Sijthoff | The Hague

It’s Wednesday afternoon, the sun’s shining, she has both time and inclination. She’ll go into town. With her child. Do a bit of shopping, buy something nice for herself and maybe have an ice cream. She follows her usual ‘doing the town’ route that ends in Grote Marktstraat. Not just for the shops, but also because it’s where The Hague, where she was born and raised, feels most itself. And even more so since the arrival of the new Sijthoff. The building does something to the street, makes everything around it larger, more exciting, a bit more stylish. Her son feels it, too; he always wants to go and look at ‘the storks’. He likes nothing better than to goggle at the 12 magical bronze birds on which the building seems to rest. They’re so big, so splendid, so unforgettable. For him and thus for her too.

Sijthoff was an old and outdated office building in the heart of The Hague. Now it’s a retail Mecca with offices, embellished by a facade that the building wears like a new gown. And where 12 storks give passers-by a reason to pause for a moment.

Project details
commission: redevelopment of offices and shops | client: Credit Suisse | overall project management: Colliers International | project management: Impact Vastgoedrealisme | architect: V8 architects | structural engineer: Zonneveld Ingenieurs | building services consultant: Hori | bronze storks: V8 architects (design) / Koninklijke Eijsbouts (production) with Jikke van Loon | shops: 4750 m² | offices: 6300 m² | design: 2011 | completion: 2014 | photography: Ossip van Duivenbode and V8 Architects (b-w 1 &4)

A Hague building
This building connects in an abstract manner with the tradition of grand, stylish buildings in The Hague, buildings like the Passage, the Bijenkorf and the Berlage Building. But it also has associations with the facade articulation of great international department stores like Harrods and Galeries Lafayette. The twelve storks gracing the facade of the new Sijthoff building also speak the language of The Hague. They are in keeping with the ornamental tradition of The Hague’s city centre and give pride of place to the stork as the city’s centuries-old mascot. With the renewed Sijthoff, the city has gained one more Hague-style building. It’s a new source of pride, helping to make the city centre even stronger.

A street in transition
The Hague city council was keen for Grote Marktstraat to develop into the city’s main shopping street, with an international ambience. The street was to become an elegant, traffic-calmed shopping boulevard. First of all, the paving, lighting and street furniture in the public space were completely refurbished using high-spec materials and unique patterns. In addition, four important buildings – Markies, Amadeus, the Nieuwe Haagse Passage and Sijthoff – were earmarked for a makeover as part of realizing Grote Markstraat’s glittering new future. The retail formula is a familiar one: the big chains offer consumers the ultimate shopping experience with flagship and concept stores. With Sijthoff, V8 Architects has added to this retail formula. The building is divided into different stores with a clear and inviting entrance so that the retail floors enjoy an open relationship with the street while the stylish outdoor space flows into the building.

Monumentality and excess
The old Sijthoff City was anything but monumental. Its architecture featured a multiplicity of corners and kinks in an attempt to connect with the human scale. In the facade this was expressed in fragmentation: of sheet materials, lines, notches and joints. The building was congested, down-at-heel and illegible. V8’s transformation was aimed at achieving the precise opposite: a monumental retail Mecca.

A number of interventions were crucial to achieving this. First of all, spatial excess was created inside the building. The removal of one floor delivered a double-height first floor that is wholly consistent with the desired retail experience. In addition, the corner building was given a more imposing appearance by rounding the corners. These rounded street frontages match the elegance of the public space while also guiding the sight lines from surrounding streets and invoking memories of the defunct Sijthoff Planetarium.

But the main focus of attention is the new facade, which consist of two parts: the lower part opens to the street and is largely glazed so that it acts as a shop window for the building’s two retail floors. The upper part of the facade consists of white composite panelling that readily absorbs the colours of its surroundings. The facade panels are narrow, but long. They span the entire height of the upper facade and have distinctive wavy lines, so that Sijthoff appears to be wearing a pleated white skirt. Between the composite facade panels are the windows. The higher up the facade, the wider the windows. By contrast, the folds in the composite panels increase in number and amplitude the lower they are on the facade. This facade design has a perspective effect that serves to emphasize the building’s monumentality. With the vertical interplay of lines in the facade, the building indicates the rhythm of the city and relates it to other buildings in the street. Sijthoff comports itself as a distinguished neighbour of the Bijenkorf and Peek&Cloppenburg while maintaining a fitting distance. Nowhere does the modern craftsmanship attempt to overshadow the neighbours’ grandeur.

Prancing storks
The facade is graced by twelve bronze storks. They have ensconced themselves below the overhang created by the slight offset between the upper and lower facade sections. This projection, also in bronze, acts as an awning for the street-level shops. The storks have distributed themselves in groups of four across the facade. Each group marks an important aspect of the building, such as corners and entrances. The storks show visitors the way while simultaneously furnishing the building with a powerful image. The sculptures are an abstract and geometric representation of a stork with hugely upscaled proportions appropriate to the dimensions and proportions of the building. The result is a stork that relates the building to the human scale. In terms of size it is also in tune with the large, architectural scale of the building, but the bronze material, in which the fingerprints from the cast maker are visible and tangible, also brings it into contact with the smallest scale, that of the human hand. As such, the stork is not a classic facade ornament, but an essential part of the architecture of the building. And thus, Sijthoff speaks the language of The Hague: it conforms to the ornamental tradition of the Hague city centre and at same time pays homage to the centuries-old mascot of the city. The stork, literally ‘the bringer of good luck’, has been part of The Hague’s coat of arms since 1816.

Construction process
On the building site the various construction flows were coordinated as much as possible. All the phases of the project occurred more or less simultaneously. This turned the construction process into a multidimensional implementation puzzle made up of little bits of space, time and money. While the assembly of the frames and facade panels was taking place on the Grote Markt side, demolition was in full swing at the rear. These are the challenges of an inner-city redevelopment project. For Sijthoff it worked out well and resulted in a lead time from preliminary design to completion of three years. The Hague did not have long to wait to enjoy its new shopping palace.

project website: www.sijthoff-city.nl