Headway is an initiative from The New York Times exploring the world’s challenges through the lens of progress. We look for promising solutions, notable experiments and lessons from what’s been tried.



When the Dutch National Bank moved into its Amsterdam headquarters in 1968, the new buildings were epic and stylish. A sprawling Modernist landmark that took up an entire city block off the banks of the Amstel Canal, it was distinguished by a towering high-rise of polished ochre tile.

Surrounding the tower were low-slung offices raised on columns, giving the impression that the whole complex was hovering, monumental and airy, just above the ground. In 1991, when more office space was needed, a second tower was built. This one, cylindrical and swathed in bluish glass, earned the nickname “the cigarette lighter” for the slanted roof that looked as if it could be flicked on.

People either loved or hated working in the cigarette lighter, with its blue-tinted offices, carpeted in gray, that splayed out from a curving central hallway like slices of pie. Eventually, though, opinions didn’t matter. A few decades into the new millennium, the entire complex began to show signs of wear.

Tiles fell off the facade. Pipes began to leak. And, perhaps most troubling in a country that prized itself on environmental innovation, its overextended heating systems burned too much fuel. In 2020, an architecture firm completed a design plan that would update the original structures and transform the inner courtyard into a public garden.

The plan did not include the cigarette lighter. Twenty years after it had been tacked on, it had exhausted its function. It would have to go.Typically, the fate of a building that has outlasted its usefulness is demolition, leaving behind a huge pile of waste.