Lumax office building, Utrecht

Light as the building material

The Lumax building was a former Printing Factory of the Volkskrant newspaper that was built in 1918 and continued to be added to in seven different building additions till 1971. Thereafter it was it was left unused when the printing factory eventually moved out. The Municipality of Utrecht bought it saving it from demolition, and wanted to turn it into and ‘office incubator’ to help stimulate the young businesses in the area. The building was large and had no coherence left between the various building phases and the different structural bays. Only the original Traditional façades and a monumental stair hall were still shining through the clutter.

Two interrelated ideas, Light and Space.

The traditional front façade with its original mosaic scene in its pediment presented itself to the community with a clear centralized entry condition with a potential to tie in the urban space with the new central axis of light. The first urban gesture that this design does is to create a public space by eliminating the parking along the front edge of the sidewalk which wraps around to the side and therefore extending this sidewalk to the edge of the parking zone creating a generous public threshold which anchors the façade in urban surrounding. This gives a ‘breathing space’ without visual obstacles. A proud unobliterated stance giving identity to the community.

The central axis of light moves through the building connecting a string of building elements along its path beginning with large clear glass entry with its new gate and ending with a glass elevator that provides a view of the landmark water tower in this urban context to the west. Light invites you to discover, experiencing the space as you move through it, constantly changing shadows , textures, reflections, with time, and with this brings life to the space. Light has become my most important building material.

Elements along the Light Axis

The string of building elements along this axis of light begins with the entrance and reception. An original oval column is now left free to stand alone in the space on the now Azure blue floor. The reception is within an object of anodized aluminum and stained Larix wood slats that wrap the softly reflective object and becomes the bench upon which visitors can wait. The original corner stone was found during demolition, imbedded in the wall along with a drawing of the original façade on parchment with the signatures of the founding Board members of the printing factory from 1918. It has now a prominent position in the entry visible even from the outside through the large glass windows. The next building element that one encounters along this axis trough the glass double doors is the original, beautifully tiled, stone stair hall on the left. The bands of color of the tiled wall are repeated on the other walls creating a continuous ribbon of color as one moves to the top. Continuing an this axis, one continues through another set of glass doors to a great hall in which a 20 meter long, gently curving freestanding object of horizontally clad anodized aluminum with stained Larynx wood slats that wrap the softly reflective object at its top continuing its form to the ceiling. A carved out opening along the gently curved side leads one into a higher top lit entry space along a yellow tiled wall to the toilets. Once inside, one sees the central mirror stretching between the yellow tiled wall and the anodized aluminum wall of pivot doors hovering over the center of two large stainless steel basins only partially dividing the two toilet areas. There are no faucets or soap dispensers in sight. With a pass of the hand under the mirror from either side the water and soap are released.

This great whale contains the wet services, heating, and technical services on every floor of the entire building with a small meeting room at its tail end. Its form continues to the roof level. (In Dutch I call it the ‘VIS’ Vorzieningen, Installaties, en Sanitaire). It creates a larger space in the central hall as its curve pulls away from the ‘light axis’ forming a spatial opportunity for people to meet and talk. At the same time, the curving form reveals the second stair hall with its light filled vide and azure blue wall seen through the glass doors and the set back glass clearstory that wraps the entire rectangular hall within which this whale objects looms. At the end of this axis is the glass elevator with matt glass sides and clear glass doors that reveal the view of the monumental water tower, and the cityscape with its trains, Rijn canal bridges, and setting sun.The central hall, in contrast with the expressive materials of the whale, is formed of a simple white rectangular enclosure where the doors of the units are situated. Here, above the doors is a sequence of Louis Poulsen lighting designed by Arne Jacobsen that form a continuous rhythm of light points defining the perimeter of this enclosure. Above this level, the set back glass clearstory allows easy access for technical staff to the layered loop of air ducts and hi- tech information cables efficiently distributing hot-air and information technology to the work units while remaining out of sight. Diagonal views into the mezzanine work spaces add visual activity in this central space. The original structure of columns and beams that once stretched over the printing presses are left totally visible. One can also get a glimpse of the activity in the office incubators. From the mezzanine level one can look back into the central hall to the anodized aluminum whale with its wooden slats providing privacy, screening the direct view into the opposite work units mezzanine level filtering the light pouring in from the original 3.5 meter high windows on the façades. Here the offices seem to communicate with each other around this central hall.
Lumax office building
Ondiep Zuidzijde 6
3551 BW Utrecht
The Netherlands

Completed: opening June 30 2004,
final completion June 2005

Client: OGU
Ontwikkelingsbedrijf Gemeente Utrecht

Area: 3456 m2

30 to 40 werk units from 30-60m2
entrance lobby, reception with waiting area,
conference rooms, toilets for men and women, handicapped toilet, elevator suitable for a stretcher, new stair hall, loading area, garbage sorting area, storage area, communications patch room,

IT connections to all units.

Van Eck-Rotholz Architecten BV
with support from Dynamo Architecten

Designer: Ruth van Eck-Rotholz

Building Contractor: Koninklijke Woudenberg Ameide bv

Structural Engineer: Konstruktieburo Krabbendam-Boerkoel bv
Electrical engineer: GTI Utiliteit Midden bv
Climate engineer: Burgers Ergon installatietechniek
Lighting fixtures: Louis Poulsen