words William Wiles
The central tax office for the Netherlands is guarded by dragons. They adorn the steel lightwells above an underground building in Apeldoorn designed by Rotterdam-based architecture practice Neutelings Riedijk (icon 031).
The lightwells penetrate an artificial pond above the sprawling Walter Bos Complex, in which billions of euros of Dutch money are hoarded and distributed. “We worked together with Rob Birza, a famous Dutch painter and sculptor, and he came up with the dragons,” says partner Michiel Riedijk. “It’s this ancient analogy, a fairy tale where the dragon protects the treasure of gold bars and jewels.”
The subterranean building, a single floor under the lake, provides communal space and a common entrance to the 50,000sq m complex of six office towers.
“We decided with the client to come up with this pond as a security device and also as an ecological device,” says Riedijk. As well as deterring intruders, it cools the communal spaces beneath and captures rainfall for flushing the toilets.
Two underground courtyard gardens surrounded by cloisters puncture the lake, letting more light into the complex and providing views of the towers from beneath the water. “This is a very secure, very enclosed complex,” Riedijk says. “You’ll never get in there because it’s such a high-security place.”
The monastic feel and the use of heavy-duty materials – thick white-and-black concrete walls and slate floors – are intended to project a sense of security and permanence. “We articulated the fact that the building is very sustainable and a very good investment of public money,” explains Riedijk. “It should be there for centuries, and also it should appear as if it has been there for centuries. We were inspired by this idea of eternity.”