An office renovation project

An example of the Open Design methodology applied in an office renovation project is the upgrading of the former KLM head office on the Plesmanweg in the Hague (Binnekamp, 1995).

In the year 1979, the building had been in use for ten years by its second owner, the Ministry of Infrastructure. The building badly needed a thorough overhaul including maintenance of the outside of the building, improving the ventilation, modernising the interior and making the office designs of the various wings more efficient. The building no longer met the legislation and user requirements of that era. The total floor area was 27000m2. Only 11000 m2 was used for offices, the remainder being storage rooms, cellars, halls, corridors and staircases (Fig. 3.5).

A renovation plan was made including a calculation of the cost involved. A decision for execution was, however, postponed for years. First, a new wing had to be built. This extension was very urgent, for the Ministry had rapidly grown in its number of employees.

Figure 3.5 Floorplan of former klm head office

When the new wing had been completed in 1985, the whole building was reviewed in the light of the user's requirements and general norms for offices at that time. It was established that it would be possible - according to generally accepted calculation rules - that the building would accommodate 1550 persons on a functionally usable area of 21 230 m2, at an average of 13.70 m2/person. Not surprisingly, the new wing already satisfied these modern norms. The old building, as could be expected, came nowhere near.

A preliminary budget was reserved: on the basis of experience with other buildings a budget of € 6.81 million was considered appropriate for both overhaul and achieving an efficient layout.

In 1988 a project team started with the assignment to make a renovation plan related to both technical maintenance and modernisation of the interior. The new layout had to accommodate 1100 persons. The first plans and calculations indicated that an investment of about € 13.18 million would be required for this. After some negotiation the initial budget of € 6.81 million was increased to € 10.22 million. The cost of the complete renovation had to be kept below this ceiling.

The project team proceeded and made a second plan within the limits of the budget. A detailed design was made for one wing and immediately implemented. At the same time the renovation of the next wing was prepared. It then emerged that another layout was preferred.

This revised layout was actually implemented. In the preparation for the next wing the ideas changed again and these changes were also incorporated. In 1992 the renovation was completed. € 14.55 million had been spent to accommodate only 853 persons.

The owner of the building, the real estate institution of the State, gave the project a negative evaluation. More than twice the budget was spent for 25% fewer accommodated persons than agreed at the start. It was also not clear to what extent the cost had generated commensurate quality. In other words: did the owner get value for his money? The cause of the failure was primarily seen to be the poor monitoring of decisions.

The process of renovation had extended over a number of years. Plans had been revised after each completed phase. As a result, decisions on different parts of the building lacked coherence. Their effect on the functioning of the building as a whole was lost out of sight which made cost control extremely problematic. Cost savings by appropriate integration of sub-projects could not be achieved.

In retrospect, it is understandable that the project was negatively evaluated. The owner had to pay twice the budget for only three quarters of the agreed functional output. Since the cause was primarily seen to be the poor integration of the various sub-projects, the question arose if an Open Design approach could have led to a significantly better result and, possibly, to a positive evaluation by the owner.

To answer this question, an extensive simulation based on the Open Design approach was made. The hypothesis of the simulation was that the failure was not so much the result of budget overruns and under-realisation of anticipated functional output (number of accommodated persons), but of the way new emerging insights and demands had been incorporated.

Starting from the initial specifications and boundary conditions, an integral optimisation model was made to establish the solution space of the renovation project. This model allowed the various steps taken in reality to be simulated and analysed.

It then soon became clear that accommodation of 1100 persons would never have been feasible. In due time, the organisation of the user had changed: more highly placed executives had to be accommodated requiring more m2 per person. Accommodating 1100 persons would imply that certain parts of the user's organisation would have to be transferred to elsewhere.

It also was found that the selection of main dimensions for corridors and office rooms had a great impact on the functional output of the building. Alternative layouts could offer impressive improvements in terms of functional output over cost.

The optimisation model allowed the assessing of the consequences of alleviation in relevant constraints, in particular the number of persons and the total budget. Table 3.1 summarises the results that are most relevant to the owner.

The conclusion is that the Open Design approach could have provided a building accommodating more people and requiring substantially lower energy consumption, so lower yearly cost, at only 53% of the price actually paid.

Table 3.1 Comparison initial plan-realisation-Open Design simulation for former KLM head office

Plan at start


Open Design simulation

Number of person accommodated




Energy cost per year (C1 000)


66 (estimated)


Investment (C million)




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