The fifth edition of the Archimarathon Awards held in the Palazzo Mezzanotte, Milan, Italy, celebrated 55 outstanding architectural and interior design projects.

A special Stone Award, organised in collaboration with Marmomac, was presented to Kaan Architecten for its restrained and elegant Netherlands Supreme Court project.

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands sits on Korte Voorhout in an historic neighbourhood of The Hague that is home to many embassies, international organizations, and governmental buildings.

The building illustrates the essential paradox of this legal organisation: being both in the heart of society and, at the same time, a secluded area. The design comprises a glass volume on a solid pedestal: simultaneously public, inviting, and transparent; while also private, independent and detached.

Rotterdam and Sao Paulo-based Kaan Architects, headed by Kees Kaan, Vincent Panhuysen, and Dikkie Scipio, set out to encapsulate the court’s rich judicial history and translating it into a clean, vibrant, and highly functional space.

The architectural firm has an international team of architects, landscape architects, urban planners, engineers, and graphic designers. It is currently working on the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium; The New Amsterdam Courthouse and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Terminal, among other projects.

The project plan

Planning the 18,000 sq. metre building, which will house 350 staff, was complex. The result is a volume divided into three sections: one for the general public, one for the council, and a third for the procurator general staff. Each of these three entities required a clearly defined and separate navigational route.

The public entrance, adorned with six bronze statues of legal scholars, leads into the light and spacious grand foyer. This space, which guides visitors to the two courtrooms, features Hoge Raad, a large painting by Helen Verhoeven inspired by the country’s legal history.

The transparency of the new Supreme Court building signifies both accessibility to the public, as well as the soundness and clarity of judgment. The floors and walls feature grey limestone with a tactile velvet texture. The large and small courtrooms, which hold 400 and 80 visitors respectively, are distinguished by brown-veined translucent alabaster walls.

As well as delivering daylight to the heart of the building, the light wells and open atriums serve another important purpose as the core of the distinct domains of the Council and Procurator General. These two departments are identified by the use of different materials: vertically-striped Marmara Equator marble in the Council, and organic Skyline marble in the Procurator General offices. The vertical light wells also work with the transparent frontal façade to reduce the use of artificial light throughout the year.

Although the upper façades are climate controlled, the windows can be opened if desired. This is one aspect of designing a healthy working environment; reflected in the specification of natural materials, generous day lighting, and manually adjustable sun shading and privacy. Individually regulated sun blinds and light filters form one element of a layered façade, flat and yet canted, that unified the space with subtle elegance.

The building displays meticulous construction detailing, with design choices focusing on material longevity. The resulting interiors are restrained yet luxurious. The building’s main volume sits on a green tinted glazed base, that echoes the surrounding row of trees, locally dubbed the “green cathedral”. This linear glass form was achieved by use of a cantilevered internal structure that supports the weight of the floors above, which house offices, a library, study areas, a restaurant, and meeting rooms.

The detail captures the essence of Kaan Architecten’s design. It has a subtle vibrancy, with the semi-transparent façades encouraging a dialogue with the street and its green landscaping. This feeling of openness is carried through in the interior specification, notably the consistent use of light grey limestone.

Ample daylight, clear sightlines, and an open perspective, aim to inspire social interaction, encourage the exchange of ideas, and allow for informal gatherings. On ground floor level, the structure was separated from the façade as much as possible; whereas, on the upper floors, the structure was integrated purposefully in the façade.  This optimises the functionality of the rooms, as the need for columns was kept to a minimum.

Structural and mechanical consultant Arup Nederland worked closely with Kaan Architects to integrate the building services and structural design, enabling a transparent and open plan. There is a façade that both offers a vista to the outside world and also enables passers-by to look inside. In the integral design, the voids offer a spatial experience as well as a solution in the building services design, obviating the need an exhaust system.

Stone display

The Supreme Court provides a contemporary showcase for the aesthetic and technical properties of natural stone. All the marble, as well as the floor and wall tiles, were supplied by Kolen Natuursteen. Kolen has developed a growing reputation as a supplier of natural stone to major projects across Europe and the rest of the world since 1997; developing its natural stone capabilities through strategic takeovers.

Kolen offers a comprehensive service that spans well beyond stone supply into areas such the supply and fit of anchors, technical drawings, transportation and timed delivery to site. The company’s ethos is to buy materials direct from the quarry. Sourcing project-specific materials, as well as producing bespoke construction- and design-details, are key elements of Kolen’s service.

The consistent colouration and even finish of the restful grey limestone supplied by Bateig is a key feature of the Supreme Court’s design. Bateig stone is a biocalcarenite, quarried in Novelda, near Alicante, Spain, noted for its homogeneous structural properties, appearance and colour. It can be supplied in a variety of finishes, including stripped, sandblasted, aged, quarry-faced, pitted, striped, or antique.

Bateig markets five varieties, in beige or bluish grey, both in uniform colouring or streaked. The company has even developed a treatment of impregnation and curing under ultraviolet light that gives the stone greater resistance to chemical agents and stains.

The success of this building lies in the manner in which the architects resolved the potential paradox between form and function. It is, simultaneously, statuesque and functional, hard-edged and welcoming, organic and refined … a physical embodiment of society’s need to balance openness and security. It is totally sympathetic to the architecture of The Hague’s historic city centre, while expressing the principles of democracy through a clear and rational structure.

Pictured: Netherlands Supreme Court – Procurator General Office

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