Sjoekie de Bijll Nachenius takes new step in her career

Connecting and letting go
Sjoekie de Bijll Nachenius takes new step in her career

With the experience and the pleasure that Sjoekie de Bijll Nachenius gained at BiermanHenket, she says goodbye to the firm at the end of this year. In the knowledge that the office is in good hands, because: “There is whole new generation that - under the inspiring leadership of Janneke, Yvonne and Joep - will help move the firm forwards with their experience and new energy.” People with connecting qualities who, like her, want to be surprised. 

“What makes this profession so interesting and fascinating is that with each new project, you step into a new world. An environment with an ecosystem of its own, ready for you to discover. That starts with the people and organisations. How do they work, and how do we work together in the design process?” Sjoekie says. “But it is also the energy that you experience when a project is taking shape, and you walk through your own design one day. Each time, that is a sensation.” And to think that during her studies in Delft, she designed an archaeological museum for shipwrecks. She then thought that such an opportunity to be surprised would not occur very often in working life. The opposite proved to be the case. “The portfolio of BiermanHenket only has ‘graduation projects’ in the most spectacular places.”

Socially relevant
What started with her application with the firm because of the Maas theatre in Rotterdam was given a follow-up in the most diverse projects that all share one important feature: their social relevance. Like the nationally listed Open-Air Swimming Pool in Zwolle. “An almost impossible job from a technical point of view, but the people involved had so much love for this place.” Civil-engineering projects also came along, such as the Barrage Ensemble Nederrijn en Lek and the lock at Eefde. “The renovation of the Barrage Ensemble had been contracted out to an electro-technical company, but the barrages also have an undeniable architectural quality. Partly as a result of our efforts, the whole ensemble – the barrages in Hagestein, Amerongen and Driel – was regarded as a monument during the renovation.” A designation that the Lock complex in Eefde already boasted. Here, the integration into the landscape of a new passageway required extra attention. “Every day, this lock attracts many visitors. In order not to disturb the special experience, an aesthetic programme of requirements has been drawn up in cooperation with the landscape architect. With the new chamber enhancing the character of the monumental lift towers and with sufficient space around the lock for watching the spectacle of ships passing through the lock.”

The more complex, the more interesting
Where history, social aspects, research and technical knowhow meet, the qualities of BiermanHenket have full play. Sjoekie: “We love projects that people have a connection with, places that matter. The more complex the job, the more interesting it is. That is where our strength lies. We are good at listening. To people and to the environment. While looking at the influence of history and how this comes together with the function.” Exploring the boundaries is something that is not shunned in the process. This also goes for the Prinsenhof in Delft, where a connecting corridor and 32 height differences are taken leave of to ensure that the museum will become more accessible and more open. “We are not afraid to make choices, because such a firm intervention sometimes allows you to tackle multiple problems at the same time. Besides, making a statement is never the starting point, it is always the consequence of the question.”

2019, firm excursion Luxemburg
2017, firm excursion Copenhagen

Removing thresholds
The starting point for BiermanHenket is: it has to be right and beautiful. This has been in the office's DNA ever since its incorporation. 18 years ago, Hubert-Jan Henket passed on the baton to Janneke and Sjoekie. His professional and human values inspired Sjoekie and have characterised the agency to this very day. “Together with Janneke, Joep and Yvonne, we have constantly worked on building a close-knit team. In addition, we try to give talents room for further development. And we feel that it is very important that our people have something extra that makes others turn to them. This may be technical knowhow, reveal itself in design power, but also in communication and intuition.” Not everyone becomes a great architect, but that does not mean that you cannot excel in facets of the profession, as Sjoekie experienced.

The strength of connection
“My strength as a communicator and connector became clearer when the office grew from 12 to 40 employees. I have always made efforts to include everyone, be patient, get people on board and give them confidence. That is the foundation of our team. We work with each other and for each other, and combine loyalty and togetherness with enthusiasm and familiarity.” Aspect that are important internally, but also define a vital relationship with the client. And... a dimension of the profession that is attractive to Sjoekie. “I love the process side. It is interesting how you find out in a conversation with the client what the real question is. These conversations, listening, weighing options and determining the strategy are what makes the profession attractive. They are the first steps towards establishing a structure together. A foundation on which you create the space for architecture that unites beauty, sustainability, functionality and durability for the future.”

Combining that love for what exists with free thinking about the future is ingrained in her and the firm. But also investing in yourself and stimulating each other. Getting better. Taking responsibility. Being flexible, offering space and meeting each other. “And never stop going for what is good!”

Firm excursion Bangkok 2008
Sjoekie, Janneke and Yvonne in the office - 2018

Intervied and article by Katja van Roosmalen