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New university building: quiet now, soon to be buzzing

VU Amsterdam’s new university building meets the strictest sustainability standards, features a stunning atrium, and has everything needed to provide comfortable accommodation for students, teaching staff, employees, researchers – and, of course, visitors. In the first months of 2020, everyone had an opportunity to get used to the new building and their new workplaces. Work was still continuing on other rooms, including the theatre auditorium and the lecture/movie theatres. In other words, there was not a problem in sight. That was until the fatal press conference of 12 March 2020 when VU Amsterdam, like the rest of us, found itself in a new and different world. Campus director Franc van Nunen: ‘After that, it was no longer possible to use the building to its full potential. A real shame, but, if I’m honest, the coronavirus pandemic meant that we were actually facing different and much bigger challenges. We had the task of building a completely digital university world.’

Strict timetables

Since May, there has been some physical teaching in the new university building, albeit strictly monitored and at a distance of 1.5 m. ‘We’re now no longer able to accommodate everyone simultaneously’, explains Van Nunen. ‘And that applies not only to students and teaching staff, but also lab workers and so on.’ Currently, it means that approximately 20% of the around 800 people who would normally use the building can actually be there. ‘In terms of teaching, we’re working with strict timetables in order to limit the number of people in the building at any one time. We’re also taking some of the pressure off public transport. The basic message continues to be: work at home as far as possible.’

Too van Velzen

For everyone

The new university building will also play a key role in all of these developments from a cultural perspective. ‘The building is also intended to be a place for people not working or studying here. Starting in September 2021, Rialto will be showing films here, and Griffioen will be staging theatrical performances. They’ll use the same rooms where lectures are held during the day. There will also be restaurants and cafés, and we will feature exhibitions; in fact, we already are. Through all of this, VU Amsterdam will also make a cultural contribution to a vibrant Zuidas.’

Too van Velzen

Zuidas Kenniskwartier

Despite everything, VU Amsterdam remains as ambitious as ever. The completion of the new university building is just part of a much bigger development. Van Nunen: ‘In alliance with the City of Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC, we are working on an ‘innovation district’ in this part of Zuidas. A mixture of entrepreneurs, researchers, doctors, lawyers, students, (data) scientists, and residents, who together will give this area a unique atmosphere of its own.’ The future Zuidas Innovation District – or Zuidas Kenniskwartier (Knowledge Quarter) – will bring together housing, healthcare, science, and entrepreneurship. The innovations that VU Amsterdam, Amsterdam UMC and Zuidas are set to accommodate here will be of local, regional, national, and even international social significance. ‘These are not far-flung ambitions, but already a reality in the here and now. Previously, we realised the O|2 Lab building in the Zuidas Innovation District. The new university building is now in use and, opposite it, we have started to build a new research building. All of them have access to state-of-the-art technologies.’

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