Education, business and research meet in challenging Dutch project

Catalyst for Dutch greenhouse horticulture in Westland
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Education, business and research meet in challenging Dutch project

The World Horti Center was officially opened by Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in March 2018, although the building in the Dutch town of Naaldwijk had already been in use for several months. The added value of cross-pollination between education, business and research was already in evidence at the opening.

When you go inside, the first thing you see is an oasis of green and light stretching right up to the glass greenhouse roof. There’s a staircase on both sides, and students are sitting enjoying their break on various levels among the green. It’s the auditorium of the vocational post-secondary college MBO Westland, the centrepiece of the building. “This immediately demonstrates how we’ve combined the various functions in the building” says architect Anton Hanemaaijer of the horticultural consultancy firm AAB. “Education, business and research come together here.”

Reflection

It would be fair to describe the building as a challenging project. The first meetings between the three initiators were held in 2013. MBO Westland was looking for a larger faculty closer to the area’s horticultural businesses, the Dutch Greenhouse Demo Centre (Demokwekerij Westland), part of the agrarian research centre Proeftuin Zwaagdijk, was looking to expand and Greenport Food & Flower Xperience (GFFX), had been thinking of creating a platform for the primary sector. “Everyone was looking and that’s how we all came to sit down at the same table,” says project manager Maik Rodenrijs, who also works for AAB.

The municipality of Westland also supported the initiative. There was some Royal FloraHolland land lying fallow which was earmarked for the construction of the Greenport Horti Campus Westland. The World Horti Center would become part of it.

At the same time, AAB was asked to provide support in various areas of expertise such as project management, real estate, energy, technology and permits. Rodenrijs: “The aim was to set up a global knowledge and innovation centre that would serve as a meeting place and a platform – a place where education and business would meet, where knowledge would be shared, a place that would be a reflection of the greenhouse horticulture sector in the Netherlands.”

Different technologies

The building was to consist of three parts: Demokwekerij Westland on the left, MBO Westland on the right and a multi-use building (exhibition centre) in the middle, where businesses connected with the sector would be able to rent a stand to present themselves to a national and international audience.

The challenges were immediately obvious. The college had to put the build out to tender through the European public procurement process and looked for its own architect and main contractor, while the research centre wanted to work with a range of specialist contractors. This gave rise to challenges in areas such as legislation and regulations, safety and collaboration. As a result, it became a dynamic project in which horticultural technology companies had to work side-by-side with builders from the non-residential construction sector.

The building was therefore built using technologies from two completely different worlds. The concrete structure of the college had to integrate seamlessly with the steel of the multi-use building, and this central building in turn had to fit in well with the new research facilities.

Geothermal heat

The mix of technologies is apparent all over the centre. The greenhouse roof above the auditorium has a horizontal energy screen and an insulated roof, but it also has a sprinkler system to meet fire safety regulations. The multi-use building does not have standard radiators but is instead heated with heating pipes fitted on the insulated glass façade.

In the future the centre will be able to be heated with geothermal heat, but at present the heating comes from the boiler system in the research greenhouse. The sprinkler system is fed from the cisterns installed under the experimental facility.

Good teamwork

The first pile was driven on 6 December 2016. “Our role developed into that of managing the whole project process,” says Hanemaaijer. “We had to arrange the design, the permits, the procurement procedures and the site supervision.”

It was essential that everyone involved could integrate their own discipline into the whole package, he says. “That had various consequences. Sometimes we had to accept that things would be different from what we had originally planned in the design. But it also meant that there was a great sense of teamwork. For instance, the multi-use building consists of an underground and an above-ground part. The two parts were built by two different contractors, one of which, Smiemans Projecten, specialises in speciality greenhouses and the other, Eekhout Bouw, in non-residential construction. By working together they were able to reduce the build time for the steel structure.”

“We had to encourage everyone to think creatively about how to implement the overall package, sticking to certain set parameters,” Rodenrijs adds. “That meant that a lot of people had to step outside their comfort zones and get talking to the other builders.”

Full picture

The central building can accommodate around 100 businesses. Each one rents a stand where they can present their products, and some can demonstrate the use of their products in the greenhouse. “That’s great added value,” says project manager Lex Wubben of Demokwekerij Westland. “It’s a real calling card for businesses. They can receive customers and hold meetings here and show their products in use in the greenhouse setting. We’re building a hub here.”

The predominantly international customers that come here can see a reflection of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture industry with their own eyes. They get the full picture, with the exhibition floor divided into four themes: technology, suppliers, ornamental production and greenhouse food production. The technology theme is further subdivided into greenhouse structures, crop systems and logistics, energy and climate, cultivation equipment, and services and consultancy.

Cross-pollination

“We looked for companies that fitted in with these themes,” Wubben says. “The businesses here are market-leading and progressive and really do add something. We wanted the centre to be a reflection of the sector, which is why there are several businesses in each theme. So there are various plant breeders and greenhouse builders represented here, for example.”

That cross-pollination can take place between business and education here is already abundantly clear. Some of the businesses had their stands designed by students as a project assignment. Others set up apprenticeships. “There are short lines of communication between education and research here. The businesses get to meet the students. With the issues facing the job market right now and in the future, there are plenty of opportunities here,” says Wubben. “We show them how great the greenhouse horticulture sector is. It helps create a positive image and we hope that this will encourage more people to choose this sector as a career option.” An online platform complements the physical building.

Connecting, inspiring, innovating

The finishing touches were made to the greenhouse fittings at the end of last year in preparation for the new research projects scheduled to begin there. The businesses have set up their stands and the students have been swarming over different parts of the building since last August. The official opening took place in March.

The end result of the project was ultimately much better than they had expected in the design phase, the three innovators claim. “We are connecting people, inspiring people and innovating,” Wubben says. “The centre serves as the catalyst for greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands.”

Summary

Research, business and education come together at the new World Horti Center in the Dutch town of Naaldwijk, which was officially opened in March. The cross-pollination can be seen in the build, in which horticultural technology companies worked side-by-side with non-residential construction companies. It also has huge added value for the sector, the initiators claim. The centre serves as a catalyst for greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands.

Text and images: Marjolein van Woerkom.

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