by Tom Bosschaert

June 29, 2017

Tom Bosschaert

The Utrecht Community (UCo) is the national center for sustainable entrepreneurship in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Located in the heart of the city, UCo fosters a community of over 180 pioneering sustainability-driven entrepreneurs and SMBs, and is an outstanding example of innovative and sustainable building design. Except developed UCo to be much more than simply a building. After opening its doors in 2017, it has become a shining light for the Dutch sustainability orientend business community to develop, discover, innovate, and grow together.

UCo features a globally pioneering sustainable design for the building as well as its interior. However, UCo is much more than a building - first and foremost, it's a community. The building is there to inspires and provide a sustainable place to work.

Except developed UCo on its own initiative as a continuation of the success of the Rotterdam Collective (Ro-Co), the community for social entrepreneurs in Rotterdam. UCo is a fully operational and working community where MKB's and experienced entrepreneurs can build the foundations and support a sustainable society.

The community centers on a monumental and historic train depot, offering 1800m2 in working, meeting, and demonstration space. Its design and fit-out exemplify the latest in sustainable and circular building design and help create a healthy and inspirational workplace for those using it.

The structure's interior is as circular as possible and socially focused for ease of communication and collaboration. UCo, due to this human-focused approach, is one of Europe's most unique and sustainably-designed buildings.

UCo's core mission is to create a place to strengthen cooperation and partnerships, develop and share knowledge, and allow genuine sustainable change to permeate across society.

UCo's overarching concept

UCo is developed from a vision of constructing a suitable space for long-term cooperation between pioneering organizations and individuals. It accelerates the spread of systems thinking, more holistic approaches in business and allows true sustainability to spread throughout society. Constructing an environment that supports and encourages a community with these inherent values is the most effective way.

The UCo space offers shared working and private offices for the community and aims to attract experienced SMB's with sustainability at their core. Additionally, UCo management helps to further develop partnership programs, workshops, and actively works to find and connect the community to new internal or external partnerships. By doing this, UCo aims to become the foremost center for sustainable entrepreneurship in the Netherlands and the greater Utrecht region.

Innovation communities foster sustainability

UCo builds on Except's mission to take a new theory of working together that is commonly spoken about but rarely put into action. An innovation community is housed with a specially designed structure, however, the building is not the goal in and of itself. Rather, having a place where the individuals and organizations that make up the community can work together and develop, is the sole purpose of the structure.

The design of the building is important as it encourages collaborations, resource and knowledge sharing, interdisciplinary interactions to actually take place. In other words, the structure itself doesn't produce innovative ideas (of course) but supports and enhances the individuals and culture of cooperation that does. In saying that, UCo also happens to be an excellent example of what can happen when this kind of collaboration is allowed.

Click here to read more about innovation communities.

New life for an old building

One of the biggest challenges we faced after initiating the UCo community was finding an appropriate venue. In 2012 we came across an old, dilapidated train depot of the Dutch Railways, used as a makeshift warehouse. After much negotiation, we agreed on the details and began to develop our vision.

The concept was a bold but achievable plan to create an energy and water-neutral, toxin-free, and circular (waste-less) building. A robust business model and support from Dutch Railways helped guide the projects and ensure the venture was genuinely sustainable.

UCo also offers private office spaces, but most businesses prefer to utilize the freedom and openness of a shared workspace. Unlike many other co-working and flex spaces, many members at UCo have dedicated desk spaces.

The main hall is filled with plants and trees, creating an indoor ecosystems, and and almost jungle-like environment that complements the focus on health and toxin reduction during the construction phase.

The building is designed and followed standards throughout the renovation process to ensure energy neutrality - an amazing feat for a heritage-listed building.

The interior has been developed as circular as possible, starting with the carefully chosen and recycled materials to the ability for natural light to filter into workspaces so that no artificial light is necessary. The entire structure, wherever possible, was developed from within the community after being proven affordable and feasible.

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UCo gathers its community through workshops, presentations, parties, and functions. It is multi-use and supported by and for the ever-expanding community.

We may be a little biased, but UCo is a stunning example of a sustainable inspiration becoming realized. While not all our initial goals have yet been realized, we have managed to achieve the highest performance for an adaptive re-use and heritage building in the Netherlands, and likely across Western Europe. That makes us immensely proud.

Click here to visit the UCo website for more information on partners or progress.

June 29, 2017

Project team

  • Tom Bosschaert


  • Michiel van der Vight

    Senior Associate
    Except Integrated Sustainability

  • Mirjam Schmüll

    Urban strategist, process manager

  • Merel Stolker


  • Maaike Stevens

    Designer & Artist
    M.A. Stevens

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