The whole process is predicated on an intuition. Appearance, form, and primary exterior features, even the building’s function and liveability all take their cue from an initial leap of the imagination. Yet though Neutelings & Riedijk let their instinct define the character of the building - light-hearted, ironic yet monumental – its realisation is the result of meticulously detailed creative programming. They break down client requirements, examine the possibilities and determinate which aspects deserve more time and money. It is a synthesis of pragmatism and ecstasy where the architect, he who gives form to client demands, becomes the creator of value added.
It is no surprise that Neutelings & Riedijk define their buildings as ‘sculptures’. The profile of the Shipping and Transport College is a lighthouse, an intangible beacon along the river, a watchtower over the sea and an observation tower over the future city. Part of the regeneration project for the port of Rotterdam, the College stands out on the city’s skyline, an unmistakable landmark to optimism. Even the choice of putting a maritime school in a tower, to obtain precious space, flies in the face of convention. The structure is easy to read: a single element bends in on itself at the top to create a cantilevered auditorium, and then bends twice at ground level to end in a spectacular picture window overlooking the river. Pre-fabricated concrete slabs form the main structure. These are clad in a checker board of undulated aluminium panels that lend an air of impermanence to the whole building, as if it were a stack of containers soon to be shipped out.
Once past the threshold, what Neutelings & Riedijk call Scenario becomes immediately evident. Spatial organisation blends a series of completely diverse functions and creates opportunities for people of different backgrounds but common interests to come together. Internal spaces are articulated to give as much emphasis as possible to public spaces, in the most social sense of the word. Scenario is also evident in the particular character given each environment. Even the furniture has been designed by the architects in a clear effort to create an all-enveloping atmosphere and plan every aspect of their work. The student canteen with its huge picture window overlooking river and shipping resembles the galley of a ship. Private offices could be first class cabins, hallways and access areas early 20th century customs areas. This is no mere play on metaphors, however, but a means of creating clear distinctions between the many settings contained in a single building. The presence of so many different functions in the same place (mechanical workshops, virtual simulation labs, gym, restaurants, auditorium, cafeteria, offices, bookstore, rest-room, library) and the constant view of the sea gives you the impression you are on a transatlantic liner about to sail.
Knowing that the budget would allow no luxuries, Neutelings & Riedijk concentrated on spatial development, creating outstanding environments like the restaurants and auditorium to take the tedium out of the agonisingly slow escalators. Their building is further confirmation that their planning model can fully meet client demands and prompt creativity even within a complex project like this. It especially brings out to the full their playful irreverent humour, and their ability as architects to create references with meaning for cities where the public and private sphere seem increasingly to clash.