At the corner of Amstelveenseweg and the A10 motorway stand three tall buildings, completed in 1994. By that time, it was already clear that they would house several different occupants, but the fact that it took so long to find them probably came as more of a surprise. And that’s before we even get to more recent developments. To put the story of Tripolis into context, we have to go all the way back to a protest that took place in 1986.
The renovation of the Burgerweeshuis
In 1986, the architect Herman Hertzberger was determined that the Burgerweeshuis, which had fallen into disrepair and was located to the north of Tripolis, should be preserved. The municipality acquired both the building, designed by Aldo van Eyck, and the grounds that surrounded it, and it began looking for a developer to redevelop the whole site. The winning bidder would be given permission to build an office complex on the unused part of site, as long as they also tackled the renovation of the Burgerweeshuis. That renovation project would be overseen by Van Eyck himself, who was also at the top of the list of preferred architects for the new office buildings. It was the real estate company G&S that managed to meet all those requirements and was awarded the contract.
Between 1991 and 1994, Aldo van Eyck, together with his wife Hannie and architect Abel Blom, worked on van Eyck’s penultimate project. Three offices and a parking garage set in a park just to the south of the Burgerweeshuis. The high-rise buildings of Van Eyck’s new project would thus be standing guard over his first low-rise building. The plans for these high-rise buildings were part of a new trend in office construction that was emerging at the end of the 1980s, which involved making modern buildings much more distinctive. Companies were getting tired of featureless concrete blocks and wanted to give renowned architects the chance to create buildings that were unique and truly memorable in their own right.
A break with tradition
Van Eyck and his colleagues broke with the existing conventions for office buildings, both inside and out. There were no long corridors with small offices and meeting rooms on each side, but open spaces that connected to a light central staircase – spaces that encouraged meeting and interaction. There was no square glass facade overlooking a busy road, but organically shaped buildings that were turned away from the road. And those buildings were full of unusual details. For example, each storey leaned out five centimetres further than the one below it.
Although these original ideas were designed and developed with great care, they were never conceived in agreement with a tenant. Tripolis was intended to be a multi-tenant complex, so all the buildings, or parts of them, would have different tenants. During construction, nobody yet knew who those tenants would be. In fact, after the buildings were completed in 1994, they remained vacant for eighteen months. The companies that later moved in actually changed the structure of the buildings to suit their preferences. They created walls and doors in the many open spaces that Van Eyck had designed, making the interaction that the architect had envisaged much more difficult. Successive tenants managed to dilute the character of the buildings, even though those tenants did not stay for long. The only exception was Nikon, which restored much of its office space to its original state in 2011. That was good news for one of the towers, but for the other two there was no such respite. The spaces inside those buildings were, it was generally accepted, original but impossible to use effectively. So they remained empty.
In 2017, Tripolis changed hands from one investment company to another. Blackstone took over from AXA and selected the newly established Flow Real Estate to come up with some grand designs for the complex. After a rather quiet twenty years, it was time for Tripolis to start making a splash. From the outset, the developer was aware of the cultural and historical value of the buildings and the role of Van Eyck’s heirs, who were committed to preserving his work throughout the country. They met with the developer, but the two sides could not come up with a plan that would keep everyone happy. So the family contacted the Heemschut heritage association, which had a rather ingenious plan of their own.
At that time, Tripolis had not yet been granted official monument status, and that opened up some possibilities. The association was doing everything in its power to obtain that status and stop the development of the complex. At the beginning of 2019, an application for the renovation project as well as an application for the status of municipal monument were both being processed. The latter was granted. But anyone who has driven along the Amstelveenseweg in the past year will know that there is a lot of construction work going on at the Tripolis site. The Spatial Quality Committee sent Flow Real Estate back to the drawing board several times, but finally approved the developer’s plans a few months after monument status had been granted. The committee found that the developer’s plans would safeguard the architectural value of Tripolis, and Flow Real Estate was allowed to begin work, as long as a series of conditions were met.
The design by Flow Real Estate, developed by Winy Maas of architectural firm MVRDV, keeps the old Tripolis clearly visible, but adds a large ‘horizontal skyscraper’ that will shield the buildings from the A10 motorway. The redevelopment is based on a philosophy that does not seem too far removed from Van Eyck’s original ideas: no bland modern blocks, but a sustainable campus area with plenty of meeting places. By 2022, Tripolis Park might well be dividing opinions, but it certainly won’t be left empty. Of the 45,000 square metres planned, 30,000 have already been allocated to the taxi service provider Uber. And furthermore, one tower will not be part of the new development – Tower 100. This has been reserved for the creation of social rental homes. So the old Tripolis will owe its existence to the new Tripolis – and vice versa.
This is the seventh article in a series about national and municipal monuments in and around Zuidas. The first article was on the subject of the Thomaskerk. The second was about the old courthouse. The third was about the Europahal. The fourth about the Burgerweeshuis. The fifth about the Rietveld Academie. The sixth about Buitenveldert cemetery.
Text: Jort van Dijk