Here is the story they told me at Strijp-R last week. We went there with a group of project managers from Amsterdam. Eindhoven is not that far and we were really interested on how they do things there. We went to see the redevelopment of the former Philips Electronics factories. In the afternoon we visited the Pieter van den Hoogenband aquatic centre (where the Dutch Olympic gold medallist are trained) and the new Van Abbe Museum.
But lets go back to Strijp-R first. As I told in an earlier blog, Eindhoven was completely built around Philips (and a little bit the DAF car factories). The Philips factories were originally named after their products, like Philips lighting, Philips Medical Systems, Philips Glass or Philips Natlab. For the workers they gave them letters: the largest and best known today is Strijp-S. A little bit further to the North Strijp-R was located. Unlike Strijp-S, where the city of Eindhoven took the lead in the redevelopment, this location, Strijp-R was given to the highest bidder. In this case a Dutch developer: Amvest. The spokes person for Amvest told us that they made the zoning plans themselves. And they also developed the complete strategy. She told us that they first investigated everything that could be important like history, quality of the buildings, but also the quality of the existing trees. And one of the things that were decided was that they kept as many trees as possible. The idea was to build a housing quarter, so that was going to be nice, new houses in a relatively low density for middle and upper class in an area already having old beautiful trees.
They prepared a branding sheet where they put the most important qualities of their future development.
For the industrial buildings they decided to keep some but get rid of most of them. Reusing them for apartments or working spaces was not really an option. On the other side of the street Strijp-S already had around 300.000 square meters of industrial floor space that had to be redeveloped. But the idea was nevertheless to keep some of the industrial atmosphere by keeping some buildings and structures in tact.
Then Piet Hein Eek came. This is a famous Dutch designer who makes the most beautiful furniture from scrap wood and other reused materials. Today Piet Hein is everywhere. He is big and famous. He could be the symbol of new design. His workshop was in Geldrop (some 10 kilometers east of Eindhoven) and he wanted to be where the action is. So he asked the City of Eindhoven if they had place for him in one of their projects. The answer was no. Don’t ask me why, but they originally said no. Then one of them came up with an idea and they did send him to Amvest where he might find space in one of their buildings. Amvest only planned to keep 3.000 m2 while Piet Hein needed 10.000 m2 or more. He was going to bring in all his scrap wood, other materials and a work force of 80 people. He also wanted a showroom, a shop, a restaurant and possibilities to grow. Which made Amvest to say no at first as well! But for this private developer saying no is not so easy. And they understood that Piet Hein Eek was an interesting guy who could add a lot of value to their development. So they decided to have a look at their branding sheet. And they found out that there was no reason to say no. The only problem: 3.000 m2 is not enough if the client asks for 10.000 m2. The buildings were still there and Piet Hein Eek would like to buy them immediately. So that was done about a year ago and today it is all there: a fantastic building with workshops, showroom and fantastic restaurant. Among the tall trees.
I asked the spokes person of Amvest if she didn’t think that perhaps they could have saved more buildings. No she said, these old buildings, we really didn’t see any future use for them…..
Eindhoven now has a new quarter with a very strong and creative identity. A lot of things that a good redevelopment scheme needs can be found here. History, nature and creativity. Lets all go to Eindhoven and learn from it. Every Leeds, Nantes and Leipzig of the world, all these medium sized former industrial cities. Go for it.