Five questions for Frans Rombouts

Eurojust, not just any building

There is not much feared by international criminals. Except one postal code area in The Hague: 2517 JS. This is where Eurojust will be opening its new office. This EU Agency unites twenty-eight member states in their fight against serious cross-border crime. An interview with Heijmans' Project Director Frans Rombouts about the strict security requirements and local environment management.

March 30, 2017

Fifteen floors and some 250 workplaces. Why is Eurojust adopting such a large-scale approach?

The collaboration among EU countries is intensifying. Crime is crossing national borders. Not only physically, but digitally as well. The former Eurojust office in The Hague no longer satisfied the requirements. This new building – designed by the Mecanoo firm of architects – is to provide a solution.

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Is this a complex construction project?

Not in a structural sense, but from a security perspective, definitely. In view of the sensitivity of Eurojust's business, the design of the garden, façade, offices and conference rooms meets the highest level of security. The audiovisual facilities presented another challenge. These are very sophisticated. In the near future, you will be able to transmit video and sound to the interpreters, advisors in the 'backseat' rooms and to the home countries of member states.

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The entrance of the Eurojust office

How did the security requirements affect the construction process?

All Heijmans workers and subcontractors were required to submit a Certificate of Good Conduct (VOG) and to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Some of the parties involved were subjected to General Intelligence and Security Service screening. Yet another precautionary measure: dummy pipelines were drawn on the construction drawings, but exactly what they were to contain was kept hidden from most of the parties involved. A great deal of use was also made of vaults and protected memory sticks during construction. Nothing was left to chance.

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Eurojust is located in a rather upscale neighbourhood to put it mildly. Does a stately neighbourhood like this affect how you manage the local environment?

Yes, you are even more aware of the tact and diplomacy that are needed. The district includes the embassies of Sweden, China and South Korea. We visited these embassies and during our meetings we literally unfolded our drawings. This went very well. Furthermore, the principal, the Central Government Real Estate Agency imposed the condition that noise generated during construction was not to exceed 65 dB. This had an impact on various aspects, including the foundation engineering. In addition, we had to prevent the grouted anchors [used to stabilise the sheet pile walls – ed.] from infringing on the territory of the Chinese embassy. Normally, these are installed at an angle of 25 to 45 degrees. To avoid problems, we installed them at an angle of 60 degrees.

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The entrance of the Eurojust office

How did you gain the trust of nearby residents?

As far as local environment management is concerned, we also had to deal with private individuals – generally highly educated people with legal knowledge. Initially, there were quite a few complaints about parking, but fortunately this was resolved. When you act with care, take people seriously and do not make any empty promises, you gain people's trust.

In addition, we involved the local residents in everything: kick-off meeting, laying the first stone, the highest point and the tree planting day. For security reasons, we were unable to invite local residents for a tour of the grounds. But to compensate for this, we invited them to take a look at the construction pit. This was very much appreciated. Things remained quiet during the weekly walk-in hour.