The Van Nelle Factory from the Front

The Van Nelle Factory: A Modernist Architectural Classic

  • The Van Nelle Factory
  • Constructed 1925-1931
  • Architects: Leendert van der Vlugt of Brinkman & Van der Vlugt
  • Address: Van Nelleweg 1, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Introduction

At 220m long, 8 stories high and 60,000m² in size the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam rises up against the flat landscape surrounding it even if it doesn’t tower above the other buildings like it once did when it was finished in 1931.

Designed and built in the 1920’s on the banks of a canal in an industrial zone on the then outskirts of Rotterdam it was a pioneer of a new form of Construction that the Dutch called literally New Building or ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’. This was a modern factory building made just at the birth of Modernism and incorporating the latest technology plus techniques developed on site by the constructors it became one of the buildings that would go on to define the style of modernism itself. A modernist classic from the day it opened.

Now a UNESCO heritage site it still maybe is not as well known as it should be being both a great influence in early modernism and an beautiful piece of frozen social history that is often overlooked.

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Unité d’Habitation: The Brutalist Boat

Unité d’habitation

Key Information

  • Name: Unité d’habitation
  • Location: Marseille, France
  • Architect: Le Corbusier
  • Year: 1947-52

Introduction Le Corbusier’s first Unité d’Habitation 

The Marseille Unitéd’habitation which literally means unit of habitation is the first of the series of experimental and futuristic housing blocks developed by the Architect Le Corbusier after WWII. It became one of the most influential Modernist buildings of all time with countless iterations tried by other Architects all over the world and developed in different directions and with different levels of success.

Corbusier himself built four more Unité d’Habitations in Europe. The Rough concrete he used ‘béton brut’ became the signature of the style known as Brutalism. Simply put if you are are interested in Modern Architecture or the History of Architecture this is one of the buildings you should know.

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Kaleva Church

One day in early spiring this year I was in Tampere for the day and had a couple of hours to spare so I thought I would revisit a great modern building that I feel is often a little neglected, maybe because it’s a little out the way or maybe because Aalvar Aalto casts such a long shadow over Finnish Architecture or maybe a little of both.

Kaleva Church by Reima and Raili Pietilä the result of an Architectural competition in 1959 won by Reima Pietilä and Raili Paatelainen and built in 1964-66. The building sits on a small hillock at the head of the convergence of two large roads both with postwar apartment blocks lining them.

The plan is immediately surprising and consists of a series of high and narrow concrete wings made from 17 35m high hollow concrete u shapes, with full height windows in-between.  Each of these concrete u’s are slightly different.

Malcolm Quantrill has written that the Kaleva Church is derived from the Christian fish symbol, generates a daring interior space, with the single-volume nave capturing a powerful, medieval sense of monumentality. I agree it captures a medieval like sense of monumentality but not about the fish symbolism. The fish symbolism appears to me to be a sop to the Christian church it houses, highly organic in nature it looks much more like a leaf. Look at the early sketches from the Pietilä’s and I think that seals it.

The massive concrete walls were meant originally to remain as bare concrete but I think that someone lost their nerve some part of the way through and pale sand coloured ceramic tiles were used to cover the building instead in an attempt to play along better with the apartment blocks it sits among. It looks a little like a poorly disguised Brutalist construction though I don’t think that label sits completely comfortably for this building. The central space and how it is conceived seems so inspired by nature and pays much attention to the play of natural light and space inside make it an exceptional building, one that inspires a feeling much like that in a medieval cathedral, although perhaps lighter and more naturally flavoured.

I know this building in Finland was a little controversial when it was built, some thought it to ‘natural’ and not modern enough or functional enough for the Finnish Architectural brand but as a church part of its function is to inspire and I find it does just this.

References:

Structures and Architecture: New concepts, applications and challenges´ edited by Paulo J. da Sousa Cruz’

Finnish Architecture and the Modernist Tradition By Malcolm Quantrill

Further Reading:

Pietilä’s Crystal for the Finnish President by Kati Blom

Gallery of Kaleva Church taken by me on Flickr

Kaleva Church on sosbrutalism.org

Amsterdam Chanel by MVRDV

When I lived and worked in Amsterdam MVRDV was one of my favourite Dutch Architects Offices, I loved their experimental bent and when I was back in Amsterdam in 2016 I saw their recently completed Chanel shop a refit of a 19th century Amsterdam town house.

The new shop front is a lovely play on the old brick facade and a modern glass fronted designer shopfront. The bricks of the old facade at the top slowly dissolving into the new glass ones of the shop front.

The shop is in PC Hooftstraat which has since I lived there has been a street for luxury brands and shopping situated beside Vondel park just outside of the old Amsterdam. It’s outside of the 9 streets or the old city main shopping lanes but thanks to that can probably accommodate an older richer clientele.

