Public affairs: OMA's upgrade for Rijnstraat 8 enhances its original intention

Public affairs: OMA's upgrade for Rijnstraat 8 enhances its original intention

Originally designed by Jan Hoogstad and completed in 1992 for the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment in The Hague, this glass-enclosed, 140m long structure was one of the Netherlands’ first sustainable buildings. Its distinctive floorplan, resembling a two-sided comb, incorporated a series of glazed atriums that helped the air circulate to regulate internal temperature in the style of a concervatory. A recent redesign by OMA, highlights Rijnstraat 8’s original intention, while bringing it to the 21st century.

When major organisational changes in the Dutch government structure meant a renovation was necessary, OMA won the contract to refresh Hoogstad's innovative, budget-savvy design. Now known as Rijnstraat 8, this will be the new home of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Public Works and Water Management, the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The project builds upon the original design while upgrading its performance in more ways than one, working with Hoogstad's intention for a more spacious, better lit and insulated, and naturally ventilated offices. Some 20 per cent of the structure was demolished to make way for a number of improvements, yet the architects made sure that 99.7 per cent of the original materials are reused. The new layout replaces standard corridors with spacious walkways that boast panoramic views of The Hague and beyond, offer additional space for conversations, rest, or more informal work, and help wayfinding. A concrete side wall was removed in favour of a glass facade that dramatically increases daylight.

The new building combines efficient office space with striking public and flexible meeting areas. Photography: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti, Courtesy of OMA

In Rijnstraat 8, OMA partner and project architect-in-charge Ellen van Loon, drew on her experience in designing government facilities and theatres. The building feels open and visitor-friendly, while being protected by 'invisible security' systems. From the walkways one can observe, as if in a theatre, the busy life of alternating double- and single-height office floors. Glazed atriums look particularly breathtaking from the hanging stairways, intended as a healthier alternative to elevators.

The idea of giving back to the city is key to the project. The first five floors now act as semi-public meeting areas shared with the neighbouring ministries. Situated just in front of The Hague’s Central Station, Rijnstraat 8 incorporates a 'pedestrian highway' used by thousands of people on a daily basis. This was created by enlarging an existing pedestrian passage through the building to the size of a plaza.

Hofhaus, a cluster of cafes within the building, acts as a 'city lobby'. Opening early in the morning, it will soon extend its working and partying hours to 2am, making Rijnstraat 8 available to the public for even longer.