from the start of the building design resulted in a sustainable, transparent and stimulating environment: a real innovation powerhouse with focus on hospitality and co-creation.

Layout designed to support health and well-being
Visitors to most commercial buildings are forced to negotiate some form of security barrier the minute they step through the door. Unilever envisaged the complete opposite from the traditional entrance: a building that would be “open by default”. Here, you step into a vast, light-filled, six-metre-high lobby that is not only liberating in its openness but also makes evident the facility’s dedication to food. Thus, the traditional reception made way for a spacious food bar, where visitors, students, foodies, etc. can enjoy a nice cup of tea or a nutritious spot of lunch while following the activity in the pilot plant, the facility’s mini-factory.

Interior fit-out guided by the circular principles
The closure of three Unilever R&D sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Poland presented the design team with the challenge of moving as much furniture, fixtures and fittings as possible from the existing sites to the new centre. This circular economy-based idea - ‘rethinking the way we relocate’ - became the starting point for all further decisions regarding material selection and the details of the interior design. A flexible design concept was conceived to make a virtue of the colourful variety of the existing furniture, including original upholstery and old office desks, flaws and all.

Any custom furniture is based on a minimum-waste principle, leading to a modular design methodology using standard sheet sizes. The detailing makes the furniture easy to disassemble and reclaim the materials. For new coffee corners the construction of old kitchen cabinets was reused as the base for the new furniture. Over 95% of the interior fit-out of the public areas, kitchens and the offices consists of re-used elements, from the loose furniture to the kitchen units and appliances from former Unilever locations. Finishes are made from reclaimed wooden planks, ocean plastic and PET felt.

Project Credits
Project management
Landscape Architects
Pilot Plant Consultant
Construction, fire safety and installations consultants
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