Search the Community
Showing results for tags 'vries'.
Found 1 result
The New York Times Printer Friendly Format Sponsored By June 8, 2008 Allez voir plus de photos sur le site: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/08/magazine/08mvrdv-t.html?_r=1&sq=montreal&st=nyt&oref=slogin&scp=1&pagewanted=all By DARCY FREY In the fall of 2002, a young Dutch architect named Winy Maas came to Yale to give a lecture on designing and building the 21st-century city, the challenges of which he illustrated by showing a 30-second video that could have been shot above any American metropolitan airport: a view of the tops of several buildings and then, as the camera rose, more and more buildings, more roads and bridges and asphalt lots, until an ugly concrete skin of low-rise development spread to all horizons. Maas was not the first architect to protest the unsightly sprawl that humans have left over much of the earth’s surface, but he may have been the first to suggest that we preserve what’s left of our finite planetary space by creating “vertical suburbias” — stacking all those quarter-acre plots into high-rise residential towers, each with its own hanging, cantilevered yard. “Imagine: It’s Saturday afternoon, and all the barbecues are running,” Maas said, unveiling his design for a 15-story building decked out with leafy, gravity-defying platforms. “You can just reach out and give your upstairs neighbor a beer.” He turned next to agriculture. Noting that the Dutch pork industry consumes huge swaths of land — Holland has as many pigs as people — Maas proposed freeing up the countryside by erecting sustainable 40-story tower blocks for the pigs. “Look — it’s a pork port,” he said, flashing images from PigCity, his plan for piling up the country’s porcine population and its slaughterhouses into sod-layered, manure-powered skyscrapers that would line the Dutch coast. Maas is the charismatic frontman for the Rotterdam-based architecture, urban-planning and landscape-design firm known as MVRDV, which brims with schemes for generating space in our overcrowded world. With his messy, teen-idol hair and untucked shirt, Maas strolled the stage extolling the MVRDV credo — maximize urban density, construct artificial natures, let data-crunching computers do the design work — while various mind-bending simulations played across the screen: skyscrapers that tilted and “kissed” on the 30th floor; highways that ran through lobbies and converted into “urban beaches”; all the housing, retail and industry for a theoretical city of one million inhabitants digitally compressed into the space of a three-mile-high cube. The Netherlands, prosperous and progressive, has long been one of the world’s leading exporters of architectural talent. By the mid-1990’s, not only Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture but also a whole new generation of designers — MVRDV, West 8, UNStudio — were trying to enlarge Le Corbusier’s definition of architecture as the “magnificent play of volumes brought together under light” and arguing for a process driven by research, information and a greater social and environmental awareness. Fighting their battles not just building to building but on a sweeping, citywide scale, Holland’s architects and designers were, in the words of the Dutch culture minister, “heroes of a new age.” Still, paradigms tend to fall only under pressure, and at the start of the new millennium an audience at the Yale School of Architecture could be forgiven for greeting vertical suburbs, pig cities and the rest of MVRDV’s computer-generated showmanship with the same slack-jawed disbelief that once greeted Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” or the 1909 Life magazine cartoon that promised an urban utopia of country villas perched atop Manhattan skyscrapers while double-decker airplanes whizzed through their atria. When Maas came to New Haven, MVRDV was barely 10 years old and had hardly built outside its native Holland. And yet there he was with his straight-faced scheme to “extend the globe with a series of new moons” — send up food-producing satellites that would orbit the earth three times a day. “Can you imagine,” he said with a boyish, science-fair enthusiasm that indulged no irony, “if we grew our tomatoes 10 kilometers high?” On the lecture-hall screen, New York’s skyline appeared just as the MVRDV satellite passed overhead, darkening Gotham with a momentary eclipse of the sun. Who were these Dutch upstarts? And in the so-called real world, would anything actually become of their grand, improbable visions? The 45 architects and designers who make up MVRDV (the name is formed by the surname initials of Mass and his two founding partners, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries) work out of a converted, loftlike space in an old printing plant in Rotterdam, a dull but industrious port city whose historic districts were leveled by the Nazis and whose jagged skyline of new office towers and construction cranes attests to its still-restless effort to rebuild. Inside MVRDV, a liquid northern light pours through a wall of high arched windows, and the occasional cries of foghorns and seagulls confirm its location just blocks from the city’s main shipping lane. But otherwise, the mostly 30-something architects who sit with a slouching intensity at rows of long communal tables, surfing Google Earth or manipulating blue-foam architectural models, seem to have their minds