A Circular Timber Cube from Powerhouse Company

Dutch design studio Powerhouse Company has completed Netherland’s first mass timber university building for Tilburg University in a design that is inspired by the first modernist structure on the Campus.

Powerhouse Company completed the design for Netherlands’ first mass timber university building. The energy-neutral building for Tilburg University sits on a small footprint of 33 x 33 meters, with 14 lecture rooms, selfstudy areas and a foyer and is set within a wooded landscape. The lecture hall’s timeless form echoes the existing modernist structures on the campus, according to the architects.

The new lecture hall’s design is inspired by the first structure on the campus: Jos. Bedaux’s 1962 Cobbenhagen building, now a listed monument. Bedaux reflected the university’s Catholic roots with a design that gives a modernist twist to monastic architecture. Powerhouse Company’s design adapts Bedaux’s monumental simplicity with a limestone facade, rhythmic window placement and a close relationship between the interior spaces and the surrounding nature. The result is a building that, with its mellow stone facade and rootedness in the woodland setting, appears as though it has always been there.

“Together with our client, we upped our ambition during the design process resulting in a carbon neutral, completely circular, and BREEAM Outstanding design,” said Janneke van der Velden, Associate Architect at Powerhouse Company.

With its predominantly cross-laminated timber structure, the lecture hall is a fully circular pioneer in academic architecture. Tackling significant design challenges, the wooden rib floors span a groundbreaking 9 meters, meeting the complex demands required by an educational building. The dry construction system employs 4.6 kilometers of timber beams that are demountable for future reuse. Additionally, hanging the limestone façade panels, rather than gluing them, allows the stone to be recycled too.

“Our details look simple and self-evident, but pioneering the technical junctions in collaboration with different disciplines was a challenge. This untrodden road was inspiring and taught us a lot,” says Romano van den Dool, BIM Engineer at Powerhouse Company.

“The lecture hall is a timeless and sustainable addition to the campus architecture of Tilburg University. It breathes the atmosphere of the library and the monastery, in line with the original Modernist buildings,” says Stefan Prins, Partner Architect at Powerhouse Company

Inside, as with the Cobbenhagen building, the fixtures and furniture are intrinsic parts of the design. A natural palette is used throughout – wood, stone, and plaster – from the sculptural space of the lecture hall, to intimate window niches. Besides the exposed structural timber, simple wooden tables, benches, and cruciform reading lamps exude a sense of serenity and calm. Expansive windows allow natural light to flood the space while playfully capturing a range of views, some unexpected – the sky, a single tree, or people walking to the campus.

The building heightens the appreciation of the existing architecture on the site.

“We looked at the various characteristics of the site surrounding our building – forest, parkland, accommodation, and the main route to the train station serving the campus – and designed four facades responding to these different features. All four sides of the building connect via footpaths, views and sightlines to different parts of the site: Each side has different detailing and window distribution reflecting its orientation,” says Prins.

Powerhouse Company is an award-winning architecture office based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Project information

Status                               In design

Timeline                            2019 – present

Client                                 Tilburg University

Size                                   5 000 m2

City                                   Tilburg

Country                             The Netherlands

Typology                           Education


Landscape architect           EDM Tuin en Landschap

Stedenbouw                      Studio Hartzema

Installation’s advisor          Royal Haskoning DHV

Building physics advisor     Royal Haskoning DHV

Contractor                         Koninklijke BAM Groep

Constructor                        BREED Integrated Design

Geotechnical advisor         Inpijn Blokpoel

Sustainability advisor         Rienks Bouwmanagement

Mobility advisor                  Royal Haskoning DHV

Financial advisor                Multibouwadvies

Model                                Studio Abstract, Powerhouse Company

Photography                      Frans Parthesius (model)