DSM Heerlen


DSM Heerlen - 2007

Multifunctional meeting and reception room for the DSM Headquarters in Heerlen.

DSM is one of the world’s most advanced chemical and biotechnological companies, the world’s leading supplier to the pharmaceutical industry, and one of the largest suppliers to the world’s leading producers in the dietary supplement, performance materials, industrial chemicals and agrochemicals industries.

Since its establishment in 1902, DSM (Dutch State Mines) – originating from the former national mines, as the name indicates – has also played a very important role in the economic and social development of the province of Limburg. As a chemical and biotechnological company, DSM has great environmental responsibilities as well as responsibilities regarding the potential risks posed by biotechnology. DSM is fully aware of these responsibilities, as demonstrated by its business philosophy and its constant research into ways of reducing emissions of harmful substances and waste, and into safe, energy-efficient production methods.

I have taken these environmental aspects and the influence of DSM on its surroundings – and on the province of Limburg as a whole and further afield in the rest of the world – as the starting point for the development of the concept for this meeting and reception room.

The room is used for meetings and dinners for between four and twenty people and for brief celebratory occasions (seated or standing) for a maximum of 30 people. It therefore has both functional and representative functions. When planning the redesign, account needed to be taken of these different functions. It therefore needed to be possible to set up the furniture in a number of different arrangements.

Initially, I wanted to display computer-modified photographs of the natural environment around DSM or the landscape around the headquarters as a panorama on the walls; as if one could look through the walls and see the beautiful Limburg landscape outside. I wanted to use a cooling tower as the base of various tables. This was to occupy a central position in the room as a landmark in the landscape of the room. The further elaboration of the concept conjured up associations with the Ghent Altarpiece (“Het Lam Gods”, or “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”) by Jan and Hubert van Eyck.

This gave me the idea to study the Ghent Altarpiece in greater detail. This masterful work of art ultimately became the basis of and source of inspiration for my design. I used it as a master plan and attempted to translate it into a meaningful 21st century interpretation for the interior of this meeting and reception room. The Ghent Altarpiece represents the body of thought of the old world. I have compared it with and reinterpreted it for the body of thought of the new world, the industrial and our post-industrial secularised society. I saw similarities in the landscape depicted by the Van Eyck brothers, the horizon with the church towers and the altar, the chalice and the fountain, not only visually but also in meaning.

The Van Eyck brothers depict nature and the subject matter in the greatest detail. The whole masterpiece is an ode to creation. One is overwhelmed by a deep veneration for and awe towards nature and the subject matter. The viewer is touched by the mystery of the contemplation.

This was an important starting point for me, since I wanted to portray a landscape as a panorama on the walls. However, I did not want to create an overly literal representation of a landscape. I wanted instead to use a contemporary theme that is also closely connected with DSM.

Since DSM has a biotechnological section, where nature is manipulated at a microscopic level, the idea was conceived to use microscope images of bacteria and enzymes. The walls of the room now feature a panorama of a microscopic world, populated by bacteria and enzymes. These images of micro-organisms – invisible to the naked eye - were manipulated by XY Dumb-office 2002 to create a psychedelic dreamlike landscape.

In the middle of this space is the cooling tower, a beautiful, ingeniously-made structure symbolising 20th century industrial production and the DSM factories in Geleen and the former State Mines. One could compare the cooling towers with the church towers seen on the horizon of the Ghent Altarpiece, where they symbolise mediaeval devotion. There are also similarities with the fountain in the foreground of the painting. The centrally positioned cooling tower in this room is a kind of altar, but also an enlarged chalice or a modern grail, in the sense that it has brought prosperity and affluence like a horn of plenty. Above the cooling tower or “chalice-altar”, I wanted to create a sun as a metaphorical or divine symbol (like the Holy Spirit in the Ghent Altarpiece). The symbolic meaning of the sun reflected in a mirror is wisdom. This gave me the idea of covering the ceiling with mirrors and affixing an illuminated hemisphere to it, which would thus be transformed into a whole sphere and a radiant sun. The mirror-covered ceiling gave the room a high-ceilinged and majestic feel. The “chalice-altar” and the sun give the room an almost sacred atmosphere, like a kind of modern sun temple. In the same way as the sun, the people in the room are also reflected in the ceiling, in order that they are able to make wise decisions. In a way, it is also like holding a mirror up to people’s faces in the light of such wisdom. The room could become a place of contemplation – or reflection – where new insights are born that could contribute to creating a better world with respect for nature, the origin of our existence.


