SINT JANSKLOOSTER – Zecc Architects – a small firm based in the Dutch city of Utrecht – is no stranger to adaptive reuse, having built up an impressive portfolio over the years. As fate would have it, when the Society for Preservation of Nature Monuments in the Netherlands was eyeing an old, defunct water tower in the east of the country, seeking to turn it into a viewing platform for the nearby nature reserve, the building’s owner – a water company – approached the architects to come up with ideas for the building.
The water tower – a tall, reinforced concrete structure with a sober brick skin built in 1931 – had acquired monumental status, ruling out any significant changes to the exterior. Interior was a whole different story. ‘Inside, the old stairs were far too dangerous to be used by the public and we liked the idea of creating a dialogue between the old, open steps and the new sculptural staircase. This offers a very intense experience,’ Marnix van der Meer, a partner at Zecc Architects, explains.
The new sculptural staircase is clad in chipboard and snakes through the sublime interior, offering views across the vast column of pure space. ‘Ascending even higher, visitors pass through the old water-reservoir. Here, steel stairs guide them along a wall in order to make them feel small as a reminder of the enormous amount of water that used to be inside,’ Van der Meer continues.
The visitors’ journey ends 45 m above the surrounding landscape, where the architects have succeed to cut through the concrete and create four large windows looking out onto the surrounding countryside. The tower remains ‘a static, silent monolith in the landscape’ – according to the architect – but its interior proves that the journey is just as inspiring as the destination.
Photos Stijn Poelstra