in other places. “Now here’s a nice project of ours,” Jacob van Rijs said, leading me over to a small cardboard model for a library near Rotterdam when I visited the firm this spring. Because zoning laws required that the library not exceed the height of the town’s steeple, MVRDV designed it like a barn and filled its spacious interior with a continuous spiral of book-bearing walls leading to a bar and a fireplace at the top. “It’s like a spatialization of a library filing system. Every title will be visible, so you won’t have to know what you’re looking for — you can just come in and browse.” Van Rijs — menschy, informal, with a skill for taking Maas’s flights of rhetoric and bringing them helpfully down to earth — guided me on to the next model, this one for a new housing block in a generic, somewhat featureless region of the Netherlands; from a distance the housing block will appear as giant letters spelling out the region’s name. “It’s like the Hollywood sign — you’ll see our building and instantly know where you are.” And on to the models for an arched, open-air market hall whose ribs are formed by apartment units (“so you can call down from your kitchen window and ask your husband to pick up some fruit”); the design-your-own mountain grottos with interchangeable rooms for a developer in Taiwan (“they’re like customizable Native American caves”); the new soccer stadium in Rotterdam that, because it replaces an older one fondly known as the Tub, will sit like a dish in the Maas River. “You know, what’s the best place for a tub? So we put it in the river!” Van Rijs gave a giddy laugh. “Some projects just make you happy.” Maas and van Rijs, who both worked for Koolhaas, and de Vries, who practiced with the Delft-based Mecanoo, formed MVRDV in 1991 after their design for a Berlin housing project won the prestigious Europan competition for architects under 40. Holland has always been a good place to think creatively about space, with its congested countryside (16 million people squeezed into an area the size of two New Jerseys), its faith in planning and the democratic welfare state and its keen appreciation for land that comes from having reclaimed two-thirds of its own from the edge of the North Sea. Meanwhile, young designers were hoping the economic boom and housing shortage of the 1990s would give them the chance to build domestically on a large scale. Still, two years after they formed MVRDV, Maas, van Rijs and de Vries were struggling to find work and practicing out of makeshift offices (during meetings with prospective clients, they’d sometimes recruit friends to keep the phones ringing and wander through in suits) when a Dutch public broadcasting company, VPRO, approached them about a possible new headquarters in Hilversum. The project’s constraints were formidable. VPRO’s 350 employees — “creative types,” van Rijs says; “individualistic,” de Vries adds; “a settlement of anarchists with an obnoxious attitude toward corporate identity” Maas concludes — were then spread out among several buildings, enjoying their fiefs and the company’s culture of noncommunication. Even if a new headquarters could bring them all under one roof, it was impossible to predict how the employees would actually use the building, given their fluid work patterns and chaotic organizational hierarchies. “The mandate was: How can we get them to start communicating with each other?” Maas says. “And the answer was: By putting them in a box.” Villa VPRO, which became the defining project of MVRDV’s early career, is a densely constructed, five-story box — a “hungry box,” as one critic called it — with an endlessly flowing and adaptable interior that renders in spatial form the company’s anarchic spirit. MVRDV created a concrete labyrinth of winding stairs, twisting ramps and narrow bridges; a continuous surface of stepped and slanted planes with no real walls, just colored-glass partitions so that sunlight could penetrate into the depths of its compact terrain. “Clearly, VPRO was a social-engineering project,” Maas says. “We built a vertical battlefield for the users, one place where they could all meet and argue and find out how to behave. Because of all the hills, slabs and stairs, they were forced to maneuver through the building. Some people hated it — they lost their way, they were overwhelmed by their colleagues. Others loved it. But they all had to deal with each other. I like that. That’s part of life.” A year later, MVRDV took social engineering to a new level when it won a commission to represent Holland in Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany. Expos are notorious excuses for creating second-rate architecture, piling up dreary national pavilions and Disneyfied theme parks around which crowds circulate in a candy-consuming stupor. At the Hanover expo, MVRDV stole the show with another vertical confection — this time a six-story tower of stacked and sustainable artificial Dutch landscapes that included an oak forest, a meadow of potted flowers, ersatz concrete sand dunes for purifying irrigation water and a “polder landscape” of dyke-protected turf powered by wind turbines spinning away on the roof. The MVRDV pavilion was, one critic wrote, “science class with the chutzpah of Coney Island.” Another predicted that it would “go down as one of the few truly great pieces of expo architecture,” alongside Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion and Moshe Safdie’s Habitat flats at