Feringa Building on a budget

Stretching space

In a few weeks, the RUG will present a new, cheaper plan for the Feringa Building, which will be housing the science programmes. But there is a new problem: they already know that the building is too small.
By Zander Lamme / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

In numbers

Surface area: 62,000 m²

Width: 260 metres

Depth: 63 metres

Storeys: five

Fume cupboards: 450

Total length of lab tables: three kilometres

Laser labs: thirty

Everyone knows that Nijenborgh 4 is outdated. PhD students are working in small offices with poor lighting, there is asbestos everywhere, the ancient water pipes are a legionnaire’s outbreak waiting to happen, and it’s extremely energy inefficient. The largest RUG faculty’s most important building, which houses Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa’s laboratory, is a bit shabby.

The new Feringa Building, named after the Nobel Prize winner, is supposed to give the department a much needed update. The new 62,000 square metre building will house approximately 1,400 students and 850 staff. It will have the latest, vibration-proof laboratories.

Not exposed to the sun

The design was created by an architect who spent weeks touring the faculty, says managing director Dick Veldhuis. ‘Rather than come up with a building, we asked him for a vision. So he talked to the scientists, and asked them what they wanted.’ The most frequent demand was that the laboratories were not exposed to the sun. For this reason, the building will be shaped like a zigzag. ‘This means the labs are always on the north side, and they never get any sun’, says Veldhuis.

Everyone agrees that it’s a beautiful design. But when it will actually be built remains a mystery. It was supposed to be ready by 2021, but the RUG has not yet retained a contractor to build it. The tender process was cancelled in July of last year when it turned out that no one was willing to build it at the price the university had in mind.

One hundred million

No one at the RUG will say what this price was. ‘We don’t want external parties to know too much’, says communications advisor Jeroen de Lezenne Coulander with the RUG’s Property and Investment Projects department (VGI). A document by construction consultancy firm ZRi, which took care of the tender process, mentions an amount of approximately one hundred million euros.

Why the estimation deviates from the amounts the contractors wanted is unclear. Various parties have made multiple calculations for the RUG. ‘I was not present for that’, says De Lezenne Coulander. ‘Those numbers are strictly confidential.’

The improving economy over the last few years certainly didn’t help. While the larger construction businesses had very little work during the recession, they now have overflowing agendas. For some contractors, this means they simply lack the time to take on a large project like the Feringa Building. ‘The construction market is extremely tight at the moment. Many projects that were postponed during the recession are now going ahead. And projects like this might not match their portfolio.’

Second opinion

Construction consultancy firm Dukers & De Cock came up with a second opinion for the RUG. ‘They thoroughly studied the cost analysis to make sure we weren’t being fleeced’, says Veldhuis. The firm was also asked to find room for cutbacks. Their recommendations were sent to the RUG’s design team ‘some time ago’. They are responsible for proposing a new plan to the Board of Directors.

This new plan will largely resemble the original plan, says De Lezenne Coulander ‘We mainly sought to cut back on materials, or how to come up with smarter constructions. The staff or students won’t notice any difference.’

Veldhuis agrees. Cutting back on functionality was absolutely forbidden. ‘In terms of functionality, the building has to meet the staff’s requirements. Money can be saved by cutting back on design frills on the exterior’, says Veldhuis. Money can also be saved on the interior, as the building shouldn’t look like a museum. ‘When you ask scientists what they want their offices to look like, they don’t much care. As long as their labs work.’

Long term

The team is also looking at long-term maintenance. Cutbacks on maintenance could mean using more expensive materials. ‘The building will have quite a few fume cupboards, which will need exhaust hoods. We can choose between plastic pipes or stainless steel pipes. Plastic is more expensive, but it does last longer.’

Once the new plan has been approved and a ‘new, feasible planning’ has been presented, the entire tender process will start again. ‘The last time it took approximately six months, I believe’, says De Lezenne Coulander. After that, it will be at least another few months before construction can actually start.

That brings us to the next problem. Over the past year, it’s become clear that the new building will not be meeting the space requirements for the scientific faculties. The faculty needs another 7,700 square metres in addition to the planned 62,000. A considerable percentage, ‘partially based on assumptions’. Veldhuis: ‘We know that this is a faculty that will always keep growing. There will be an ever-increasing number of students. Since the recession, scientific study programmes have become more popular. Studying here practically guarantees you a job.’

Another wing

Other developments have also led to the need for a larger building. There was the ‘very generous donation’ from an alumnus to the Groningen University Fund, which will be used to research big data issues, in which the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials plays a key role. It’s research that will lead to fifty new jobs in two research groups. And these people need to work somewhere.

There are also plans to recruit research group NOVA OIR, which works on developing optic and infrared telescopes, for Zernike. This research group is currently housed at astronomy institute ASTRON in Dwingeloo, but it would be extremely advantageous to have the researchers close to, among others, the astronomers at the Kapteyn Institute. But this requires another 1,000 square metres.

One thing is for certain: those 7,700 square metres will not be created by changing the Feringa Building. ‘We’d have to build a whole extra wing’, says De Lezenne Coulander.

It is what it is, both men say. ‘You have to just decide and start at some point. Otherwise you’re just endlessly translating numbers into plans’, says De Lezenne Coulander.


And that means they will have to find the room somewhere else. They will have their work cut out for them, because Zernike Campus has filled up increasingly over the past few years. According to Veldhuis, building closer to the ring road is not an option. ‘We can’t build too close to that road because of the vibrations.’

Until the Feringa Building is finished, the faculty will have to make do with the building they have. ‘We’re packed like sardines in Nijenborgh 4’, says Veldhuis. ‘But we’re figuring out how to make it work. How can we make even better use of the rooms? Do we need any temporary housing? We can work out of containers for all I care.’


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