Like many European cities, Amersfoort - the second largest city in the Dutch province of Utrecht - is marred by stretches of wasteland where once port and industrial activities thrived; and like many European cities, Amersfoort is now turning these abandoned neighbourhoods into commercial, recreational and cultural districts. Designed by Neutelings Riedjik Architecten, the Eemhuis cultural centre is located on a brown field site on the northwest edge of the old city. The new venue has a dual objective: to move into the neighbourhood three of the city’s key cultural institutions that had outgrown their former headquarters, and in doing so, kick-start urban regeneration in the area.
The Eemhuis contains the city exhibition hall and library, with its prestigious heritage archive, as well as the schools of dance, music and the visual arts, a 3-pronged higher education programme aptly echoed by the architectural programme.
The Eemhuis stands out from neighbouring multiplexes and shopping malls for its sheer bulk, its vast footprint made possible by the huge site – a stretch of former industrial land far enough from the old town centre to make harmonising with the minute, variegated scale of the historic fabric unnecessary.
Public spaces in and around the complex reach underneath and into the building. The open square becomes a covered public plaza with a large cafe and access points into the Eemhuis and its different functions.
A ground floor exhibition space is directly accessible from the covered square. The main hall, set partly underground, is surrounded by smaller exhibition spaces.
The library starts on the first floor. Designed as an extension of the public square, shelves and tables are arranged on a series of terraces leading up to the main library area - a huge space with shelves and reading corners directly overlooking the city. The heritage archive sits directly above the library. Each of the three large metal parallelepipeds on the roof house one of the art school departments: theatre and dance, visual arts or music. Façade materials and textures highlight the three-tiered programme. The brickwork base gives a clear sense of horizontal extension while the roof volumes seem to hover over the glazing of the library like metal clouds in the Dutch sky. While the Eemhuis is divided into three distinct component parts, its different users are made to mingle and cross each other’s paths, making for a truly public space.