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Science in a new, sustainable home

Relocation to Nova Zembla: Peter van den Brakel looks back

The editors of Inside NWO-I spoke to Peter van den Brakel, Head of Financial Planning NWO-I, who is a member of the project team coordinating the relocation of NWO Utrecht to the new location Nova Zembla. Monday 3 June was the big day. After a period of tidying up and packing, colleagues started their first workday at the new location. 'Preparing for the relocation cost a lot of time but eventually, everything fell into place', says Peter.

How long did the preparations take you?
Peter: 'At the start of 2016, as a consequence of the transition, we established a workgroup "Accommodation Utrecht" and with this group we drew up a programme of requirements. We examined a possible extension of the current building as equally the search for a new location for the NWO-I Office, the Domain AES (Applied and Engineering Sciences), LNVH (Dutch Network of Women Professors) and NRPO-SIA (Taskforce for Applied Research). At the start of 2018, we completed the search for a location, and we chose the building Nova Zembla, next to the A12 motorway near the Kanaleneiland junction. We had a considerable package of requirements for the new location: it had to be able to accommodate about 200 people, provide various meeting facilities and satisfy the aim of realising more connection, for example through activity-based working (ABW). The building had to have a central location in Utrecht, not too far from the railway station and easily accessible by public transport and via main roads. Another requirement was sufficient parking places for both employees and visitors. Nova Zembla best matched our requirements. After a positive recommendation from the works council and the approval of NWO's Executive Board, we could start the preparations. By the way, another option was to refurbish the Van Vollenhovenlaan location by adding a floor, but for various reasons (such as costs) we decided against that. The lease contract on that building runs until March 2021. Fortunately, we found a new lessee who took over our lease contract.'

The rooms: from dated to brand-new
'The interior design of the previous leaseholder of Nova Zembla, BDO Accountants and Advisors, was very dated (for example small offices, metal with oak) and so it was clear we would need to make considerable changes', says Peter. 'To be honest, we had to strip the place. At the start of 2018, I itemised which departments we have, the growth we expect, and how we could fit that in the building. The main question was: how can we allocate five office floors in the building in such a way that everybody fits in? Besides office space, we now have a reception and a "room with a view" on the top floor intended as a reading room. There is also a lactation room, fitness room, parking, concentration areas, phone booths and small meeting rooms, a kitchen block on each floor, an auditorium (large room for 100 people), a reprographics and service room and "banqueting' "(refrigeration, food preparation et cetera). The canteen is on the tenth floor. We examined the number of people and the occupancy rate. And we also allowed for the archives we have to house. Colleagues were concerned about their property: where can I put my stuff? We therefore put a strong emphasis on tidying up, and just before the relocation you could see: there's not that much stuff after all.'

"We're good at keeping stuff"

Flexible working
The workgroup Flexible Working investigated, amongst other things, the best possible use of the work environment. Together with location directors from NWO-I, SIA, TTW and Science, they drew up an ambition for the accommodation at Nova Zembla, in which more connection is the starting point. Subsequently, to become more familiar with activity-based working, they organised, amongst other things, simulation games that about 85 colleagues took part in and they compiled all of the questions and focus points. They submitted this together with an implementation advice to the project group Accommodation. Peter: 'The average occupancy rate of the workplace at present is 40%, with a peak rate of 60% (this is higher in some teams than in others). Few people know that, but it really helped to allay fears about whether everybody would fit in. There are several variants of flexible working, and this ultimately led to office floors that are set up based on the activities that take place there instead of the departments located there. Wherever possible, we have taken into account the wishes and requirements of colleagues. However, you know how it is: no two people have the same wishes. At a certain point, decisions had to be taken, and things are what they are. Now we will examine how things go, and we will learn from everyday practice.'

"House of Curiosity"
'The project group Accommodation includes several workgroups such as “bringing science into the building”. The idea is that you both see and feel that science is important. The company Containr advised us about the interior design such as the lighting, the objects on display and the colour transparencies on the walls and windows. In the meeting rooms, transparent foil will be placed on the glass walls with images of Erasmus, Edison, Thunberg and Johnson, for example. A lot has been invested in sustainability. Examples are an energy-saving climate system, soundproof panels in the meeting rooms and auditorium, LED lighting and the use of environmentally friendly materials. The company Rever was responsible for drawing the designs for the rooms and came up with some great creative ideas. I really enjoyed that aspect of the interior design as well. Together we examined how many desks fitted in a room and whether that was responsible from a health and safety viewpoint, and so forth. They also helped us with the interior design of the office in The Hague. So, although the look and feel are recognisable, they clearly have a distinctive appearance. The result is modern and pleasantly light, spacious, and it definitely does not have an open-plan office feeling. We also received these positive responses from colleagues who took part in the guided tours.

'I particularly enjoyed being involved in this entire project: from the choice of location to the interior design to actually working in Nova Zembla now'

And what is your own home like?
'I live in Naarden. I'm 61, married and have two children. And also four grandchildren who we regularly look after and that is great! In my free time, I enjoy playing tennis and driving. We are often out and about: shopping, sitting on a terrace, doing fun things. I also enjoy travelling. Every two years we undertake a longer journey to a faraway location, but we also like going to Southern Europe: Portugal, Spain and Italy. Last year, we spent three weeks in Bangkok and visited several islands in Thailand. A place I can highly recommend.'


Did you know that:
. We have been working in the building on the Van Vollenhovenlaan in Utrecht since 1999?
. We needed 900 removal boxes (1 metre per box)? 
. We relocated 700 metres of archives?
. In Nova Zembla, there are more than 200 workspaces spread over five floors. From the old building, we took 36 cabinets, 50 desks, about 50 chairs and 10 meeting setups?


Text: Drea van Ark
Photo: Melissa Vianen
Newsletter Inside NWO-I, June 2019

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