The impact of Circl

It has almost been a whole year since ABN AMRO’s circular pavilion had it's grand opening. And a great year it has been, say director Merijn van den Bergh and ‘ambassador’ Petran van Heel – who has already introduced numerous clients to the pavilion. So what is it that makes Circl so special? More and more high-rises are being built in Amsterdam’s Zuidas business district. Close to the ground, and at the district’s heart, lies Circl: the bank’s circular pavilion. The wooden ‘cabin’ with pretty garden features appears as an oasis among what is mostly tall and concrete development. For Merijn van den Bergh and ABN AMRO’s Petran van Heel, the opening year was a great one. Circl has become more and more widely known as a circular hotspot, and has carved out a place for itself as a driver of circular ideas.

For Circl’s director Merijn, the year had a number of highlights. ‘One of them was working with the best people and the best products based on a single shared ambition, and finding the best group of customers to match. But I also mean the building itself, and how it’s functioned optimally from the moment that it went into operation, even with all the innovative technology and unusual partnerships. And then there are our staff with impaired employability. I can’t overstate how much respect I have for the way that they use their ambition and passion to turn their impairments into strengths – it’s just wonderful to see. And I haven’t even mentioned all the events that bring together amazing circular initiatives.’

Circl draws 65,000 visitors

Real estate sector banker Petran van Heel has assumed the role of ambassador with relish. ‘I see Circl as a positive lever. All kinds of individual ideas, initiatives, people and companies come together here to create something amazing, something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. I think it’s very remarkable that the bank had the courage to just go ahead with this project. I frequently show people around here: the bank’s business relations, delegations from abroad, students and charities.’ In its first year Circl attracted 65,000 visitors, and gave guided tours to 6,000 people. ‘That includes people from all over the world, from Scandinavian architects to an official delegation from Taiwan. Yesterday alone we gave ten tours,’ Merijn adds. 

Visitors are not interested in the building alone: they want the full experience. During the interview, Merijn notes that the webcam is showing a stand-up meeting of people from the bank in the rooftop garden. ‘People come here not only for the circular narrative, but also for the experience and inspiration. These totally different surroundings, with so much wood and green, produce other ideas and understanding. The Dutch Banking Association was here recently for a meeting about banking and meaning. Because Circl removes you so completely from the corporate world, this place amplifies the theme.’ Petran agrees. ‘That’s why I love coming here with business relations: the conversations are completely different and clients are much more open to change in general, and sustainability and circularity in particular.’

Building as a source of vitality

Petran has noticed that the construction world is evolving at a rapid pace: ‘As well as sustainability, vitality is also becoming more and more important. Buildings need to have the capability to send you back outside with more energy than you had when you entered. Nowadays you can even obtain certificates that measure a building’s well-being. Besides carbon emissions, wasted energy and waste flows, the focus is shifting more and more to people. If you incentivise people by creating an attractive place for them, where they can also get healthy food, they feel better and perform better as well.’ Merijn has noticed that more and more customers prefer a fishless or meatless option. ‘Even aside from the environmental aspects, vegetarian food is many times more nutritious. It also gives much more energy. Rudolf Brand, our chef, creates amazing dishes that revolve around vegetables and legumes.’

Storytelling at its best

Circl is not a book that you read once and then close: more than anything, it is a source of inspiration. According to Petran, it generates a high level of spinoff. ‘During the construction phase, we invited pretty much all our major contacts in construction and real estate, showed them around and explained what was what. This triggered people’s interest, and paved the way for further circular explorations and initiatives. Now we also organise circular innovation days for business relations who want to do more. We challenge them to develop business cases for their own companies, with our help. The entire concept also carries over to our people: I’m certain that using 16,000 pairs of denims as insulation material has changed our people’s mindset.’ Merijn also sees that the circle around Circl is visibly expanding. ‘More and more external parties are coming to visit us, and that makes me very happy.’ 

‘The building was always intended to be more than the bank’s clubhouse,’ Merijn continued. ‘The Urban Mining Collective – in which Petran represents the bank – is a networking platform that was founded here. It focuses on the question of how to avoid demolishing buildings in the future, but instead dismantling them to give the materials a new life: harvesting instead of demolition. Our reach is extending further all the time. For example, the bank recently helped to organise an event called “We make the city”: a five-day festival at 150 locations around Amsterdam where people addressed the question of how to improve the city. This included topics such as climate, safety, health, sustainability and affordable homes. Circl was one of the festival’s hotspots.’ Petran takes out his phone to show a report in the Taiwan News. ‘And the visit by the Taiwanese delegation has also led to concrete action in their own country.’

Circl as a living lab

It is becoming increasingly clear that Circl – tucked away in the heart of the Zuidas business district – is not invisible. Petran continues, ‘During the World Economic Forum in Davos, the bank won a prestigious award in the Circular Investors category – in part because of Circl. Twice we were voted the second-best building in the Netherlands. I love that a building that is built on biomass and second-hand materials can be given an honourable mention, and I find it very encouraging.’ Circl is entering the second year of its existence. Merijn adds, ‘Our premise is, and always will be, to share knowledge, encourage action and motivate people. We want to achieve the best possible impact, which means that we’re going to further improve the focus of our activities. The bank wants to further emphasis its role as an action leader in circularity, and of course Circl is the ideal base of operations.’

Guided tours

If you would like to see for yourself how Circl brings circular ideas to life, book a guided tour for your party (business or private), and combine it with coffee, lunch or drinks in the rooftop bar.