Architect and founder of Startup Village, Julius Taminiau, worked in London for Carl Turner Architects during the design and construction of Pop Brixton and was very inspired by the possibilities of turning an unused derelict space into a dynamic and inspiring community on a very tight budget.
After moving back to the Netherlands, Julius Taminiau thought the container would be the perfect office space for startups. The shipping container as a metaphor for a garage in which a lot of big companies had their first office (like Apple and Microsoft). By placing all these “garages” next to each other a dynamic village arises. The startups will inspire, (cross-sectoral) collaborate, exchange knowledge and produce unexpected and paradigm-shifting creations. A village also needs meeting places like a coffee bar, meeting rooms, a square and an event space which stimulate encounters and interaction.
There was no brief or location, there was an idea. We actually needed to find a location and a client. We completely initiated the project ourselves and searched for collaborations with people who believed and wanted to participate in realising this idea.
Startup Village was designed like a village. The upcycled container offices are placed around a big communal square which could be used for big open-air events. The event space is – like a church – placed at the end of the square and could be used separately or as an extension of the square for network-events, lectures, symposia but also for music and movie nights. There is a coworking space at the beginning of the square, with “streets” next to it leading to the square. Next to the Event Space there is a large set of steps (like the Spanish steps in Rome) which can be used as a communal space and for open-air lectures.
The dimensions of the upcycled containers (2,4 x 6 meter (small 20ft container)) are perfect for startups and provide an affordable and lockable office space. There are also connected 20ft (4,8 x 6 meter) and 40 ft containers ( 4,8 x 12 meter) which could be used for scale-ups.
The “low-cost”,“low-energy”,“circular” and “upcycled” shipping containers provide a kind of “free” atmosphere in which young startups feel soon at home and provide the means to develop, innovate, grow and professionalise. Should a startup need more space they can move within the Startup Village but also within the campus area of Science Park.
The containers will have a high percentage of glazing in comparison to the floor area and are much brighter than “standard” offices. The spaces are very efficiently used; hallways and other traffic area will be outside the container, as most of the communal spaces will be focused on the central square. The central square and its communal places will form a big meeting point.
The shipping containers can be clad and placed in many different ways, which makes the shipping container quite an interesting architectural element to build quick and low-cost sculptural and spatial temporary buildings.
Sustainability and circularity
The project is temporary. We tried to keep the footprint as small as possible and make the project as sustainable as possible. Everything can be reused after 10 years; the shipping containers, the foundation (no piles, just concrete tiles) and so on. The windows have hardwood on the outside (where needed) and softwood on the inside. The containers are completely insulated, air-tight and heated with low-energy (infra-red) heating. In summer the windows on both sides can be opened to get cross-ventilation. We also wanted to create (in collaboration with Green Art Solutions) a bio-diverse small biotope on the site by planting greenery in and around the square and also on the roofs to keep containers cool in summer. The green roofs also function as a rainwater buffer and air filter.
Initiative, design and construction
Unique about the Startup Village project is that the initiative, concept, design and construction is done by Julius Taminiau Architects (in collaboration with other people and companies).
We wanted to keep the rents low and liaised with a financial consultant to make a successful business model based upon a (healthy) profit. We based our feasibility studies and business plan upon a 5 year time frame. In short, we needed to get a complete return on the investment within 5 years. This was very difficult considering the low rents we wanted to provide. Next to that we weren’t sure about the “success” since this was never built before.
We pitched our Startup Village concept to numerous Startup organisations and investors within Amsterdam and eventually ended by collaborating with the University of Amsterdam and Science Park. For us this made total sense since startups could be the perfect link between university and businesses. Next to that the startups can use the knowledge and collaborate with the university.
We designed the village in such a way that it could grow in 4 phases (and could reduce the risk of a possible failure):
- Phase 1 completion of ground floor area (including co-working space and event space)
- Phase 2 completion of first floor area
- Phase 3 adding solar panels and greenery
- Phase 4 extending (the “monumental” entrance could be easily moved)
We didn’t expect the amount of requests we received and built at once until phase 3. Nowadays Startup Village got even extended until (phase 4) and instead of a 5 year time frame, Startup Village was granted to stay 10 years.
What we really like about this project is that the incentive was not profit. Instead it was about creating something meaningful and contributing to society. Our dedicated approach made it possible and feasible to realise this on a tight budget and in a very short time frame.