the Montreal expo. Visitors lined up for hours to climb through what was inevitably dubbed the “Dutch Big Mac.” But beyond its playful innovation, MVRDV had lofty aspirations for its pavilion, hoping that it would carry the optimistic (and very Dutch) message that in the face of extreme population densities and the craving for open land, you could actually manufacture space — even create an artificial nature out of thin air — by condensing your landscapes on the floors of a building and reproducing them endlessly toward the sky. “The Dutch population is essentially antiurban,” de Vries says. “Therefore as architects in Holland we have a special responsibility to make living in cities and under dense circumstances not just habitable but preferable.” “It was sort of a test case,” Maas says. “At a time when urbanism is still dominated by ‘zoning,’ which is a very two-dimensional approach, we wanted to know: can we extend our surfaces? Can we develop an urbanism that enters the third dimension?” The Hanover pavilion was “a utopian formula born of necessity to allow the unlimited creation of new real estate,” wrote the critic Holger Liebs. It was “a practical model for the reinvention of the world.” At the architectural library at the Delft University of Technology, there’s a copy of a 736-page book by MVRDV called “Farmax: Excursions on Density,” which is a hodgepodge of essays, transcripts, photos, computer designs, graphs and charts, all examining the growing suburban “grayness” of the Dutch landscape and proposing different solutions for saving the pastoral landscape by “carrying density to extremes.” So many students have borrowed, read and plundered that copy of “Farmax” that it had to be pulled from circulation and has sat in a state of complete disintegration inside a kind of glass vitrine. When I mentioned this to van Rijs, he laughed and said: “Yeah, I’ve seen that. Our book is like a museum piece. Isn’t that fun?” While projects like VPRO and the Hanover pavilion were leading to design commissions in Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris, Tokyo and China’s Sichuan province, MVRDV was also reaching outside the realm of established architectural practice by producing a series of theoretical exercises — books, films, exhibitions, even computer games — that amounted to an ongoing propaganda war on behalf of the firm’s radical ideas about space. After “Farmax,” MVRDV put out another doorstop manifesto, “KM3: Excursions on Capacities,” which warned that if the global population “behaved with U.S.-citizen-like consumption,” another four earths would be required to sustain it. In the exhibit 3D City, they pushed ever upward, advocating giant stacking cities that, as MVRDV breathlessly described them, exist “not only in front, behind or next to you, but also above and below. In short a city in which ground-level zero no longer exists but has dissolved into a multiple and simultaneous presence of levels where the town square is replaced by a void or a bundle of connections; where the street is replaced by simultaneous distribution and divisions of routes and is expanded by elevators, ramps and escalators. . . .” Perhaps MVRDV’s most ambitious theoretical exercise was the traveling computer installation they called MetaCity/Datatown. Predicting that globalism and an exploding planetary population will push certain regions throughout the world into continuous urban fields, or megacities, MVRDV conceived a hypothetical city called Datatown, designed solely from extrapolations of Dutch statistics. (“It is a city that wants to be explored only as information; a city that knows no given topography, no prescribed ideology, no representation, no context. Only huge, pure data.”) According to its creators, Datatown was a self-sufficient city with the population of the United States (250 million) crammed into an area the size of Georgia (60,000 square miles), making it the densest place on earth. MVRDV then subjected this urban Frankenstein to 21 scenarios to see how they would affect the built environment: What if all the residents of Datatown wanted to live in detached houses? What if they preferred urban blocks? What could be done with the waste? (Build 561 ski resorts.) What kind of city park would be needed? (A million Central Parks stacked up over 3,884 floors.) “The seas, the oceans (rising as a result of global warming), the polar icecaps, all represent a reduction in the territory available for the megacity. Does that mean that we must colonize the Sahel, the oceans or even the moon to fulfill our need for air and space, to survive? Or can we find an intelligent way to expand the capacities of what already exists?” On one level, MetaCity/Datatown was a game and a provocation — architecture as a kind of thought experiment: can the urban landscape be reduced to a string of ones and zeroes? Is what we think of as outward reality nothing more than the physical manifestation of information? But MetaCity/Datatown was also a serious investigation: by translating the chaos of the contemporary city into pure information — or, as MVRDV called it, a datascape — and then showing the spatial consequences of that datascape through computer-generated designs, MVRDV set out to reveal how our collective choices and behaviors come to mold our constructed environments. “These datascapes show that architectural design in the traditional sense only plays a very limited role,” Bart Lootsma, an