Vacant and unused office buildings are a growing problem in Amsterdam as well as in the Netherlands as a whole. In some Dutch cities, office vacancy rates stand at an astonishing 31%.
The economic crisis, subsequent recessions and a -qualitative- mismatch between supply and demand are often named as driving the problem. Deprivation lurks, but, as there often is a positive to every negative, creative ‘transformational’ concepts get a chance to flourish as well. Take B.amsterdam, a unique co-working environment and ‘start-up heaven’ in an unexpected place: located in the mono-functional ‘Riekerpolder’ just outside Amsterdam’s A10 ring road, B-Amsterdam took up residence in IBMs old headquarters, an office building that had been vacant for over a decade.
Vacancy in Amsterdam’s office market currently stands at 18%, and is somewhat higher than the Dutch average of 16%. To put these figures into perspective, a 5% vacancy rate in the office market is regarded as ‘healthy’. This office vacancy problem is most severe in business parks just outside Amsterdam’s A10 ring road. The recession is often blamed for part of the problem, but there is a wider recognition that a structural mismatch between supply and demand is at the heart of the problem. This issue is further complicated by an abundance of relatively newly built ‘traditional’ office buildings in mono-functional areas just before the turn of the century, when demand for these types of office spaces was still high.
Our growing knowledge economy with its focus on exchanging and developing ideas, human capital and face-to-face interaction, underpinned by developments in digital communications, leads to different ‘wishes and needs’ when it comes to office spaces and locations. The lines between work and leisure blur. Office spaces in multi-functional locations, preferably in vibrant (inner-city) districts that are well connected, are preferred over mono-functional business parks in more ‘isolated’ locations. The municipality of Amsterdam has long recognized the office vacancy problem and the changing needs and requirements for office spaces and locations. By working together with property owners, developers and entrepreneurs, the municipality works on addressing and reducing the office vacancy problem by means of demolition, transformation, adaptive re-use and even allowing some (limited) new developments. Within this context, initiatives such as B.amsterdam, a co-working space just outside the A10 ring road, get a chance to flourish.
B.amsterdam aims to ‘bring entrepreneurship within everyone’s reach by providing the right spaces, toolset and social environment’ and is everything but an ordinary multi-tenant office building. Don’t let the somewhat uninspiring building and surroundings fool you. Take the elevator to the second floor and you will feel as if you enter another world. As soon as you set foot in the ‘reception’ area of B.amsterdam you are welcomed by comfortable looking sofas and chairs, old trabants, greenery and great coffee. Walk a little further and discover an area full of individual desk spaces, meeting rooms, separate office spaces and studios. Head to the third floor and you’ll find more of the same, plus an extensive area set aside for ‘startupbootcamp’, an accelerator program for start-ups that provides seed funding as well as mentoring and guidance. The fourth floor is a so called one-off space and could well be the scene of a fashion show or other big event. Last but certainly not least is the lush rooftop garden where vegetables are grown and which offers a little bit of ‘nature’ in the middle of Amsterdam. More so, it’s a great spot to get some air and unwind. The development of a rooftop restaurant is on the way as well. Currently, 83 companies call B.amsterdam their home, and by September the premises are expected to be entirely occupied. Besides business, educational initiatives such as Team Academy, an international school for entrepreneurship, and Handshake, an education innovation project that aims to connect entrepreneurial students with companies in the creative industries, have moved to B.amsterdam as well. Corporate innovation platforms are also welcome.
Creating a place where entrepreneurship can flourish has more to it than creating and designing a great space, something that B.amsterdam has definitely managed to pull off. However, creating a great space should not be downplayed either. It’s definitely important for attracting tenants and providing entrepreneurs with both an inspiring workplace as well as the right facilities to do their jobs and, not the least irrelevant, to relax. Needless to say, the real beating heart of B.amsterdam is the people that create and co-create within its concrete walls. Founders Ricardo van Loenen, Guus Meulendijks en Bas van Veggel started B.amsterdam in 2013 with the aim to create an ecosystem for start-ups. More ambitiously put, they aim “to create a city within a building”. Their philosophy is that all the amenities that make inner cities attractive, such as shops, cafés and sporting facilities should be located within the building. Also, B.amsterdam doesn’t let just anyone ‘set up camp’ within their premises. Only creative and innovative companies and start-ups are welcomed. A daily lunch buffet – which tenants can enjoy for a small fee - perfectly serves as an informal get-together.