Dutch Architects Balance the Familiar and the Avant-Garde

The avant-garde Dutch architecture firm MVRDV (an initialism of the names of the founding members, Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries) has handled a wide selection of projects, by a doghouse and individuals houses to entire sections of cities in and outside of the Netherlands.

Research is the consistency in the company’s endeavors; no matter building type, size or location, the architects completely analyze the contributing factors to design buildings best suited to the customer and how they will be used. A variety of books have documented the voluminous research MVRDV has generated since their its in 1993, but MVRDV Buildings (the latest book and the company’s first monograph), edited by Ilka and Andreas Ruby and published by nai010, focuses on 37 buildings that were recognized.

With the importance of social housing in the Netherlands, MVRDV has realized many multifamily housing projects, but it has also designed single-family homes. This ideabook appears at six of those projects presented in MVRDV Buildings, an superb monograph that allows readers know about the buildings in the points of view of the clients and consumers, not only the architects.

Didden Village
Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 2006

MVRDV’s very first job in its own hometown was this small rooftop expansion for the Didden family. Ghislaine van de Kamp and Sjoerd Didden wished to include three bedrooms to the three-story building they had been living and functioning; the first two floors were to the latter and the top floor was to the prior.

The blue addition, covered in polyurethane, seems to reply to the sky instead of the historical redbrick buildings it sits and alongside.

The 3 bedrooms sit atop the roof as two cubes topped with gables, floating inside a terrace, also covered in blue. The planter is treated with the identical material and color as the addition, strengthening the comic-like facet of the plan.

The natural wood interior is a distinct contrast with the blue exterior, but the color is observable through the various openings — at least one per side. In the largest bedroom, pictured here, we could observe that every opening is also a door providing access to the large terrace.

Access to the expansion happens via spiral stairs, all them prefab units lifted into place prior to the addition was included.

Notice how the stairs don’t even touch the floor — they are suspended from above and prevent one step in the floor. The Diddens’ three-story building is a landmark, so changes to it had been retained to a minimal.

While the spiral stairs seem the exact same in the last photograph, the one serving the two children’s bedrooms and playroom includes a central void big enough to get a rope for them to scale down and up on. With this kind of a lively exterior, this touch is hardly a surprise.

Barcode House
Munich, 2005

Another single-family residence in the book (one of the few by the company, that “sees the single-family home because the worst-case scenario of urban development,” as the book notes) is to get a couple who sold their own successful marketing business in 2004 to spend more time with their “patchwork family of seven,” as the book describes it. Aiming to get a location with a balance of urban feel and countryside, they bought a large plot of land not far from the center of Munich.

From the beginning MVRDV conceptualized their house because a parallel arrangement of barcode-like strips from front to rear, hence the title of the house. The garage’s dimpled facade fronts the road, providing access to the house via a gate on the side.

On the other end of the house the result is very different — solidity gives way to transparency, and the primary living area looks out to the backyard.

A small courtyard with a sunken pool divides the house’s two chief volumes, which can be linked underground. The local planning regulations required a split to “front house” and “back house,” which coincided with the owner’s wish for separate living and working spaces. From here we can observe the barcode-like strips, each one devoted to another use. In this scenario they house the bedrooms, stairs, living and kitchen area.

Here is one strip that houses stairs, stairs and a cool zebra lamp.

The strips imply that every space usually receives light from either side (though the more compact spaces front only one altitude). Here we are seeing a workspace in front quantity, which receives some direct sunshine and a few light filtered through orange translucent panels.

Amsterdam, 1997

This building with 100 units for older residents in the city’s Osdorp area was MVRDV’s first housing project — it was one of its first jobs, period, establishing the company as an important young voice in modern architecture. Strict height and area limitations originating out of a 1950s master plan meant that only 87 of 100 desirable units may fit into the volume of the slab. MVRDV responded by cantilevering the remaining 13 units off one side of the building.

The five wood-clad boxes dramatically project in the glass facade, behind which can be a single-loaded corridor serving these units.

As stated in the book, one couple was 13th on a waiting list to get a unit, only to wind up with it since all those 12 in front of them were dissuaded by the cantilever. Sure, the unit replacements when trucks pass, but “you get used to it,” a homeowner attests.

The 87 other units have cantilevered boxes as well, however they are much shallower balconies with coloured glass guardrails.

Not merely do the glass guardrails create stripes of colored light on the facade, but they bring the colors into different units. The residents get to check out the environment through improved- and other-colored glasses.

Amsterdam, 2003

Another powerful job by MVRDV (though not as photogenic than WoZoCo) is the Silodam, a mixed-use project that is a renovation of an old silo built on top of a dam in the IJ River. The building is like a patchwork quilt, reflecting the mix of different unit types — not merely the office, residential and commercial spaces but the various apartment types inside the latter.

Uniquely, the building could be approached by foot, vehicle or boat (it’s a parking garage and a boat dock), however its dead-end place means it is quite quiet, something that many residents cherish.

While buying a unit, residents purchase principles that restrict changes to the structure, like adding personal effects to the color-coded corridors. This goes counter to the grab-bag outside and how empty spaces were created for residents to change (for instance, a library and a fitness center).

The variety of residential types means that some units have double-height living spaces or small courtyards. The random-looking exterior certainly doesn’t extend indoors, where the dwelling spaces are big and well considered.

Copenhagen, Denmark, 2005

Another reef transformation — more silos to boot — could be seen in Copenhagen’s old harbor area. Instead of Silodam’s quilt-like expression, Frøsilo is simple and straightforward, accentuating the kind of the silos.

Given the size and strength of both grain silos’ concrete walls, MVRDV made the units to be hung on the outside of those. Therefore only one opening per unit has been demanded through the concrete, and interior is a central atrium.

The atrium is easily the project’s showstopper. Here is a view each resident receives from below.

And this is the view from above. The staggering of stairs strengthens the community that has formed in the building. The elevator could be only barely glimpsed in the bottom-left corner.

Some residents attest to the difficulty in furnishing an apartment with curved walls. Several have responded in creative ways, however think it’s a small cost to pay for the generous balconies and lovely views.

Hagen Island
The Hague, the Netherlands, 2003

At the big end of MVRDV’s spectrum is the master plan it developed to get a part of Ypenburg, a new Dutch town for 30,000 inhabitants. The plan is made up of five housing projects, three of them made by MVRDV. One of them, Hagen Island, is the only one devoted to affordable housing. The coloured gable forms have been a precursor to the Didden Village job we saw at the beginning of the ideabook.

The plan is made up of staggered bars of row homes between a parallel network of gravel and brick-paved walkways; parking is relegated to the perimeter, as shown in the prior picture.

The different colors and materials found on the gabled forms allow for a few feelings of identity within the mixture. They can also be seen as the architect’s commentary on the “little boxes” that compose the suburbs, even in Europe.

The combo of car-free walks along with a yard for each and every row house makes Hagen Island a desirable place for families with children.

While the cheapest row homes are in constant blocks from one end to another, MVRDV created smaller footprints and much more variety by cutting infrastructure costs (the perimeter soft and parking emitting) and by simplifying details on the buildings’ exteriors. The project reveals how the architects can balance the practical and the creative to achieve something comfortable yet different.

MVRDV Buildings – EUR 65

MVRDV Buildings, edited by Ilka and Andreas Ruby (nai010, 2013). More info

More: The Timeless Gable Takes a New Turn

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