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Artsen zonder Grenzen   landscapem

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been based at the Plantage Middenlaan in Amsterdam since 2003. MSF’s main focus is to provide emergency aid on a worldwide scale, this is where the money is destined to go. At the same time, the building and interior of the head office were clearly in need of an upgrade. Their requirements for the renovation and furniture stated: reuse or recycle as much as possible, with an understated design. MSF wanted to create a hospitable atmosphere for its employees. A place where they can come home to. Studio Valkenier and Gispen took up this challenge together.

Literally and figuratively landing on home base

The Dutch MSF branch is the headquarters of the Operational Centre Amsterdam (MSF OCA): a partnership of Doctors Without Borders Netherlands, Germany, India and United Kingdom. Together they provide medical emergency aid all over the world. The various departments of the head office in Amsterdam coordinate and provide support. Monique van Slooten, Facility Manager at MSF: “When our lease expired, luckily we were able to stay in the building, but its age was certainly showing. In the search for a new exterior and interior, ‘modesty’ and a 'welcoming atmosphere' were important guiding principles for us. In the first place, the money has to go to medical emergency aid. However, we also find it important that our people who work in the field – who are sometimes abroad for months at a time – feel welcome when they return to Amsterdam. So that they can literally and figuratively land on home base.”

From sounding boards to trial setups

MSF Netherlands asked Studio Valkenier to provide services as a building and interior architect: a local architectural firm that has already left its mark in Amsterdam when it comes to clever reuse of materials. Founder Wouter Valkenier: “We keep searching for new ways of reusing materials and doing so as efficiently as possible. We look for ways to upcycle, i.e. making something beautiful out of residual products. We also look for ways to cleverly recycle building materials. We kicked off with sounding boards (sounding board sessions) at all the departments, led by Studio Valkenier. During these workshops, employees were able to give input on the layout and furnishing of the building. WorkWire was responsible for the new workspace concept. For the furniture, however, MSF had three parties bring in trial setups, which could then be thoroughly tested by all the employees. Monique: “Gispen was the outright winner.”


A tour of the Gispen Inspiration Centre

Meerten Castelijns, Gispen Business Manager, served as the first point of contact for MSF: “We had previously partnered up with Studio Valkenier when working on the Stadstimmertuin of the municipality of Amsterdam. In the early stages of the MSF project, Wouter and Monique visited the Gispen Inspiration Centre in Culemborg to look at different types of workstations as well as conferring and conference setups. This always gives you a good idea of the possibilities and the choices you can make.” MSF opted for a combination of different furniture collections. At the restaurant, for example, you will find versatile Gispen Dukdalf folding tables with Nomi chairs. The bar stools in the restaurant are from HAY. Gispen also provided custom solutions: four large tables with a Dukdalf base and a custom top. The conference rooms are furnished with Gispen Team conference tables in different sizes, with upholstered Nomi chairs for extra comfort. The desks that were taken over from the municipality of Amsterdam are accompanied by new Gispen TM desks, of which 20% are sit/stand models. We transformed old desktops into acoustic dividing screens in between desks. The office chairs from the municipality are accompanied by Gispen Zinn office chairs. Moreover, we installed high UT tables in the pantries.


Upcycling and recycling

Elements from the old interior have made their way back into the new interior in all kinds of places. Wouter: “We took old mooring posts from the harbour and made a robust counter and various planters and benches out of them, which are installed throughout the building. Old window frames have become new display cabinets that contain plants. Field workers regularly bring back thank you notes when they return to the office; they used to be scattered around the office, which made it a bit untidy. We now have very convenient built-in cabinets in the conference rooms for these notes and gifts. As a result, the offices at the various floors are more orderly. We reinstalled the existing climate control system, installed crade-to-cradle carpet and used Swedish paint based on linseed oil. Each floor has its own signature colour, which is good for recognition and orientation.”


Archive room and bicycle cellar turned into silent workspace

The result: agile workstations while maintaining the departmental structure. An interior that facilitates both upsizing and downsizing. And less physical storage space, as requested. The basement of the building, which was previously used as an archive room and for bicycle parking, has been transformed into a silent workspace with a library-type atmosphere with roof lights, a sophisticated lighting plan and Gispen furniture. Monique: “The other parts of the building are very open-plan and  transparent. This holds true for the ground floor with its café style, the various meeting areas and the work environments. In the basement, people can withdraw completely and find some peace and quiet. The basement also houses our internal training centre now, which is very convenient because we always had to find space somewhere outside the office previously.”


Are you satisfied with the result?

Monique: “We still have employees who set foot inside the newly transformed building for the first time. They are always very enthusiastic. Every day, we have about three to fifteen full-time field workers who return to the office for one or two days for a debriefing. Some come to the head office directly from Schiphol airport. They are greeted by a good cup of coffee at the coffee counter, as well  as washing facilities, a quiet room upstairs with hammocks and, in addition to a pleasant indoor atmosphere, a beautiful outdoor area.”

“A total of almost four hundred employees work here; on average, we have about 230 people working at the office every day. Some still have to get used to the more open-plan environment. The agile work method needs getting used to in particular; no longer having your own desk and therefore needing to think ahead about your task and suited workspace is a new experience for them. We have also noticed that we really like to chat with one another, but fortunately there are acoustic solutions throughout the building. And, of course, we have the new space in the basement. In short: we are satisfied.”


Photography: Chris van Koeverden

What was special about this project is that Gispen was also working on a project for the municipality of Amsterdam at the time, and that we were able to take over 80 desks and office chairs from the municipality.
Monique van Slooten Facility Manager at Doctors Without Borders
Brightlands Center Court   landscapem

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