Humans of Central District: Vincent van der Meulen
TEXT: BIANCA WIJNSTEKERS-HANDY | PHOTOGRAPHY: ANTIM
“There are few jobs with as much impact on the people and the city as an architect,” tells a passionate Vincent van der Meulen (37) of Kraaijvanger Architects.
This Rotterdammer couldn’t have been more disillusioned after his first day as a know-it-all intern at Kraaijvanger Architects. “I walked in ready to teach them the ins and outs of sustainability.” He quickly had to change gears, realizing that this wheel had been invented long ago. The agency had already embraced sustainability in buildings for quite some time. Thirteen years later, Vincent – now one of the agency’s partners – knows like no other: an architect builds with the future in mind.
Engineer or architect
Architecture was not the first choice of Almelo-born Van der Meulen. He initially wanted to study Aerospace Engineering in Delft. “I thought it would be so cool to design boats and planes. But I soon realized that I didn’t want to spend ten years designing a screw or a panel. I get satisfaction from finding ingenious ways to coordinate different systems. This is exactly what I do at Kraaijvanger. Also, the agency has no single focus area, which is perfect for me. From insect farms, swimming pools and theaters to public spaces, offices and residential construction; time and time again, you’re submerged into a new world with its unique challenges. The general blueprint with social, technical, financial, circular and cultural systems has already been drawn up; the trick is to translate this to that one specific project. I will never get enough of these complex, dynamic puzzles.”
Sustainability has been a priority at Kraaijvanger Architects since it was established in 1927, with national monuments like Central Post, De Doelen and city church Het Steiger in its portfolio. “A building’s long-term value is far more important than its fashion-factor. You can’t just fill a city with trendy buildings,” according to Van der Meulen. Founders and brothers Herman and Evert Kraaijvanger stressed this in 1966 when they delivered De Doelen: “It’s not a modern building […]. But it might be fifty years from now.” (NRC, May 17, 1966). “Additionally, the creation of a community is a central theme to all of our designs,” Van der Meulen elaborates. “Consider the endlessly long hallways in the Groot Handelsgebouw; they’re not ideal for meeting and interacting. For CIC Rotterdam, we reconsidered these long lines of space. Next to the main reception is the Venture Café; here the hallways go all the way to the façades, and we’ve created all kinds of spaces where people can come together in an organic way.”
So, sustainability is nothing new? “No, certainly not. Plans for sustainability have been around since the seventies. If we hadn’t been distracted then by quick wins, the climate goals set for 2050 would’ve been reached ages ago. For example, did you know President Carter had solar panels installed on the White House already in 1979? They were soon removed by his successor Reagan, who felt the oil industry would resolve the energy shortage. All short-term visions. That’s why I really appreciate our agency; it’s future-focused, looking for long-term and not getting side-tracked by the trends of the day. We prefer calm reflection over noisy chaos.”
Building for the future
“Continuing to upgrade buildings, adding a new layer of time, that is what makes the city. Just look at Rotterdam. We Rotterdammers are proud of the Erasmus Bridge, Central Station, the many towers, all the icons that are part of our identity. Besides that, the living area has been seriously improved over the last 15 years. In the years I’ve been living here, I’ve seen Rotterdam get better and better, even with the crisis. It’s incredibly inspiring. With our next project, Hart van Zuid, I will be contributing to a living space with impact that will hopefully be meaningful for a very long time. A rewarding task.”