Transformation Pieter Baan Centrum

Herontwikkeling Pieter Baan Centrum

Location: Utrecht
Client: HBB
Program: housing, cultural workplaces, offices, bars and restaurant
Sector: renovation, transformation
Size: 15.500 m2
Partners: Hosper, Tenman
Image credits: reA

The Pieter Baan Centrum in Utrecht has been the psychiatric research center for the judicial services in the Netherlands from the seventies till recently. Its founder, the psychiatrist Pieter Baan, instigated the diagnosis for possible psychiatric flaws that made suspects susceptible for their crimes. If so, the diagnosis is followed by a treatment at one of the judicial clinics, instead of incarceration in a ‘normal’ prison. The center is a combination of a classic prison from 1897, by architect J. Metzelaar, and a modernistic research center built in 1978, by the architects Magis and Witlox. Since then many bigger and smaller refurbishments has changed the overall appearance into a rather messy, impenetrable, entanglement of structures.

Recently the research center has moved to Almere. The government, who owns the complex, thereafter decided to put it for sale through a tender procedure. The tender involved the presentation of a sketch design and development vision. reA joined the tender in collaboration with HBB development, Hosper Landscaping and Tenman consultancy.

In the vision for the redevelopment the introvert and closed compound is opened to the surrounding city. The public park along the river Kromme Rijn is connected through the complex with the park-like graveyard Soestbergen along the Gansstraat. The walls of the prison are opened up, but still visible in the landscape. The many introvert courtyards, which were typical for the complex, are opened up and accessible for the public. These courtyards act like resting points in the urban environment. They also act as extensions to the buildings that surround them, as entrance squares, outside workplace and meeting areas.

The monumental prison by Metzelaar is the centerpiece as the new cultural hotspot of Utrecht, housing a wide range of workplaces together with conference and presentation spaces. The internal spatial characteristics, like the long void in the cellblock and the corridors are restored. The connected ‘Barak’, built by the German occupiers in the second world war, will be the central restaurant, opening up to the park along the river. The building by Magis and Witlox will be partly removed to facilitate an underground parking, as prescribed by the municipality. The remaining building along the Gansstraat will be changed into generous urban lofts. The slightly brutalistic architecture is renovated with the adding of grand balconies along the south facade, designed to strengthen the existing architecture. A nondescript extension from the nineties, the so-called Flat, holds an prominent and central location along the Gansstraat. Instead of removing it the vision proposes a rigorous transformation, changing it into an urban counterpoint, emphasizing the main public route through the complex. The redevelopment is completed with two new structures, with social housing along the Gansstraat and the freestanding parktower, also with a mix of housing. The former introvert and ominous complex is transformed in a hospitable urban area, as a new and green extension to the urban spaces of Utrecht. With a composed mix in architecture, offering the different users their own characteristics, without loosing the feeling of coherence and reference to the strong history of the place.