The Building

The Building: Vlampijpateliers

Utrecht is dotted with special buildings, which you bike past regularly but know very little about. Take the Vlampijpateliers in the Werkspoorkwartier area, a former 1960s office block owned by the engine machine factory Werkspoor.

For decades, the Vlampijpateliers (studios) stood in a remote corner of the city. It was home to a few cockerels and 75 artists, who enjoyed the solitude of the spot. Outsiders were rarely seen, except for once a year during the Open Vlampijpateliers days. But gradually, the city started edging closer. In 2012, the name ‘Cartesiusweg industrial and business estate’ was changed to ‘Werkspoorkwartier’ and mechanics working in scruffy garages made way for trendy people with creative professions.

Werkspoor refers to the factory that stood here from the start of the 20th century until the 1980s. The factory produced rolling stock, trams and bridge components. The Vlampijpateliers building was the ‘construction office’ and dates back to 1964, a period when Werkspoor had so many orders that it had to start outsourcing.

The architecture is an interesting contrast to the surviving production halls, where you can almost feel the smoke, hissing and banging of the manufacturing process. The construction office was a quiet, clean building, housing an army of designers poring over their drawing boards. The office was bathed in natural light thanks to numerous windows, which is what first attracted the artists who went on to rent it.

The current street plan, without pavements or bike lanes, was designed around 1980, when it became clear that Werkspoor would close. In 2001, the construction office on Vlampijpstraat was converted into studios for artists. The fabulous concepts that emerged there were in colourful contrast to rest of the area, dominated by traffic and warehouses. The monotonous route leading to the building, punctuated by huge bends designed for lorries, served to highlight the ongoing need for art.

The ‘Vlampijp artists’ turned out to be creative pioneers. The studio function matched the municipality’s budding plans for the creative potential of this area. The artists provided input for a schedule of requirements for the long-needed renovation of their premises, after which the building would provide permanent affordable workplaces for autonomous visual artists.

But this was not to be. The anticipated renovation work was postponed so often that the Vlampijpateliers fell into disrepair. As a result, the location manager declared ‘an increasing risk of calamity’, and prematurely evicted the artists at the end of last year. The building has been empty since February – the tenants were given little time to find alternative accommodation. The renovation work is now planned for 2025. An architect will be chosen shortly.

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