architectural historian, writes in one of many essays inspired by the exhibit. “It is the society, in all its complexities and contradictions, that shapes the environment in the most detailed way, producing ‘gravity fields’ in the apparent chaos of developments, hidden logics that eventually ensure that whole areas acquire their own special characteristics — even at a subconscious level.” Lootsma cites a number of these invisible forces — market demands precipitating a “slick” of houses-with-gardens in the Netherlands, political constraints generating “piles” of dwellings on the outskirts of Hong Kong, the cultural preference for white brick causing a “white cancer” of housing estates in the Dutch province of Friesland. These are “the ‘scapes’ of the data behind it,” he writes. Moreover, to the extent that MVRDV approaches architecture not as a conventional expression of aesthetics, materials and form but as an almost scientific investigation into the social and economic forces that influence our constructions, the datascapes were also a dry run for the firm’s own built work. That work, says Aaron Betsky, the former director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute and a longtime MVRDV-watcher, is really an ongoing project of “giving shape to those zeroes and ones,” of making the conceptual real, of turning abstract information into concrete form. When MVRDV begins a project, it starts by assembling information on all the conceivable factors that could play a role in the site’s design and construction — everything from zoning laws, building regulations and technical requirements to client wishes, climatic conditions and the political and legal history of the site. Architects often view these rules and regulations as bureaucratic foils to their creativity. MVRDV sees them as the wellspring of invention. In fact, believing that subjective analysis and “artistic” intuition can no longer resolve the complex design problems posed by the ever-metastisizing global city, the architects sometimes use a home-built software program called Functionmixer. When loaded with all the parameters of a particular construction project, Functionmixer crunches the numbers to show optimal building shapes for any given set of priorities (maximizing sunlight, say, or views, or privacy) and pushes limits to the extreme, where they can be seen, debated and, often, thoroughly undone. It creates a datascape that is the basis of the design. In 1994, for instance, MVRDV was asked to build housing for the elderly — an apartment block with 100 units — in an already densely developed suburb of Amsterdam. Because of height regulations and the need to provide adequate sunlight for residents, only 87 of the called-for units could fit within the site’s restricted footprint. Rather than expand horizontally and consume more of the neighborhood’s green space, MVRDV borrowed a page from its “vertical suburbia” and hung the remaining 13 apartments off the side. Their wonderfully odd WoZoCos housing complex takes the conventional vertical housing block and reorganizes it midair with these bulging extensions that seem to be levitating right up off the ground. Four years later, when MVRDV was selected to build economically mixed housing in Amsterdam’s docklands area, the firm held countless negotiations with the parties involved — local politicians, the planning authority, possible future residents — all of whom advocated for a different distribution of the housing. Eventually MVRDV threw all the data into a computer and came up with the Silodam — 157 apartments of various sizes and prices that sit together in one 10-story multicolored block that rises on stilts from the harbor like a docked container ship. From the outside, the Silodam looks simple enough — as literal as a child’s giant Lego construction — but inside the block is filled with a vast array of dwellings arranged into economically mixed “mini-neighborhoods,” while a series of communal galleries and gangways allow residents to walk from one end of the “ship” to the other. MVRDV’s radical, research-driven methodology has been a source of fascination to critics and competitors from the start. “No one else has found as convincing a way,” writes the historian Lootsma, of “showing the spatial consequences of the desires of the individual parties involved in a design process, confronting them with each other and opening a debate with society, instead of just fighting for one or the other, as most architects would.” And the urbanist and designer Stan Allen, now dean of the Princeton School of Architecture, points out that “rather than impose structure, leading to closure and more precise definition, MVRDV works to keep the schema open as long as possible, so that it can absorb as much information as possible.” In fact, MVRDV’s architects rely so much on gathering and metabolizing data, information and competing points of view that they insist they leave no formal signature on their work. “We try to avoid any sort of aesthetic aspect in our designs,” van Rijs told me. “Unlike Gehry, Zaha and others whose work is easy to recognize, we don’t have a strong personal style. Our methodology is based more on logic. Sometimes we call it an iron logic: depending on the situation, we come and take a look and say: ‘What’s happening? What should be done?’ Then we follow a step-by-step narrative, and when you see the building, you get the final result. It’s the only possible outcome. You cannot see anything else.” But if MVRDV’s design process is really so rational and objective — if, as Stan Allen says, the architects reject “fuzzy intuition” and “artistic expression” for a step-by-step pragmatism in which “form is explained only in relation to the information it encodes: architecture as a series of switches, circuits or relays activating assemblages of matter and information” — then why, Allen asks, are their creations so unexpected and witty, sometimes even so spectacular? Commissioned to build large-scale housing in a sprawling Madrid neighborhood already choked with monotonous low-rise construction, MVRDV designed a typical horizontal housing block with an interior courtyard. Then the architects flipped the block on its side to create Mirador, a towering 22-story icon for the neighborhood with the courtyard now transformed into an enormous, open-air balcony offering sweeping views of the Guadarrama Mountains. Some MVRDV designs are so logical they seem to turn reality on its head. In 2007, two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans, the actor and architectural enthusiast Brad Pitt asked 14 design firms to help his nonprofit Make It Right rebuild the city’s impoverished Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm. Specifically, he asked for designs for an affordable — but also floodproof — 1,200-square-foot house with three bedrooms and a porch. Maas, van Rijs and de Vries — citizens of a country that is continually defending its buildings from the threat of inundation — had already contributed to an exhibit of post-Katrina architecture: inspired by a child’s crayon drawing of New Orleans residents walking to safety up an imaginary hill, they conceived a new elementary school made safe from rising waters by tucking it inside an artificial, grass-covered mound, where balconies hung off the sides and a playground covered the top. Now, having received Brad Pitt’s call, they came up with an ingenious, almost whimsical solution to the problem of future flooding: their “Bend House” was a variation on the South’s traditional low-slung shotgun houses, this one hinged in the middle so that its front and back are raised above the waterline. Some critics were appalled. By creating a dwelling that already looked flood-damaged, perhaps even uninhabitable, MVRDV appeared to be using the New Orleans disaster to score political points or, worse, to be winking ironically at the residents’ ongoing plight. Others thought the Bend House was emblematic of MVRDV’s best work and of the architects’ knack for creating buildings whose formal inventiveness arises from the explicit display of the social or environmental problems that brought them to life: VPRO’s endless interiors signaling the need for social connection; WoZoCos’s hanging boxes showing how to preserve our green spaces; the festively striped Silodam offering ways to mix rich and poor. “The architecture that we make is part of the ordinary, part of our pop culture,” Maas told me. “At the same time, the buildings try to engage with society by questioning our behavior and offering alternatives. And they offer those alternatives by showing — visibly, obviously — in their actual design the social problems we were trying to address. When you see the object, you see the question.” Maas’s remark brought to mind an appraisal of MVRDV’s work by the French architect Alain Guiheux. “A great mystery in architectural projects surrounds the definition of what is acceptable to the client,” he writes. Where does the client’s caution and censorship begin? At what point does that caution become the architect’s own self-censorship? Guiheux goes on to say that MVRDV tries to resist society’s censorship — and overcome its own — by using playfulness to “soften up conformity” and by “pushing back the line between the reasonable and the incredible.” That, he says, is their “magic,” and has effected a break with architectural convention “like that undergone by painting at the beginning of the 20th century, pre- or post-Duchamp.” In the case of MVRDV’s New Orleans Bend House, the playful break with convention was not accomplished without considerable debate. “When you have a federal government that doesn’t invest in its levees, that makes people’s land completely worthless, that makes its own citizens insanely poor, you need a design that makes a protest, that rises up and says, What is going on here?” Maas said. “But in discussions with Brad and the others, we kept asking: Yes, but can we show that explicitly? Can we come out with that? It’s going to look ironic! How can you be ironic in the face of disaster? Will the American people be angry? “But even in the most tragic circumstances,” Maas went on, “there is often a moment of irony. Well, is it irony? Or is it really more like . . . ?” He paused, at an uncharacteristic loss for words. “There is this beautiful German word, Trost. It means empathy, or solace, or maybe consolation. I think that is what our building meant to express. You know, if the waters are going to come, let them come. Let’s do it. Let’s just turn and face it.” Darcy Frey is a contributing writer for the magazine. His last article was about bears who were overtaking a Canadian town. Home * World * U.S. * N.Y. / Region * Business * Technology * Science * Health * Sports * Opinion * Arts * Style * Travel * Jobs * Real Estate * Automobiles * Back to Top Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company