From the outside, the two-story, V-shaped brick building that houses Generator Amsterdam, a hybrid-style hostel and boutique hotel that opened on the edge of the city’s Oosterpark, looks more or less as it did in 1917, when it was built for the University of Amsterdam’s Laboratory for Health Education. But enter the lobby, and that impression immediately changes. A row of massive Black Rhino fluorescent luminaires, salvaged from East Germany, guide your eyes up to the lobby’s tall ceilings and forward to the check-in desk, which is framed by three pairs of giant crossed keys done in neon. To the right, in the café, guests can drink coffee inside a steel frame silhouette of a house, as they sit underneath retro-chic industrial pendant fixtures. Clearly, this is no longer a place for scientific research—but it’s not your average budget lodging, either.
The cramped, bare-bones hostel has long been a rite of passage for young travelers making their way across Europe. That’s changing, though, thanks to a new breed of boutique hostel operators like Generator, who emphasize a combination of high design and nightlife with affordability.
The 168-room Amsterdam auberge, which opened in March, is Generator’s 10th location, and 13th overall. (Generator already has hostels in London, Paris, Stockholm, Rome, and Berlin to name but a few of its 13 locations, and it has plans to open its first U.S. location in Miami in 2017.) To shape the interiors, the company turned to DesignAgency, a Toronto-based design firm established in 1998, who has worked on all of the company’s projects.
From the beginning, DesignAgency knew the lighting scheme would be a critical part of the hostel’s success. “The original building was very dark and ominous, so we wanted to open it up and infuse it with a new creative spirit,” says the firm’s co-founder and principal Anwar Mekhayech, who oversaw the project. “For the most part, the lighting adds a playfulness while at the same time it’s also in line with what might have been there before.”
One of the tenets of the Generator concept is to give each location a unique feel and celebrate the local flavor. So DesignAgency, in coordination with local architecture firm IDEA Ontwerp and lighting consultancy Artec, began looking for inspiration and materials around Amsterdam.
The search soon brought them to Blom & Blom, a Dutch firm run by two brothers who specialize in rehabilitating antique, industrial lighting, much of it from the former East Germany. The brothers, Kamiel and Martijn, began their company as a strictly retail operation, selling online and out of a storefront in North Amsterdam, but they were intrigued by DesignAgency’s challenge: To outfit the hostel’s public spaces with their stock items as well as design original installations for two of the hostel’s bars. “Their passion for finding and refurbishing old eastern European light fixtures was the perfect marriage for Generator Amsterdam and suited the monumental building perfectly,” says DesignAgency’s Mekhayech.
Throughout the building, Blom & Blom installed pendant fixtures from their collection, such as the Dromedary, which they recovered from a maritime construction yard, and the Soft-Shell Clam, which features a dark brown bakelite shade and comes from an ammunition storage site. Both luminaires are equipped with a 10W LED lamp.
The Blom brothers also designed the lighting feature in the Auditorium Bar, located in the building’s former lecture hall, which is located off what is now the reception area. Instead of a professor’s notes, the blackboard holds the drink menu. The original wooden desks fan out in tiered seating. And above the bar hang 70 custom-designed pendants, which Blom & Blom fashioned from laboratory glassware.
“When we began this project, we salvaged anything that we could from the original building,” says Mekhayech. “I had found a box of flasks and beakers in the basement, so we thought they would be fun to clean up and incorporate into the design.” Blom & Blom then fitted the glassware with a suspension frame and 1.5W 2700K LED lamps.
Another of the lighting elements that Blom & Blom was involved with was the lighting for the Boiler Room, a nightclub located in the building’s basement. Here, they combined an original design made of steel pipes and bare lamps with three Komodo Dragon pendants—massive cast-aluminum cones that they salvaged from an East German airfield and retrofitted with dimmable 42W 2200K LEDs. “The [LEDs] give it the warmth it needs, to balance the industrial feeling that this fixture brings,” says Martijn Blom. “The combination makes it the perfect piece for the space.”
But it is the Black Rhinos in the lobby—three massive, wall-mounted fluorescent fixtures—that make the first and most lasting impression, letting guests know that this is not your typical backpacker accommodations. Five feet long and weighing nearly 50 pounds, they were designed to illuminate factories and laboratories in East Germany, and their industrial heft provides an engaging counterpoint to the light- and whimsy-filled lobby.
“The art and lighting add to the sense of discovery, so that whether you are a guest or a local enjoying the park, Generator Amsterdam invites you to explore its interiors like a gallery or a museum,” says Mekhayech. •
Project: Generator Amsterdam, Amsterdam • Client: Generator Hostels, London • Owner: Patron Capital, London • Project Lead Designers (interior design): DesignAgency, Toronto • Project Architect and M/E/P Engineer: IDEA Ontwerp, Amsterdam • Structural Engineer: Van Rossum, Amsterdam • Lighting Designer: Artec, Amsterdam • Project Size: 6,995 square meters (75,294 square feet) • Project and Lighting Costs: Withheld • Code Compliance and Watts per Square Foot: Not available
Alexander & Pearl: Area Black & White Industrial Swivel Wall Light in stairwells • Anglepoise: Original 1227 Giant floor lamp in café; Original 1227 brass table lamp and wall sconce in rooms; and Original 1227 brass table lamp and bedside wall fixture in luxury suite • Blom & Blom: Large pendants and column lighting for lobby; pendants above bar in the café; feature lighting in the Auditorium Bar; luminaires for basement bar; Blackbird pendant in rooms; and pendants and bathroom wall sconces in the luxury suite • Flos: Arco floor lamp in Auditorium Bar • Holloways of Ludlow: Stirrup floor lamp in basement bar • Karman: Via Rizzo 7 pendants in breakfast area • Merci: Bathroom wall sconce for rooms • Moooi: Paper chandelier in steel-frame house in café • Resident Studio: Cross pendant in library lounge • Zero Lighting: Daikanyama ceiling pendant in breakfast area and entrance