The room is to be used for meetings and dinners for between four and twenty people and for celebratory occasions (seated or standing) for a maximum of thirty people. As a way of fulfilling these different functions, I have fixed two trumpet-shaped volumes (in effect two miniature cooling towers) to the floor to serve as bases for different kinds of tables. Various different table tops can be attached to the tops of these cooling towers:

  • Two circular table tops, each with a diameter of 190cm, at which 8 people can be seated per table.
  • Two trumpet-shaped top-pieces, which when placed on top of the base form a high-standing bar table or which can be used as a lectern when giving lectures or a speech on a celebratory occasion.
  • Lastly, two large table tops each measuring 300cm in length and 150cm in width, which can be linked together to form a 6m-long table, seating up to 20 people.

The large table tops can also be used separately. Attached to the cooling towers, they can be rotated smoothly right around their centres, thus making various table arrangements possible. The table tops are made of honeycombed plastic, making them lightweight yet very strong. I wanted to make the cooling towers and trumpet-shaped top-pieces from concrete reinforced with polymers. However, due to budgetary considerations, they have been made of MDF with a concrete-effect finish.


The L-shaped room can be divided in two by means of a large partition door, covered on both sides by a continuous photographic print. If the room is being used by a large group of people, the partition door is left open, and the two large table tops can be linked together to form a 6m-long table.In most cases, however, the partition will be closed, making the room smaller and more intimate and thus more suitable for smaller groups. The remaining chairs (20 in total) and table tops can be stored behind the closed partition. The large pivoting door is made of honeycombed plastic with a break/hinge in the middle. This means that the door can be opened up in two parts. Otherwise, the area through which the door would pivot would be too large and the “sun” would have to be removed from the ceiling and the whole room cleared before the door could be closed. The hinge in the middle renders this unnecessary.


The walls are covered with large photographic prints. The prints have been affixed to the walls using a special adhesive and then finished using an extra-matte varnish. This protects the paper and prevents light reflections. Next, eight round light bulbs in chrome fitted were affixed to the walls.


Large panels have been applied to the entire ceiling, covered with a new kind of mirror laminate (HPL). Holes have been made in these panels, behind which – set into the space above the ceiling – are black halogen spotlights with a beam width of 24 degrees, used to illuminate the room.


The sun is made of a Plexiglas hemisphere containing six PL lamps which can be switched on in pairs in three different power strengths, and thus giving increasing amounts of light.


At the request of DSM, the floor is covered with titanium-grey carpet, giving sufficient sound-proofing.


For the chairs, we have chosen 20 “Little Tulips” from Artifort, designed by Pierre Paulin.


Commissioned by Peter Elverding (the chairman of the board of DSM), Catharien Romijn (the curator of the DSM art collection) asked three designers to submit a design for the representative room: Jurgen Bey, Ted Noten and myself. We were given complete freedom in our design, but had to take into account the multi-functional character of the room. In the end, Jurgen Bey did not take part in the selection process, and my design was the one chosen. Consultations with the board and with Catharien Romijn were always very agreeable. They also gave me the freedom to implement the design to the highest possible level.

The Ghent Altarpiece (“Het Lam Gods”, or “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”)

On the large central panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, we see an altar on which the Lamb of God is standing, along with the chalice filled with the blood of the Lamb. Around the altar is a large field and an expansive landscape with the church towers of a city on the horizon and a fountain in the foreground. Above this scene, the Holy Ghost can be seen in the guise of a dove in an aureole resembling the sun.

The Van Eyck brothers depict nature in exceptional detail. The Van Eyck brothers – who lived in the late middle ages – produced this work in honour of God and the creation. The whole masterpiece is an ode to creation. One is overwhelmed by a deep veneration for and awe towards nature and the subject matter. The viewer is touched by the mystery of the contemplation. The Van Eycks did not view the material from the outside. It is as if they have taken away the surface on which one’s eyes rest, thus exposing the depths, enabling us to meet with the soul of the substance. They therefore take their art a long way beyond a purely documentary-photographic realism, just as Johannes Vermeer was to do two centuries later, in a completely different yet identical fashion.

walls: Fotoprints, tables concrete like finishing and white hpl laminate
Arjen Schmitz

DSM Heerlen (fullscreen)