The rise of MindLabs: 'A complex, challenging, but mostly satisfying process'

31 January 2023 Breaking

The completion of the MindLabs building marks the beginning of a new era for many Tilburg residents. After all, while the finishing touches are being put on the inside of the building, for most residents the big move in can begin. An exciting period. Not only for those who will be working, researching or studying in the new building on a daily basis. Also for individuals who were closely involved in the construction. "In the run-up to completion, very nice collaborations between residents have already been established. That inspires confidence and strengthens our conviction that this vibrant location will lead to a lot of great things."

We speak with Dennis Damink, Head of Property Management at the municipality of Tilburg. Process Manager Gabriël Bergmans - involved in the project from day one - also joins us. As well as Magda Ooms, Real Estate Manager at Fontys and in that capacity responsible for the development and realization of the building. None of the three will personally move into the building they worked on for so long. Damink: "But as a municipality, we remain responsible for the building, so we will fortunately be there often enough." 

New construction in the characteristic Spoorzone 
Anyone familiar with the genesis of Tilburg's Spoorzone knows: originally, all the old buildings were to make way for numerous new offices and homes in a "new piece of town. But the crisis struck and threw a spanner in the works. The new approach? Retrofitting existing buildings. "The salvation of the area," Damink now argues. "Because this has preserved a lot of cultural heritage." Just because of the character lost in such demolition, he argues for diligence in that area. "Something like that cannot be restored. That would have been an eternal sin in this case." 

He refers to the LocHal, one of those old buildings that was given a new look. "It has won many awards for a reason. You can now see that duality in the MindLabs building as well. New technology is combined with the characteristic of the Spoorzone. It starts with the LED screen hanging from the old crane track. A beautiful piece of new technology now adorns the building where wagons were once lifted. How wonderful is that?" 

How it once began 
It is January 2016 when construction begins on the new MindLabs building. Not in the physical sense, by the way. It is the moment Fontys first took concrete steps to find a new, separate location for the journalism course. Bergmans: "The former location was outdated and no longer adequate. In addition, the course wanted to be literally in the middle of society, but the current location on Professor Gimbrèrelaan is not exactly that." And so Bergmans was approached to help think about a new location for the course, and to take on the process management of this issue on behalf of the educational institution. "At the same time, at Fontys, all kinds of collaborations started up. With Onderwijsgroep Tilburg, Tilburg University, DPG Media and later also Zwijsen. They decided on a joint new location. But how do you realize something like that?"  

The Municipality of Tilburg understood the importance of that joint concept development and stepped in, Damink adds. However, finding a suitable location and developing a suitable design proved no easy task. "At the new location, education, research and entrepreneurship had to come together to further inspire and strengthen each other. And that in an ecosystem for both established names and start-ups. This uncommon combination of cooperating parties made the realization an interesting but also complex challenge. Yet we quickly concluded: the Spoorzone is a very suitable location. Partly because the proximity of the train station makes it easy for students to switch between different educational institutions. Doing your master's at one place and a minor at another? You'll be on the train in no time. And also for business, the Spoorzone is the place to be." 

Every resident has a voice 
In the process that follows, Fontys and the municipality are "in the lead. "Yet we did it very emphatically together with all users," Ooms says. "Everyone who was already on board during the design process was able to participate and make suggestions to the architect and consultants. That makes it an extensive process, but with an end product that everyone recognizes." It wasn't just the design process that proved quite complicated, by the way. The site itself also presented challenges. Bergmans: "We had to deal with, among other things, contamination in the soil and Chromium-6 on the original trusses in the heart of the new building. We also had to divert traffic flows in the railroad area. And we had to comply with specific noise requirements due to the location along the railroad in combination with the partial educational function of the building. In short, that was reinventing the wheel every time."  

The MindLabs building was completed on Jan. 30. "An exciting period," Ooms states. "Because now that this unique, enormous building is standing, it's waiting for the moment when all the intended 1,200 people will start working there." By the way, that number of people will only be there during peak times such as the beginning of the college year, Damink nuances the numbers. Bergmans adds: "We expect about 500 students and 150 entrepreneurs and employees in every day, spread throughout the day." Fontys initially built primarily for its own purposes. The municipality for the other parties, who will rent square meters from them. Damink: "It was actually not our intention to become partial owners of the building. We mainly have social real estate such as swimming pools, cultural buildings, community centers and our own housing in our portfolio. So in that sense, too, the MindLabs building is unique of its kind. Our involvement was due to a lack of an investor and the importance we saw of a good building for the economic ecosystem in the Spoorzone. In the meantime, however, our decision to stimulate cooperation between the various parties has worked out very well and you can also see from the occupant numbers mentioned that there is a great deal of interest in the building. That is of course great and makes us feel satisfied!" 

Collaborations through and in the property 
Burgeoning collaborations that would not have existed years ago without that choice for a joint location; the three find it a special scene to behold again and again. Bergmans: "The partnerships that were established at the time and the desire for a joint location have already led to so many wonderful initiatives. For example, ROC Tilburg has designed a course for content creators, which the journalism course ties in nicely with. A product of the connection that MindLabs made." 

In their own words, they also saw beautiful things emerge in the final phase of the project. Bergmans: "Because some locations elsewhere had already been terminated but the new building was not yet ready, a number of MindLabs partners rented temporary accommodation together. Take the example of Zwijsen and Fontys. The publishing house was in the knowledge institution's house as a bridge," Bergmans said. "In the new building, meetings occur even more spontaneously and easily. And that is just as well, because that is an indispensable component in realizing innovations. It therefore strengthens our conviction that the location will lead to a lot of wonderful things." 

'Welcome to the new MindLabs building' 
Want to see for yourself all that the MindLabs building has to offer? How business and education work together on new concepts there? And how a shared building promotes cooperation? Ooms: "Everyone is welcome to drop in, either through our own front door or the internal entrance created in the LocHal. Because that is the dream; that everyone feels comfortable and welcome in the vibrant heart. Students, working people, but also the mother and child who have just been to the library and then want to see all that AI has to offer the world."