Gang in Bouwkundegebouw met maquette afgebrande gebouw.
Corridor in BK City with model of old Architecture building. (Photo: Thomas Zwart)

What events have the walls of the Architecture building witnessed? In this series on urbanism, student Malavika Krishnan will try to change the way you perceive the TU campus.

If you have been in TU Delft long enough, you must have heard the tragic story of the old Architecture building burning down in a massive fire. More than a decade ago, on May 13th, 2008, a seemingly small fire from a coffee machine managed to engulf the whole building in flames. Luckily, the place was evacuated immediately and no one was hurt physically, but that day is still fresh in the memories of people who were around at that time.

Rising from the ashes, quite literally, the faculty was in dire need of a new space, and the decision was quickly taken to relocate to the refurbished heritage building on Julianalaan, or ‘BK city’ as we now call it. The relentless perseverance of the faculty, the staff and the students to restore their community and the work that they lost that day is simply remarkable, yet this article is not about that. It is about the beautiful evolution of the pre-war, historic building on Julianalaan into a buzzing space for future architects and designers.

The students made it their home

The Technische Hogeschool, as it was called at that time, needed a new building for the Faculty of Chemistry, and in 1917 began construction on what was to become one of the largest buildings in the Netherlands. Later called the “red chemistry” building because of the red bricks that were used, it had all the grandeur of a classical building and became one of the early examples of campus planning in the country.

Just like its architecture, the history of the building is also quite riveting, with its fair share of flamboyance and misfortunes. With the looming Great Depression and the impending wars, construction came to a halt in the late 1920s. The building was soon abandoned until it was sold off as a light bulb factory to Philips. It changed hands again during the second world war and was occupied by the German oppressors.

After the war, the Technische Hogeschool took control of the building, and it became the Faculty of Mathematics for a short period of time in 1948. Later on, after being used as an administrative building, it was in the process of being turned into apartments when the decision was made to convert it instead into a temporary space to accommodate the Faculty of Architecture after the fire.

Even though this was meant to be a temporary solution, the students made it their home, and the department chose to stay on. It was sheer ingenuity and a great deal of planning and design that made it possible to re-use this iconic building as the state-of-the-art Faculty of Architecture it is today.

The history of this building is one that has stood the test of time. Along with the Botanical Gardens, it remains the only other reminder on campus from the world war era. Next time you are walking down the corridors of the Architecture Department, just look around to see the immense history soaked in those walls. Once upon a time, this same building was occupied by people in fancy coats and dresses or German troops. Now it is home to many students from all over the world, like me, their heads buried deep in their laptops, designing the future; it is indeed a remarkable transformation of space.

This article was based on the master thesis by Guus Bening, ‘The unplanned campus: the development of a polytechnische school and technische hogeschool campus, 1893-1938’ (2015) and the article by Alexandra Den Heijer, ‘The making of BK City The ultimate laboratory for a faculty of architecture’ (2009).

Malavika Krishnan (25) is a second-year MSc Urbanism student from Kochi, India. An architect by profession and a writer by passion, she loves everything to do with art and design and the way they shape the human experience.