As one of the consequences of the UK leaving the European Union this year, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will soon cease operations in London and open up shop in its new location: Amsterdam. MVSA has joined forces with architect Fokke van Dijk of the Central Government Real Estate Agency (CGREA) to meet this unusually time-pressured challenge, with the 81-m-high EMA tower progressing at record speed in the city’s burgeoning Zuidas business district.
Construction Consortium EMA
Construction of the 39,000-m2 tower has proceeded with exceptional speed. The contract was signed on 8 March 2018 with groundbreaking on 1 May and the celebration of work starting at the end of May 2018; by 18 September, the building’s highest point of the core was reached. Acceptance of delivery was held in November 2019, after a construction period of only 18 months.
Yet even this is not fast enough for EMA. The European organization – responsible for checking new medicines for quality and safety before they can be released on the European market – must have left London by 30 March 2019. The organization therefore first headed for the renovated Spark building in Amsterdam’s Sloterdijk neighborhood. At the end of 2019, they moved to the new building in Zuidas, just a stone’s throw from the Amsterdam RAI station.
Both the exterior and interior of the tower are suited to EMA’s scientific nature: the building is quiet and sober, with a regular and rational profile. A simple geometry informs the façade and clearly defines the 19-floor structure. Inside, about 27,500 m2 of the total floor area will be devoted to office functions.
Most of this space will be open plan, although every floor will also have its own individual workspaces and quiet spaces. Around 11,500 m2 of space will be devoted to meeting and conference rooms, accessed via an open, light-filled atrium, plus a lobby and restaurant.
CGREA awarded the project to Dura Vermeer, on the basis of design-build-maintain (DBM). Immediately after being awarded the contract, Dura Vermeer signed an agreement with Heijmans, and the two now form the construction consortium EMA. Within the DBM project structure, MVSA Architects is responsible for developing the preliminary design by Fokke van Dijk. Landscape architects OKRA will design the building’s surroundings on site and its roof garden. Fokkema & Partners will tackle the interior, DWA is the installation advisor and DGMR is consulting on building physics and fire safety. Van Rossum joins the team as a construction designer.
After acceptance of delivery, Domenico Scarlatti, consisting of Heijmans and Van Dorp, will maintain the EMA building for the next 20 years.
Because of the exceptional speed with which the building has to be realized, construction focuses on building as quickly as possible using prefabricated elements, since these are dimensionally stable, weather-independent and readily available at the construction site. The speed of building is high, but all techniques that are used are proven techniques.For the main construction, the choice fell on a steel skeleton that, according to CGREA, can be “assembled as quickly as Lego”. An in situ poured concrete core gives the tower its stability. In order to minimize hoisting, sliding formwork was used in preference to climbing formwork or building with prefab concrete parts. The mounting of the façade elements can be done from the storey floors, dispensing with the need for scaffolding.
Similarly, the building’s installations are being constructed from prefabricated, often modular components. In addition, the installation phase can start earlier than is usual because the installation technology center is located on the fourth floor, instead of on top of the tower. Once the fourth floor has been built, installation technology and structural work can run in parallel.
Huge time savings have also been achieved in the programming and design phases. For example, CGREA already started with the preliminary design before it was known that the lottery in Brussels was heading in our direction and the arrival of EMA in Amsterdam became a certainty. Immediately after the award, scrum sessions were held to ensure the smooth translation of the requirements in the preliminary design and also to help reduce discussion and time loss in the extended design process. Through a phased acceptance of the verification plans, it has been possible to place orders for materials and equipment earlier than would otherwise be possible, meaning an all-important earlier start on the structural work.
Nest boxes in the façade and an insect hotel in the roof garden offer nature a helping hand and enable the building to make a positive contribution to the surrounding ecosystem.
Other sustainable measures are the underground storage of rainwater for reuse in the building and a large bicycle parking which, together with the abundant public transport facilities in the immediate vicinity, will encourage the building’s users to leave their cars at home.
The project aims at achieving BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and Near-Energy Neutral Building (BENG) certifications. To achieve these ambitious sustainability goals, 50% of the energy requirement will be generated via renewables, namely PV panels.