Saving De Bunker

02 March 2018
Stijn Kemper

As an architecture student at Eindhoven University, I used to go to De Bunker quite often. I still remember it clearly: Thursday nights, usually biking from university after long evenings of project work, the peculiar smell of the wooden floor stained with beer and cigarettes.

I always liked the building, even though other people sometimes said it was ugly. Brutal, even. But wasn’t that exactly the point? De Bunker is a Brutalist building. Designed by Hugh Maaskant at the end of his career, when he let go of the more rigid rules of Modernism in favour of an architecture that offers a certain kind of grandeur and monumentality, but also liveliness and human scale.

De centrale zaal van de sociëteit van de zuidelijke vleugel
Photo: Perspectieftekening van het oorspronkelijk ontwerp, 1967, bron: NAi [MAAX collectie]

And I have always liked Maaskant’s buildings, modernist or brutalist. He was, of course, one of the Netherlands’ most famous and prolific architects, leaving a legacy that embodies the optimism of the post-war period. Industrial structures like the Tomado Factory and corporate headquarters like Johnson Wax. Landmarks like the Euromast and cosmopolitan hotels like the Rotterdam Hilton. But also public buildings like the Provinciehuis Brabant and the Technikon educational complex.

Bold architectural statements, the architecture of progress.

In 1969, the monolitical, multi-use building for the student unions, social clubs and mensa of the young Technical University Eindhoven. The so-called ‘Student Center’, which was nicknamed ‘De Bunker’ almost as soon as it was delivered. A building which was a focal point in the lives of almost all Eindhoven students, including myself.

When Powerhouse Company was presented with the opportunity to work ‘with’ this building I immediately knew we had to reuse the original Bunker, not only because of its architectural merites but also because of its emotional value. For me personally, but for large number of other people as well. Students. Eindhovenaren. Architecture buffs. At the same time, it soon became clear that if we wanted to save the existing building, the last thing we needed was to have it listed—which is a bit ironic.

Instead, the solution was to be unorthodox, just like Maaskant would have been. To add verticality to what is primarily a horizontal building; to add a new volume, a new program, new users that would breath life into the old and disused building. 

Going by its nickname you would hardly think it needed it, but with our design we have made De Bunker future proof again.

Impressie van de Mensa
Photo: Perspectieftekening van het oorspronkelijk ontwerp, 1967, bron: NAi [MAAX collectie]