Tackling 3 Cities – Hilversum, Utrecht and Rotterdam

It has begun…

At 8:00 am on a chilly Amsterdam morning there is a great sense of anticipation and excitement shared by 50 (slightly jetlagged) Australian Architects. Brickworks have crafted an impressive itinerary for the 2018 Architour which tracks between Amsterdam and Venice. The tour sets a cracking pace, over 30 buildings across 11 cities to be visited in 6 days. This blog will capture the shared experience and conversations that form the tour.

Hilversum Town Hall by Willem Dudok was a fitting first building to kick off the tour. Constructed of 680,000 custom made mustard bricks the building was designed to serve as the seat for Hilversum’s municipal council in the Netherlands. The building sits within a larger park context and appears to emerge from a body of water located in front of the hall. Built in 1931 and inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright the building is recognised as one of the most influential of its time. Of most interest to the group were the materials and level of detail achieved in the building. Beyond the vast mustard bricks the envelope features glazed blue and green tiles which define the key public entries to the building. There is a consistency between the exterior finishes which translate internally to create a very beautiful sequence of spaces. Deep window reveals and circular columns, lined with golden ceramic tiles create a glow to the hall and the blue external tiles translate to patterned blue wallpaper to the cabinet room.

The following 3 buildings visited were located within the University of Utrecht. In 1974 the university outgrew its inner city campus and was forced to split and relocate a number of faculties to a new site and campus. In 1986 OMA were commissioned to complete a masterplan for the site that proposed to connect a number of fragmented components. This masterplan has become a key document in guiding the future expansion and development of the campus. Three of the new buildings set out in the masterplan were visited. Each building yielding a different program and designed by different architects.

  • Minnaert building (Neutelings Reidijk) 1994-1998
  • Educatorium (OMA) 1993-1997
  • Utrecht University Library (Wiel Arts) 1997-2004

Collectively, the Utrecht University Library, designed by Wiel Arts, became the favourite. The building adopts the graphic of a forest which has been adapted internally and externally, taking on two variations which contribute to a very unique spatial experience. Firstly, the graphic is overlaid on the facade where it is used to mediate soft natural light through a series of operable glazed fritted screens. Secondly, the graphic is used internally as a relief imprinted on a number of large concrete panels which line the interior. Taking on a black painted finish there is a great sense of the interior being carved. This dual application yields a wonderful sense of lightness to the edges of the library compared to a carved and cavernous interior. The large central atrium is key to the space and works in conjunction with spiralling circulation and balcony study spaces, establishing a transparency and constant activation of library.

Upon arrival to Rotterdam the group was treated to a tour of OMA’s de Rotterdam. Conceived as a dynamic vertical city, the tower contributes to the regeneration of the old harbour district. Through its combined hotel, commercial and apartment program the building works hard to reinstate the once vibrant urban energy of the city neighbourhood. With a floor area of approximately 162,000m2 it is the largest building, not only in the Netherlands, but also Luxembourg and Belgium – and also the heaviest! The core alone weighs 100,000 tonnes which called for a particularly bespoke structural solution. Built on very poor soil and within a high water table it was important for the structure to accommodate 6 centimetres of sinking during the construction period. This is achieved through structural columns in the basement which have been designed with tolerance  through removable steel plates to accommodate the settlement.

The final 2 projects visited in Rotterdam divided the group. Both had matching programs – residential paired with mixed use. And both had similarly urban aspirations – to reinvigorate a deteriorating city area and establish a community. However, the buildings expressed two distinctly different approaches. The first project – Cube Houses, designed by architect Piet Blom, consisted of 270 dwellings divided across 3 different typologies – a tower, terraces and cubic housing. Bridging a highway the project establishes a complex circulation approach taking the form of a series of pedestrian ‘streets’ which connect residences. Externally, the building appears as a tetrus of stacked and rotated cubes, translating into an interesting form but also creating a unique and compromised living experience. Some argued the project was whimsical and playful, an opportunity to encourage a different demographic to live in the city. Others were less convinced, arguing the form was prohibitive and ultimately questioned the responsibility of the architect to provide spatially functional rather than formally driven outcomes.

The second project – Markthal, designed by MVRDV architects, was conceived as a marketplace with 202 apartments and luxury housing. The project was born out of new laws which removed open air outdoor markets from Rotterdam. The accommodation contains the marketplace through creating a grand arch, positioning apartments to look both out towards the city and inwards to the marketplace below. The internal face of the arch which forms the canopy of the marketplace is decorated with one of the largest artworks in the world and illustrates a delightfully colourful array of fruits and vegetables falling from the sky. The project has undoubtedly invigorated the city and has become a popular tourist destination. The success of the project can be further understood through recent studies which indicate the project has had the same impact on Rotterdam as a new city centre. However there was much discussion surrounding whether the extremely public nature of the the building is conducive to residential living.

The first day of the tour saw the group cover an extraordinary amount of ground and provoked much discussion regarding both the urban and architectural contributions within the Netherlands.

Hannah Slater is a practicing Architect currently working in Sydney with Neeson Murcutt Architects. She completed her studies in Architecture and Interior Design at the Queensland University of Technology. Following her education she spent time in Johannesburg, South Africa, working with Peter Rich Architects on a number of significant cultural projects.

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