Rijn IJssel Vakschool Wageningen
Reusing existing materials for as far as possible, where sustainability and circularity is key. Not only in terms of the building, but also applying to the interior design and furniture. This was the mission for the renovation of Rijn IJssel Vakschool Wageningen. Together with Ex Interiors, we created a new learning and working environment for this special school of vocational education with a largely refurbished interior. An environment where students, teachers, business professionals and visitors from the surrounding area meet and learn with and from one another.
Not just any school
Vakschool Wageningen offers training courses in hospitality, bakery, tourism and facility services. This is not just any school; there are hotel rooms in the so-called Hotel de Nieuwe Wereld (Hotel the New World), two restaurants, three comfortable meeting rooms and a conference hall. The reception area contains a café with a bakery shop where visitors can buy bread or order a cup of coffee and a snack. In short, it has everything needed to properly train the cooks, bakers, hosts and hostesses of the future. The exterior was completely renovated in 2019. Not only the exterior, but also the interior and all its equipment is now completely up to date with this overhaul. Ex Interiors and Gispen were both given the opportunity to contribute to the project. Sustainability and circularity were guiding principles.
A word from the architect
Many schools have surplus furniture in storage. The best thing about this project was that everybody involved put in maximum effort to not simply discard items because they no longer fit one’s perception of contemporary style. Instead, we looked for ways to reuse old items while adding a contemporary twist. We worked closely together with Gispen in this process. In addition, Rijn IJssel proved to be a real team player as the client; the director, too, put his heart and soul into the idea of reuse.
PLAZA: the meeting place for interdisciplinary learning
SBH architects was in charge of the architecture of the building. Ex Interiors produced the interior design. Odette Ex: “We were asked to match the interior with the exterior. More and more vocational colleges are realising a tangible connection between classroom subjects and practice. This is very much the case for the so-called PLAZA on the ground floor of Vakschool Wageningen. This meeting place is where students from the various disciplines – from hotel reception to restaurant or bakery – meet up and learn about each other's profession, work on projects together and get a taste for the quality that will soon be demanded by the work field. We really wanted to realise this type of interdisciplinary learning at the college. The students are taken out of their fields of expertise, and we connect them with the work field and visitors from the surrounding area. As a result, real-life situations can be practised in a genuine way. What I like about this environment is that you can just feel that crafts are being learnt here, and that students share their know-how with one another. From baking bread to making chocolates or ice cream and from serving dinner to welcoming people.”
Each discipline practised at the PLAZA has its own distinctive colour. From terra-brown for the bakery and green for everything related to travel, to blue for meeting and a soft pink for the auditorium. These colour schemes have created very different but recognisable atmospheres within one and the same PLAZA. The colours are fairly bright; the intense colours create a beautiful contrast with the grey base colour. In addition to the PLAZA concept, Ex Interiors was also responsible for the look and feel of the rest of the building.
Odette: “Together with Gispen we carefully incorporated the circular concept into the furniture. We wanted to show that we value what was already there and this is clearly visible at the PLAZA. We went through every single chair and table.” Robbert de Jonge, project supervisor and Circular Economy Advisor at Gispen: “Together with Ex Interiors, we conducted a Quality Scan of all the separate furniture pieces that had been in use at the vocational college. This includes furniture from classrooms, meeting points, conference rooms, presentation areas, reception desks and the restaurant. Our client had already made a detailed inventory. We checked the condition of every single item and asked ourselves: What options are there in terms of sustainable solutions? What is eligible for reuse? A large portion of the furniture was eligible for reconditioning, and many of the classrooms have mostly been kept as is. The old design looked cramped and cluttered; the new setting is more uniform with products of matching colours and shapes. This has given the environment a sense of tranquillity and unity.”
Refurbishing the existing furniture
It was Gispen’s task to refurbish all the reusable furniture pieces; a process carried out at its own factory in Culemborg. The frames and undercarriages of the tables were repainted and the tabletops were either renewed or sanded down and repainted in a new colour. The office chairs were given a thorough clean and have been fully reupholstered. The burgundy stools were repainted in anthracite grey to give them a more contemporary look. Robbert: “Another great example is the student chairs with wooden seat, wooden backrest and steel frame. These were present in large numbers. Functionally these sturdy chairs were still fine, but aesthetically they no longer fit the bill. Odette came up with the idea of blasting the wooden parts instead of sanding them. This was new to us, but it turned out to be possible at our own factory. The blasting process allowed us to safely remove all the old lacquer from the wooden parts and made it easier to repaint and stain the wood evenly. The frames of the chairs that were destined for the PLAZA were repainted in black. A product that has lasted for a decade or two can now last another twenty years!”
Gispen also supplied new furniture, all sustainably designed and manufactured. These include Gispen TM workstations with accompanying Gispen Zinn task chairs.
Photography: Alexander van Berge Photograpy
Photo Odette Ex: Janita Sassen
The employee’s thoughts
It is vital for a circular economy to have strong chain partnerships. This project once again proved this, in the form of two very effective collaborations. Firstly, the partnership with Ex Interiors, which even resulted in a new technique (wood blasting) that we realised at our own factory. Secondly, with Vlotweg Top Movers, a partner of our client who efficiently moved the products that we selected for reuse. One plus one turns into three; we truly helped each other out in this partnership. With a beautiful result for our client that we can all be proud of.