The Wijnhavenkwartier, designed by architectural firm Geurst & Schulze, is a particularly attractive addition to The Hague’s city skyline. A dull office complex accommodating two ministries has been transformed into a warm, metropolitan building where all sorts of activities are happening. The complex now accommodates apartments, restaurants, shops, and an annex of Leiden University. The most striking aspect is the sand-coloured façade which has been finished with custom design tiles from Mosa, with which the architect makes a reference to ‘the beautiful city behind the dunes’.
Delightful woven patterns ‘The ceramic façade constantly entices you to look at the building,’ explains architect Jeroen Geurst about his design. ‘The closer you get to the Wijnhavenkwartier, the more there is to experience. From a distance, the building appears to be the same shade of sand all over, but from closer by the tiles’ delightful woven patterns become more evident. Vertical lines are dominant on the main building’s façade, and the tiles on the low-rise building are finished with a horizontal pattern. Each façade is different, and from close up you can see that every tile has its own unique nuance. All these details give visitors extra information, which is what makes a building so interesting to me.’
The Wijnhavenkwartier is in the heart of the city centre, built on a substrate of sand. All that remains of the former seventies complex’s original high-rise building is its concrete supporting structure. The new towers provide space for 170 apartments and penthouses, and the old low-rise building has been fully replaced by the new building. Together with the lower floors of the high-rise building, this new section now accommodates restaurants, shops, and offices, with another important part being the Leiden University annex.
Rhythmic interplay of lines Geurst & Schulze were given the job of transforming the dull office complex into an ‘appealing residential area’ that was contemporary and open, to fit in with The Hague’s inner city and modern skyline. ‘The aesthetic of the façade is crucial for ensuring the building’s residents love it,' explains Geurst. 'The façade creates the relationship with the rest of the city. And the sand-coloured tiles aren’t just a reference to the nearby beach, but also to the sand substrate.’
The architect chose a tile that ‘exposes the skeleton of the building and reveals what goes on inside’. He adds, ‘Every apartment has a balcony, which really brings the building to life. The construction of columns and floors inside determines the rhythm of the vertical and horizontal interplay of lines of the ceramic covering outside. The Mosa tiles are also found in all the apartments’ entrance halls.’
Custom-made ceramic tile Geurst & Schulze didn’t just choose the ceramic tile for its aesthetic qualities. According to Geurst, ‘The Wijnhavenkwartier couldn’t appear heavier than the original building, but I did want to create a certain mass to define the metropolitan space, so the lightweight stone-like material was the ideal solution.’
‘Mosa was an obvious choice because, as an architect, you want to design your own custom tile together with your design team, and with Mosa we can mix the colours using our own recipe. We worked together to investigate which pigments had to be more or less dominant to best match the natural sand colour. It was an exciting process! The Wijnhavenkwartier is a huge building, so the colour had to be perfect. We therefore compared various samples at different times of the day, and kept refining them until we were sure we had just the right shade.’
Fast construction According to Geurst, the initial challenge was to convince the Wijnhavenkwartier’s main contractor and investors about why they chose the Mosa tile. ‘Everyone wants to win a prestigious project like this; international competitors throw themselves into the fray with very low prices, and Mosa isn’t the cheapest option. But fortunately, its qualities as a strong, durable, easy-to-maintain, and secret-fix tile anchoring system proved decisive.’ A quick construction was also imperative for head contractor Heijmans because of the lack of space for storage in the heart of the city. WVH Gevelprojecten therefore prefabricated the façade on prefab elements, so the lightweight Mosa tile was particularly suitable. The design team also helped us think about the beautiful corner solutions and clever use of offcuts.’
Effect of light intensity Geurst & Schulze didn’t have much previous experience with ceramic façades. ‘Only now that the building is finished can I see the huge influence that light intensity has on the ceramic tiles,’ says Geurst. ‘The fact that every tile is unique produces an effect similar to natural stone. On dull, cloudy days, the building appears a little darker, and on sunny days under a blue sky it really shines. That definitely fills me with a sense of pride as an architect. But even more importantly, I look at how the Wijnhavenkwartier functions in the heart of the city, and I can see that it functions very well.’