The Home and the City

The projects visited on day 2 of the Architour were focussed around two key typologies; housing and significant cultural buildings. The project visits took the group to the wonderfully successful public plazas of the city centre and the more intimate communities to the peripheral city suburbs.

Day 2 began again with a project that featured bricks. This project however was unique in its untraditional approach through its high use of glass bricks. The brief for Crystal Houses by MVRDV architects called for the design of a flagship store to combine both Dutch heritage and international architecture. The most impressive feature of the storefront is its glass brick facade which matches the original design of the building. The facade transitions from fully glass brick from the base of the shopfront to its original clay brick at the top. The brick facade avoids the use of mortar and the clear joints allow a transparency and visibility to be achieved from the street. The detailing of the window and door frames is particularly impressive and contributes to the transparency. The design is clear and successful in its aspiration to provide more innovative solutions to respond to the perceived globalisation of retail. The result is a street treatment which fulfils its retail requirement whilst remaining sensitive to the character and heritage of the neighbourhood.

The morning was spent visiting a number of Galleries in Amsterdam:

  • Rijksmuseum (Pierre Cuypers) 1876-1885 + Asia Pavillion (Cruz y Ortiz) 2001-2013 + Interiors (Jean-Michel Wilmotte) 2001-2013
  • Van Gogh Museum (Gerrit Rietveld, Joan Van Dillen, Johan Van Tricht) 1963-1973 + Extension (Kisho Kurokawa) 1998-1999 + New Entry (Hans van Heeswijk Architects) 2014-2015
  • Stedelijk Museum (Adrian Willem Wiessman) 1890-1895 + Extension (Benthem Crouwel) 2004-2012
  • EYE Film Museum (Delugan Missel) 2009-2012

Three of the galleries are centrally located in Museumplein, known as the cultural heart of Amsterdam. Its urban redesign in the 1990’s has consolidated the public space and turned it into a true urban ‘living room’. The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum are all positioned around this generous green public plaza which focuses a dynamic energy to which all the buildings collectively contribute.

Of the three museums which share this urban plaza the group agreed that the most successful architectural space amongst the galleries visited was the most recent renovation work by Cruz y Ortiz in the Rijksmuseum. This work created an impressive new entry and assembly hall. The museum is accessed through a busy central pedestrian, vehicular and cycle circulation route which directs traffic under and through the grand brick archways of the museum, dissecting the gallery in two. This functions to form the main public entry to the building from which visitors descend into a light filled sunken space. Glass walls to either side allow for patrons to see out as they gather in the hall and dually offers a view for commuters back into the gallery from the exterior. These new atrium spaces occupy the former courtyards and are held by wonderful red brick walls. Glass roofs in combination with new white battened ceiling features encouraged natural dappled light to wash the brick facades.

The final project visit for the day was the first housing complex completed by MVRDV architects. The project is located in the suburban community of Osdorp which had been looking for innovative ways to deal with the significant density increases necessary to support the growing populations of Amsterdam, whilst retaining as much green space as possible. MVRDV were tasked with the design challenge of providing 100 units for elderly residents on a particularly spatially constrained site. In accommodating required solar access it became evident that a creative solution would have to be developed to accommodate for 13 apartments which did not fit within the envelope. This constraint ultimately led to the unique building design which allocates those additional apartments as large cantilever over the street edge to the North. Large trusses are concealed behind timber cladding to support the overhanging apartments. The northern edge of the building houses the apartment circulation and has been defined as the public edge. By comparison, the southern facade engages with a common shared green space activated by a rainbow of coloured balconies.

In wandering around the site there is a sense that in some respects the original urban intentions have been achieved. There is a good mix of housing typologies through the active engagement of multiple architects which ultimately yields variable built outcomes for the neighbourhood.

Some members of the group however queried the success of the southern facade and argued whether the building could more appropriately engage with the street to offer a public realm beneath the cantilevered extensions.

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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