- Multifunctional meeting and reception room at DSM Headquarters Heerlen
DSM is one of the world’s most advanced chemical and biotechnological companies, the world’s leading supplier to the pharmaceutical industry, and one of the largest suppliers to the world’s leading producers in the dietary supplement, performance materials, industrial chemicals and agrochemicals industries.
Since its establishment in 1902, DSM (Dutch State Mines) – originating from the former national mines, as the name indicates – has also played a very important role in the economic and social development of the province of Limburg.As a chemical and biotechnological company, DSM has great environmental responsibilities as well as responsibilities regarding the potential risks posed by biotechnology. I have taken these environmental aspects and the influence of DSM on its surroundings – and on the province of Limburg as a whole and further afield in the rest of the world – as the starting point for the development of the concept for this meeting and reception room.
The room is used for meetings and dinners for between four and twenty people and for brief celebratory occasions (seated or standing) for a maximum of 30 people. It therefore has both functional and representative functions. When planning the redesign, account needed to be taken of these different functions. It therefore needed to be possible to set up the furniture in a number of different arrangements.
Initially, I wanted to display computer-modified photographs of the natural environment around DSM or the landscape around the headquarters as a panorama on the walls; as if one could look through the walls and see the beautiful Limburg landscape outside. I wanted to use a cooling tower as the base of various tables. This was to occupy a central position in the room as a landmark in the landscape of the room. The further elaboration of the concept conjured up associations with the Ghent Altarpiece (“Het Lam Gods”, or “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”) by Jan and Hubert van Eyck.
- This gave me the idea to study the Ghent Altarpiece in greater detail. This masterful work of art ultimately became the basis of and source of inspiration for my design. I used it as a master plan and attempted to translate it into a meaningful 21st century interpretation for the interior of this meeting and reception room. The Ghent Altarpiece represents the body of thought of the old world. I have compared it with and reinterpreted it for the body of thought of the new world, the industrial and our post-industrial secularised society.
I saw similarities in the landscape depicted by the Van Eyck brothers, the horizon with the church towers and the altar, the chalice and the fountain, not only visually but also in meaning.
The Van Eyck brothers depict nature and the subject matter in the greatest detail. The whole masterpiece is an ode to creation. One is overwhelmed by a deep veneration for and awe towards nature and the subject matter. The viewer is touched by the mystery of the contemplation.
This was an important starting point for me, since I wanted to portray a landscape as a panorama on the walls.
However, I did not want to create an overly literal representation of a landscape. I wanted instead to use a contemporary theme that is also closely connected with DSM.
Since DSM has a biotechnological section, where nature is manipulated at a microscopic level, the idea was conceived to use microscope images of bacteria and enzymes. The walls of the room now feature a panorama of a microscopic world, populated by bacteria and enzymes. These images of micro-organisms – invisible to the naked eye - were manipulated by XY Dumb-office 2002 to create a psychedelic dreamlike landscape.
- In the middle of this space is the cooling tower, a beautiful, ingeniously-made structure symbolising 20 thcentury industrial production and the DSM factories in Geleen and the former State Mines. One could compare the cooling towers with the church towers seen on the horizon of the Ghent Altarpiece, where they symbolise mediaeval devotion. There are also similarities with the fountain in the foreground of the painting.
The centrally positioned cooling tower in this room is a kind of altar, but also an enlarged chalice or a modern grail, in the sense that it has brought prosperity and affluence like a horn of plenty.
Above the cooling tower or “chalice-altar", I wanted to create a sun as a metaphorical or divine symbol (like the Holy Spirit in the Ghent Altarpiece). The symbolic meaning of the sun reflected in a mirror is wisdom. This gave me the idea of covering the ceiling with mirrors and affixing an illuminated hemisphere to it, which would thus be transformed into a whole sphere and a radiant sun.
The mirror-covered ceiling gave the room a high-ceilinged and majestic feel.
The “chalice-altar” and the sun give the room an almost sacred atmosphere, like a kind of modern sun temple.
In the same way as the sun, the people in the room are also reflected in the ceiling, in order that they are able to make wise decisions. In a way, it is also like holding a mirror up to people’s faces in the light of such wisdom.
The room could become a place of contemplation – or reflection – where new insights are born that could contribute to creating a better world with respect for nature, the origin of our existence.
- winner of the dutch design award 2007citation at the contractworld award 2009nominated for the design award of the federal republic of germany 2009
photos Arjen Schmitz