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André van Stigt and Paul van Joolingen, Panopticon foundation (De Koepel):

"We are on an adventure with Unica and it’s going really well"

The renovation of De Koepel in Haarlem began a year ago. The Koepelgevangenis, a former prison in the shape of a dome built in 1901 and a historic monument, is being converted to create a user-friendly, multidisciplinary building with 21st-century standards of sustainability and comfort. Unica is designing and delivering the building systems and the thermal energy storage system. Unica will also be supplying De Koepel and the hotel being built on the surrounding site with heating and cooling facilities in the coming decades.

The redevelopment of De Koepel in Haarlem is similar in many respects, to the renovation of the De Hallen tram depot in Amsterdam, which was completed in 2015. In both cases, a building that was more than a hundred years old was converted with love and care and given a new lease of life. The two projects are all about sustainability in the broadest sense of the word; the preservation of cultural heritage, long-term cooperation, customised technology, flexibility and people who bring out the best in one another.

Vital coalitions

The fact that the two redevelopment projects have so many similarities isn’t that surprising when you realise that many of the same parties were involved in both. Such as prizewinning architect André van Stigt, who was responsible for the design. Facilitating sustainable connection between people is central in his work. The renovated De Koepel will provide space for academic education, a cinema, start-ups and creative businesses, cafés and restaurants, art and culture. Over the coming years, the surrounding site will see the construction of a hotel, student campus and social housing.
“Finding the right users is crucial in a project like this,” says André. “You also want to enter into vital coalitions with partners who can offer customised solutions with a focus on people. By that I mean companies that are technically skilled and flexible, and have employees who want to make a difference through their enthusiasm and energy. Because it’s a fact: the people make the project. At De Hallen we enjoyed the great cooperation with Unica in that respect. We wanted to continue to build on that success in the redevelopment of De Koepel.”


De Koepel in Haarlem is not the first complex project for which project director Paul van Joolingen has held overall responsibility. He knows the tricks of the trade, how to handle the numerous stakeholders and everything that can go wrong too. So the fact that he is full of praise about Unica should be taken as a big compliment. “We took on an adventure with Unica and so far it’s going really well,” he says. “In terms of the financing – the biggest problem in this project – we chose to make budgeting agreements with the construction team. This means that you have to trust each other and avoid trying to score points against each other. That sounds easy, but De Koepel is one of the most complicated plots in Haarlem: a grand building with a unique design. This means that you come up against a huge number of obstacles as you go, however well prepared you are. So we are asking for a huge amount of flexibility from our partners. Unica is responsible for all installations and a complex thermal energy storage system, as well as ensuring the financing.”

Smart energy concept

The enormous 50,000 cubic metre atrium requires a smart and carefully considered energy concept. “Unica has been involved in the discussions on all kinds of complex issues from the start. How we could achieve a comfortable climate with a modest energy component, for example. We are aiming for less than 12 euros per square metre per year for light and heat,” says André. “Insulating the outer walls and the roof is a sustainable solution, which will contribute to reducing energy consumption as well as ensuring better acoustics. There will be a thermal energy storage installation in the basement. With this system consisting of a hot and a cold source, Unica will be able to supply De Koepel and the surrounding site with energy over the coming decades.”

Unica is also responsible for the plumbing, the measurement and control technology, electricity, data security, water mist, fire prevention and fire safety. Another interesting fact: as not all of the technology can be installed within the thick outer walls, some functional installations will remain visible to visitors. For this reason, Unica will be paying extra attention to ensuring a high-quality finish.

Unica has been involved in discussions about all kinds of development issues from the start

Top result

The new De Koepel will be completed on 1 September 2021. Although there is still a lot of work to do, André and Paul are already very pleased with the result. “An integrated approach is an important part of sustainable redevelopment projects. But there are relatively few parties who can think in this way,” says André. “Unica can do this, even though it was sometimes quite difficult in practice to coordinate all the disciplines. The challenge remains to really make optimal use of all the expertise available.”

“In an exceptionally complicated project like this, you will always come up against problems,” Paul explains. “That isn’t a problem in itself. If you have high-quality employees who listen to the problems and come up with solutions, you will always be able to resolve problems. Unica’s employees have a great attitude. I am genuinely extremely proud of the team. Achieving a top result with a group of people with limited resources and with respect for a listed monument and one another: that’s really something.”