After less than a year of demolition and construction, the elongated complex in Prinses Irenestraat, that was home to the Amsterdam Community School (AICS) until 2021 is virtually unrecognisable. And, when its thorough refurbishment is complete, that is not likely to change much: PI59, the new name for the office building, will ultimately be almost the opposite of the original building in its appearance. ‘We’re going from thick concrete façades to large windows, plenty of light and an open character’, says Aalt Schouten, construction site manager at Wessels Zeist who is supervising the project. ‘I’m actually more of a new-build man myself, so this renovation makes a nice challenge.’
Polished concrete with natural stone and brass
Schouten escorts us onto the construction site, where there is a full-size mock-up showing part of the new façade. The large windows, framed by polished concrete with natural stone cladding and brass elements, contrast starkly with the bunker-like façade of the original building. ‘The aluminium façade elements are prefabricated in Staphorst, whereas the polished concrete comes from Belgium’, says Schouten as he rubs his hand across the concrete. ‘It takes about a day to polish a slab like that.’ He then turns around, shifting his gaze from the mock-up to what remains of PI59. ‘If you start counting them… I think you’ll need around 300 of those for the whole building.’
Sheet piling along Strawinskypad
That’s the great advantage of prefab, confirms Schouten. ‘The façade elements have already been made, so it’s just a case of attaching them. We’ve already started with the aluminium ones. We’ll begin adding the polished concrete in mid-March and we hope to have the whole of the front finished before the summer holidays.’ Working with prefab is not only faster, but also has the advantage of space. And that is in short supply in Zuidas – PI59 is wedged between Prinses Irenebuurt on the one side and the busy Strawinskylaan on the other. This created quite a challenge when the cellar was being demolished and the foundation piles were added for the extensions. ‘The groundwater level is high here’, says Schouten. ‘That meant we had to put in sheet piling in order to be able to pump the water away. Those sheet piles went into the ground right next to Strawinskypad. At the time, we put containers in place to enable pedestrians to walk through safely.’
Bright and airy atria
The original building is around 110 m long and 40 m deep. The addition of the four extensions will make the building ‘thicker’ while also making it brighter and airier. ‘The extensions are mainly on the southern side, next to Strawinskypad’, says Schouten, pointing down as we stand on the top floor later on our tour. ‘We’ve completed most of the construction work on them. Look, you can see where the old section ends and the extension starts, because we’re using a steel structure there.’ The extension does not completely connect to the old building – it’s possible to look down at the ground floor through a triangular gap. ‘That’s correct’, replies Schouten to our inquisitive look. ‘Those extensions make it possible to build the three atria. That’s what will allow as much light as possible to penetrate the building. The original building was really dark.’
Terrace without overhang
Finally, we take a look at the west side of PI59. As we do so, several ornamental columns are being hoisted into position. With their ribbed motif, terrazzo and polished appearance, they almost look like Greek columns. ‘There’ll be an overhang on top of these columns’, says Schouten, pointing into the air. ‘Where we’re now standing, there’ll be room for a large terrace, possibly with a hospitality outlet. It’s a great place, if you ask me. You can sit here at the station, next to the lively Parnassusweg and yet you’re still not right next to the motorway.’
History and future
PI59 is one of the oldest buildings in Zuidas and was initially used as an office. After its completion in the 1970s, accountancy firm KPMG moved into the building, followed by the law firm NautaDutilh. Starting in 2003, the building was used as a school by the Amsterdam International Community School (AICS). In 2021, the school relocated to new accommodation in A.J. Ernststraat, again making it possible for the building to be used for its original purpose as an office. In early 2025, Philips will relocate its Amsterdam headquarters from Breitnertoren to PI59 in Zuidas.
We will shortly be publishing an interview with the neighbourhood association Vereniging Irenebuurt Amsterdam, which includes a discussion of the PI59 renovation from the perspective of the local community. Watch out for it on zuidas.nl.
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