Ten years after Bart Lootsma’s seminal, sell-out book, “SuperDutch, New Architecture in the Netherlands”, the country’s younger practices demonstrate a consistent interest in finding original urban design solutions. But they are working on reduced budgets long after the Golden Age, that helped to launch practices like UN Studio and MVRDV, ended.
While the datascapes MVRDV became celebrated for embraced the entire “situation” of an architectural challenge, in a way that allowed the architect a certain measure of control, now it appears that the fad of datascaping has been usurped by environmental interests in advancing sustainable, people-centred architecture and the advantages of the informal. Nonetheless original uses of space and form, if less spectacular these days, prevails in the hands of the post-SuperDutch generation.
One of the most exciting interests of Dutch design that never fails to be given pride of place is landscape. West 8, set up by Adriaan Geuze in 1987, with their advanced multidisciplinary skills were, like MVRDV, included in SuperDutch, are still the leading, internationally known Dutch landscape practice, even though Mecanoo, founded in 1984 and better known for buildings, has created the Bijlmerpark in Amsterdam Southeast, “designed as an experience for the senses”, which opens this summer. This spring West 8’s connected series of parks next to the River Manzanares in Madrid is fully completed, following the placing underground of 43 km of motorway tunnels and exit routes. Two big concrete dome bridges celebrate the revitalisation of this down-at-heel district, their ceilings boating mosaic murals by Spanish artist Daniel Canogar depicting local residents.
SeARCH was founded in 2002 by Bjarne Mastenbroek and Uda Visser who claim that “our projects are conceived as landscapes... endless and open, they connect architecture with the urban, interior with exterior”. While their projects are very different to West 8’s there is common sensibility towards architecture which “strengthens the surrounding landscape, rather than dominating or ignoring it”. Treating architectural space like extendable landscape, they forge innovative techniques such as double ground use, hiding and intertwining buildings and traffic flows to increase the usable space on a site, making larger functional and public spaces possible.
SeARCH’s Posbank Pavilion in the Veluwezoom National Park is completely transparent to its surroundings. Its floor rises in a continuous spiral that wraps itself around a group of trees. The Forest Tower at Schovenhorst, Putten, offers a condensed route with all the features of a country walk, rather than a simple vertical climb.
Anne Holtrop’s Trail House, a pavilion in an overgrown field in Almere, is a product of its site in a different way, branching along a series of paths made by walkers. Together with Studio Noach, he created Floating Gardens, a design for a spa/wellness facility, made of recycled polystyrene, and covered in vegetation, flowers and plants created by Patrick Blanc, the inventor of the Vertical Garden, demonstration that plants do not need soil.
One of the best recent projects for the Netherlands’ extensive industrial heritage is OTH’s Kraanspoor office building laid on top of an abandoned concrete craneway on the grounds of the preserved NDSM shipyard in Amsterdam. Four stairwells remain as entrances. The new structure “floats” on slim steel columns 3 metres above the craneway, its transparent double skin glass climate façade naturally ventilates the offices and acts as a buffer against heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Water from the River Ij is pumped up and used for heating and cooling. OTH’s founder, Trude Hooykaas, plans to convert the site’s other halls, slipways, production buildings and workshops. “The entire place with its shipping industrial past has an intense energy. The object is to intertwine the old with the new, to preserve history, and not lose this energy”.
Founders of 2012Architecten, Jan Jongert and Césare Peeren, regard design not as the beginning of a linear process but as “a phase in a continuous cycle of creation and recreation”, using and redeploying building materials, energy supplies, human resources, water, traffic and food cycles. They take their inspiration from the creative use of waste material which occurs in situations of scarcity, and establish a lineage with the self-help architecture created in the US in the 1970s, for example the Earthships shown in the film “Garbage Warrior”.
At a lecture in London Jongert showed installations including washing machines recombined to create a mobile studio and windscreens from the Audi 100 used to create shelving.
Ecological architecture in the Netherlands is leaning towards the notion of self-sustainable neighbourhoods, but while this is still emerging, completed buildings such as Rau Architects’ World Wide Fund in Zeist produces more energy than it uses. More recently Powerhouse Company and RAU developed H2Otel, a concept for the Netherlands’ first carbon-neutral luxury hotel in Amsterdam next to the Amstel River shown in “Why Design Now?” the latest National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. It deploys louvres for passive solar energy, adaptive sensors for temperature control and low tech water management solutions.
MVRDV is globally acclaimed for its original urban design solutions, and another exhibit in “Why Design Now?”, The VerticalVillage, explored various alternatives to multiple unit housing blocks on a number of different scales. For Didden Village, a rooftop house extension for a family in Rotterdam, the architects created a “mini-village” on top of an old residence with bedrooms and individual houses connected by plazas. Turquoise colour being the signature of the project.
For a temporary installation in Taipei, Taiwan, existing buildings are used as “hosts” for extensions of different typologies, materials and forms, based on the informal structures on rooftops in congested cities such as Taipei and Beijing.
The Netherlands Architecture Institute’s new publication, “Architecture of Consequence”, focuses on solutions for pressing social issues, with a great emphasis on alternative energy, but in the context of an agenda that includes new kinds of social cohesion and connection to overcome “growing socio-psychological polarization”. It is not enough to talk about what Dutch urban design looks like: projects that are “super” in the 21st century are those which promote a believable alternative future with the user given a central empowering role.