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Transformation of Piet Blom’s ‘Bastille’ into a lively miniature city

Commissioned by Student Union, University of Twente, Mei has designed the transformation of the Bastille (1969). The renovation turns the university building into a ‘lively miniature city’ once again, as envisaged by architect Piet Blom in his original design. The characteristic speakers’ corner becomes an atrium, which makes interactions even more inviting. The plan translates design principles developed in the 1960s into contemporary user needs and spatial requirements.

Project info

Completed in 2004

Universiteit Twente

Activiteitengebouw voor studenten

6.500 m2 FGA

01 slides

Structuralist labyrinth

As a typical example of structuralism from the 1960s, the Bastille was shaped like a three-dimensional labyrinth of dark spaces, spread over three levels in sixteen different volumes. The facade had a closed appearance. Characteristic of structuralism, the building was formed by a structure of beams and columns, through which the program was woven. Visitors could find their own way through the building, with the possibility of getting lost in the labyrinth.

Een zwartwitfoto van het voormalige interieur van de Bastille. Veel ronde hoeken, niveauverschillen, architectonische details
Historische schets tekening van de Bastille door Piet Blom.

Overview and interaction

The renovation, as part of Jan Hoogstad’s new campus masterplan, adds several larger spaces to the existing small-scale structure, in order to organize meetings on a larger scale and increase the readability of the building. To create an overview within the original architectural concept, the building has gotten a clearly recognizable entrance. Two new entrances on either side of the building are connected by an inner street and multifunctional atrium, which provides access to the surrounding spaces as a central meeting place. This heart of the Bastille brings daylight and air into the building and strengthens the visual relationship between the different levels. Thus, the Bastille once again becomes the living city as Piet Blom intended.

To prevent nuisance, the various functions in the building are separated according to their use. But at the same time, fitting in with the idea of the city on a small scale, interaction between the various users is stimulated as much as possible. It is precisely the variety of users and functions that make the Bastille a vibrant and lively building. For example, office spaces are not just separate office spaces, but form an integral part of the total student life on the campus. There are various public and semi-public spaces, such as the so-called plazas, where the users come together.

Character of Bastille

In order to accommodate the large number of users in the building and to make the traffic structure clear and safe, the layout of the building had to be thoroughly revised. The aim was to preserve the special character of the Bastille as much as possible. The structure of columns and beams has, of course, remained a visual element in the interior. The typical frontage layouts, such as around the void to the recreational area, have been wrapped in a new fire-resistant frontage. The new atrium is the modern translation of the “speakers’ corner”; a structuralist public square within the existing building that, unfortunately, was too dark and too much furnished to function properly. The atrium allows light and air into the surrounding spaces and creates a visual relationship between the different floors and functions within the building. By means of wooden folding walls, the atrium can be transformed into an enclosed hall for various events such as large student parties and concerts.

Dichte schuifwanden rond het atrium
Half geopende wanden rond het atrium

The ball is in the user’s court

The student organizations that were to be given space in the building as a result of the conversion, have been involved in the design process. By delivering the building as shell after renovation as possible, it invites new owners to make the space their own – entirely in line with the ideas of structuralism.

New programme in existing building? Work together with Mei.

Mei has years of experience in transforming buildings.

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