Dutch civil servants have been warned off dancing in their staff restaurant for fear that the floors of their renovated building might not take the strain.
The foreign ministry has circulated a memo saying safety concerns mean they should also avoid over-stacking photocopier paper, placing a second row of chairs around conference room tables, or installing heavy cupboards and safes in their offices, the NOS public broadcaster reports.
King Willem-Alexander himself opened the building in The Hague in November 2017 after extensive renovation work, but it has been plagued by staff complaints from the start.
‘Dark and depressing’
Rijnstraat 8 also houses the infrastructure and water ministry as well as the immigration and asylum services, and the 6,000 staff told a workplace survey that they have to cope with lack of privacy, a serious shortage of workstations, and “dark and depressing” decor, among other indignities.
This prompted Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra to have the black walls repainted white soon after the building re-opened, but complaints have kept coming.
Government minister Raymond Knops had to assure parliament last year that stairs will be evened out after two civil servants injured themselves falling over steps in what critics have taken to calling the “blunder building”.
The steady stream of media criticism has stung the OMA team of architects, who maintain that they worked strictly to the specifications they were given for the renovation work, which won an award for sustainability.
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The foreign ministry warning comes after a car park under construction at Eindhoven Airport collapsed during stress testing in 2017, where the floor panels were of a similar design.
Inspectors also closed off parts of another building in The Hague housing the justice and interior ministries after finding problems with the floor design last year.
The Central Government Real Estate Agency, which maintains official buildings, has sought to assure staff that Rijnstraat 8 is perfectly safe, and that inspectors operate on the principle of “better safe than sorry”.
“We know it’s annoying for staff when the whole building isn’t available for use without restrictions,” the Agency told NOS, adding that if would brief the civil servants and provide “floor walkers” to address their concerns.
But not all of the denizens of Rijnstraat 8 sympathise with their foreign ministry neighbours. “They used to live like kings in some embassy in Africa, and now they’re back here they can’t even find a seat,” one civil servant told De Telegraaf newspaper.
Some MPs have expressed concerns after OMA was recently put in charge of sprucing up the parliament building, but a government spokesman has assured them that these are “two completely different projects” – a turn of phrase unlikely to mollify the architects or their critics.
Reporting by Martin Morgan
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