We tour the construction site of Peter Zumthor’s De Meelfabriek in Amsterdam
Peter Zumthor, Studio Akkerhuis, LOLA and Piet Oudolf come together to breathe new life into the listed monument of the De Meelfabriek in the Netherlands, at the same time revitilising a whole neighbourhood through architecture in Leiden
De Meelfabriek (The Flour Mill) – an imposing former complex in the eastern, industrial area of Leiden in the Netherlands – had lain dormant for a deacde following its closure in 1988, after an illustrious 105-year history. The empty mill was purchased in 1998 by a private developer who planned to regenerate the city quarter with a mixed-use development, inspired by the repurposed former warehouses at the old bulk cargo harbours in New York Manhattan in the 1980s. The canal-side property gained the title of national monument stepping into the new decade and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor began the conceptualising its master plan in 2002.
The complex, significant for its architecture, industrial heritage and archaeology, is built atop a bastion that formed part of the city’s historical fortifications. Over the years, it expanded to 12 buildings representing periods up to the 1970s. Zumthor’s master plan clearly demonstrates his philosophy – that architecture is about bones, structures and anatomy. His approach for De Meelfabriek was to preserve and emphasis the beauty of each of the unique, basic, load-bearing skeletons; to highlight the conservation value of the interior structures of the buildings, while at the same time breathing new life into the isolated zone. This has led to an original and architecturally distinct restoration and remodelling of the complex by the Paris-based Studio Akkerhuis, which continued with the development and realisation from 2015.
‘While the project calls for the preservation of the valuable structures of all the buildings, some of the facades will be restored while others are adapted to their new functions,’ explains studio founder Bart Akkerhuis. ‘The use of materials such as concrete, steel and glass relates to the original industrial character of the complex. Structural steel and concrete feature on the exterior of the new additions, mirroring the functional architecture of the past.’
The project, spreading over 55,000 sq m, combines original and new buildings. The industrial complex is divided into 13 new projects. Among them, 14 lofts and eight penthouses are being built in the Meelpakhuis (the 1930s flour warehouse) while the adjacent Silogebouw (the silo building of the same era) will be turned into a luxury hotel with a panoramic roof-top bar and restaurant. The newly added Silotoren (silo tower) will be connected to the Ketelhuis (the 1890s boiler house) and the Schoonmakerij (1930s washhouse) and will be home to office space, a wellness centre and an art centre. The Directiekantoor (1940s executive offices) will house creative start-ups and NGO companies.
A major aspect of the redevelopment is to open up the area and bring people together. The Meelfabriek public garden and square will be designed by LOLA, which conceived the Singelpark, a 6.5 km-long circular urban park along the banks of the Leiden canals on which De Meelfabriek is located, in collaboration with landscape architect Piet Oudolf, who designed the famed High Line in New York. The first phase of the transformation will be concluded this summer and the delivery of the second phrase is planned for 2023. §