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July 19, 2009

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Consul enjoys all comforts of home

THE Dutch Ambassador's residence in Beijing's embassy district stands out as one of the few modernist structures in the city. But while passersby may get to enjoy its rich exterior, they're missing out on the hidden gems well protected by the black Mongolian granite walls. This special feature incites your interest in a magnificently designed mansion.

From commissioning in 2005 to design and completion in 2007, this showcase of Dutch architecture took the involvement of the previous Dutch ambassador, embassy staff and a number of other parties who were all consulted to determine the fundamental criteria the building should meet.

Moving to Beijing marked a new chapter in the current ambassador's life and the accommodation offered at the new residence made the move easier.

"I was lucky enough to be able to move straight into a very comfortably appointed house when I took up my post here in May 2008," Rudolf Bekink said.

"The ideal ambassador's residence is a place where one can welcome guests in a pleasant and an appropriate manner. In addition to being warm and welcoming, the residence must also showcase Dutch design and innovation so that guests are left with an impression of what Dutch designers and architects are capable of. The residence is therefore a fine example, exuding stylish and contemporary ambiance without being too cool and sterile," Bekink added.

"It was my idea to split the private wing and a more representative part, and to express a whole house by a single wall,'' said Dirk Jan Postel, a principal in the Rotterdam-based firm Kraaijvanger Urbis that designed the project.

The main appearance of the house is dominated by an elongated wall that stretches beyond the building itself. The massive wall, made of black Mongolian granite in three textures, shields the interior and has strips of lighting integrated into it.

For this project, Postel chose to emphasize privacy because of the ambassador's diplomatic position. "The representative and social duties of the ambassador are heavy and the house may be visited by 150, and at Dutch Queen's day even 800, people. Then I felt the urge to separate and protect the privacy and family life," Postel said.

The house is divided into two sections, totally independent of each other, yet connected through a winter garden. The one part of the house dedicated to official functions contains the meeting and dining rooms and service area. The other is the private quarters. Each wing has its own orientation toward the garden.

The large entrance provides access to the representative part of the building, with a direct opportunity to admire the garden. The house was designed to allow official functions to be conducted without, at any moment, disrupting or overlapping on private life in the other wing.

A large reception hall precedes a cozy and intimate sitting area and a large dining room. The center of the private quarters is the kitchen and the living room. Three bedrooms are secluded at the very far end of the building.

"I feel the residence design more than meets the requirements of both functions I occupy,'' the ambassador said. "Of course, the place is also our home and should therefore be a place where my family and I can relax. This requirement is also more than met. We particularly enjoy the wonderful garden and terrace which allow us a large part of the year out of doors.''

The garden is a crucial part of the design. In the Beijing climate, a garden needs to "survive'' visually during the cold, dry winter, while providing a place of tranquility and rest in other seasons.

The winter garden is a Dutch element, where vegetation is kept under a glass roof like in green houses back in Holland. These have been given special emphasis to create spaces of large and noble dimensions, with direct links to the garden - and therefore with the seasons, the weather, and time of day.

In contrast to the house's geometric design, the garden is a "dry river" made up of several layers of materials: grass, gravel and concrete with different aggregates, perforated by flower beds, tress, bamboo and green bushes. The existing trees were kept as valuable assets and integrated into the garden.

In the middle of the driveway is an "island" of trees, part of a work of art by Sjoerd Buisman; the trees are decorated with "clones" of aluminium branches, called "presents to the trees."

Although most plots in the second diplomatic district have a two-meter-high perimeter wall, the client wanted the house to be welcoming, open and expressive as aspects of representation. Therefore, the wall is partly broken up on two sides and replaced by a fence that has a minimal visual impact.

"Besides the magnificent garden, most of the house is comprised of linked rooms with sliding doors, so there are very few enclosed spaces. This makes its character open and flexible," Bekink said.

"While these features are all wonderful, my personal favorite is the small dining room. It's very easy to create an intimate vibe there and I already have many fond memories of many interesting conversations with highly interesting guests.

"I feel the colors and natural materials create a warm atmosphere. As for the 'Dutchness' of the place, the wonderful light in the main hall is a prime example. Its design is based on the parts that make up bicycles, which are the most typically Dutch means of transportation," he said.

"The light has spokes and lights and yet it is still a very elegant piece. The bicycle-inspired light is only one example; there are works of art everywhere in the house. Visitors often want to know more about the various designs which then offers an excellent topic of conversation to break the ice and set visitors at ease," he said.

"In addition to making people aware of how many talented designers and artists the Netherlands has to offer, this also - and far more importantly - creates an opportunity for a moment of shared enjoyment."

Who is he ?

Dirk Jan Postel

Tell us some of your works.

- The Temple of Love II in France

- The Town Hall of 's?Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands

- The Glass House in Almelo

- The British School in The Hague

Are you currently involved with any project?

- Villa's in "The World," project of the Shining Star Corporation in Tianjin

- Town Hall of Utrecht

- Provincial Government of North Holland

- Museum of Dordrecht

Describe your design style.

Sober, transparent, modern and with perfection of detail.

Where are you most creative?

Most creative in merging the concept with the context.

What does your home mean to you?

Home is a place for contemplation and for architectural experiments.

What do you collect?

Art and photography.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

The former French Concession and the park over there.

What will be the next big design trend?

Environmental design, urbanism and energy saving. Buildings that produce energy instead of using it.


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