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‘Surely, we’re here to help each other’

Appels has been working in Zuidas for fifteen years, currently as the Building Manager of the Atrium, which was still covered in scaffolding until just six years ago and started life in the 1970s as the banking headquarters of the Nederlandsche Middenstandsbank. Henk Appels is eligible for retirement from August 2023, but will initially be stepping back only slightly, working three days per week rather than five. Basically, it’s his job to ensure that ‘every day runs smoothly in the building’: from ensuring that the lifts are working properly and maintaining the courtyard garden through to updating the commercial department about potential new tenants and supervising renovation work.

Golden rule

In Zuidas, the building work is constant, as demonstrated by the eight days of work just completed on the Brittenpassage. So, how do you ensure that Zuidas remains a pleasant place for everyone during all of the work? ‘When it comes to work, I tend not to take everything that goes wrong personally, which helps reduce irritation considerably’, says Appels. ‘While people around me are suffering from burn-out, I’m still here, healthy and happy.’ He may have the best job in the world, but his ‘boundless curiosity’ also means that what he actually does is difficult to describe: ‘I always want to know why something works the way it does and how it can be better.’ To this, he adds the motto of the Montessori school his son used to attend: ‘We all need to work together, so don’t inflict on others what you would not want yourself. Surely, we’re here to help each other?’

Front-row view of the works on the Brittenpassage

Keep the dialogue going

Appels has a good understanding of how people deal with each other and cooperate. This interest in his fellow man is all thanks to his upbringing in Den Helder by some very progressive and enthusiastic parents. Indeed, it is more than just an interest: he has devoted many hours to voluntary work, including for his son’s basketball club. And for years, he also ran a karate club for around 60 children aged 6 to 14. ‘It was actually more of a vehicle for improving the children’s self-confidence. Sport’s so important for that, especially at that age.’ Sixteen years in the Royal Netherlands Navy, including a decade aboard a ship sailing around the world, have also left their mark on him. Appels has the look of a man who is decisive and persuasive – he is determined to remain ‘in the lead’. But that does not mean shying away from self-reflection. ‘Every day, I still do the “mirror, mirror on the wall”: looking back at what we’re doing, so that we can learn from it’.

Waste containers

Over the years, he has seen the area become increasingly busy, which is not always good news. The increasing numbers of commuters, students, cyclists, delivery drivers on scooters and a gym and a supermarket next door have led to a growing litter problem. Appels: ‘After Sjoerd Sybesma (general manager of hotel INNSiDE at gebouw 2Amsterdam, Ed.) and I had talks with the City of Amsterdam, waste containers were installed. But the question of how they should be emptied and by whom was somehow overlooked. You have to keep the dialogue going on things like that.’ And, according to Appels, you always have to have a positive attitude: ‘In our society, we focus too much on everything that’s not possible. But there’s actually so much that is possible. If it doesn’t work like this, we can find another way.’

Appels, Atrium, Amsterdam!

Stadsmariniers in an amazing station zone

According to Appels, the waste containers are a symptom of something he sees quite often: the distance between the ‘technocrats’ who do the planning and the reality. ‘My contacts at the municipality have a professional approach and put themselves on the line, they really do’, says Appels. ‘But a few green jackets might not be a bad idea.’ Green jackets? Appels explains: ‘I’m thinking of something like the stadsmariniers (city mariners) they have in Rotterdam who connect the planners with the people who have to live with the consequences of those plans.’ Appels himself is following these plans with great interest: ‘Even when I do really retire, I’ll be coming back – the station zone is set to be something truly amazing.’

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