It is worth noting that increasingly Amsterdam is a major player in the Fashion world. Major brands have their world HQ’s there like Tommy Hilfiger the home of preppy US fashion is based in Amsterdam, and many others have  their Euorpean HQ’s there like Nike for example. The Chanel shop is a small piece of evidence for Amsterdams fashion chops.

Further reading:

Treet Tower

The tallest timber framed tower in the world (just now).

Treet or Tree in Norwegian is a 14 storey apartment block in central Bergen. At 49 meters its the tallest timber framed building in the world, although there are a few on the drawing board that if built would dwarf it.

The higher cost of the structure in wood as opposed to concrete and steel was able to be offset by the quicker and easier erection time, four storeys per 3 days and it also meets passive house standards. The building was erected in modules of 4 the already completed apartments slotted into the wooden framework as it was erected.

The exposed glulam structure front and back really makes this project, instead of hiding the structure at the ends they are on front and back elevations infront of the glazed balconies providing a striking feature for the building and also for the inhabitants of the tower.

all photos by ARTEC

Further reading:

Center for Systems Biology by Heikkinen-Komonen Architects

I have been a fan of Heikkinen and Komonen Architects for a while. As one of the few Finnish practices with an International profile, they practice a form of Finnish Rationalism in which clear forms and grids are often juxtaposed in compositions betraying a deep understanding of the program.  Their ability to create forms  and describe them with clear structures that are simultaneously modern are not at all cold.
The Centre for Systems Biology in Dresden finished in 2017 is a beautiful study in a three dimensional grid in which objects are offset within producing deep, comprehensible, and poetic spaces, even accounting for the fact the building is a laboratory. It follows their Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, also designed by them in 2001 also in Dresden.

Read moreCenter for Systems Biology by Heikkinen-Komonen Architects

Under by Snøhetta

 

Always it’s nice to see a clear idea translated so directly to a building under by Snøhetta is such a project. Located on the Southern tip of Norway in the village of Båly it is a concept restaurant that plunges under the water to put the diners almost literally into the sea, making it Europes first underwater restaurant and with 100 seats the worlds biggest one.

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The Lego House

LEGO House concept

Last week the Architects corner of the internet was lit up1 by BIG’s latest design The Lego House, a lego experience center near LEGO HQ in Billund Denmark. But the building is just the latest link in a chain which joins Lego and Architecture together.

automatic-binding-brick-1949
Automatic Binding Bricks 1949

In 1949 Ole Kirk Christiansen with his company LEGO started manufacturing Automatic Binding Bricks what we would all recognise today as the Lego brick the only difference being a slot in the sides for windows and doors and the absence of the hollow tubes in the undersides that would be added in 1958. The first sets were focused on building Architectural structures.

Over the years as Lego expanded as a business and a brand it has inspired many Architects as children, it’s also been used directly as a design tool, Jørn Utzon used lego bricks to help him lay out the design of his last building the Utzon Centre as sketching had become harder for him in his old age.2

sydneyoperahouse
Jørn Utzon Sydney Opera House

Again at the start of this century lego rediscovered it’s Architectural roots, Adam Reed Tucker pitched an idea to Lego to release sets of world landmarks. Lego supported him in setting up his company brickstructures and themselves started a range of Architectural classics at architecture.lego. This all came together with the increasing diversification and mediatisation3 of Lego their ‘system of play’ giving way to the ‘narrativization’ of their ranges. From plain bricks where you must construct the models and the stories yourself, increasingly lego systems come with a ‘world’ built in, whether its Lego Star Wars or Hero Factory. They have also embraced newer ways to play and experiment with the lego system. You can download software and design in 3d anything you want, then order the pieces to be delivered or reprogram their hackable robotic bricks Mindstorms.

BIlego
Bjarke Ingels lego self

BIG is a good fit for Lego having used it in their models for exhibitions before, Bjarke Ingels even has his own lego persona. Also BIG understand the requirements of a project like this to extend beyond the plain numbers of the program to embody lego both into the Architecture and for the visitors to the building. The projects composition allows you to be below, above and within the Lego block inspired design. It is an easily quoteable building and it will itself become a link in a lego chain brand that projects lego into galaxies further and further away.

 

lego_top

  1.  Archdaily dezeen wired coDesign  []
  2. I can’t find corroboration for this except for my memory of a lecture about Utzon I attended. But it rings true to his way of working ‘Utzon rarely used a sketchbook, but would draw on anything that was available. He drew the initial plan for an art museum at Silkeborg, in Denmark, with poured salt on a restaurant table in Sydney, which he then photographed with a borrowed camera. The design was based on Buddhist caves he had visited near the Gobi Desert, but the museum was never built. Another friend recalled Utzon using a charred stick on a pavement to sketch the cross-section of a cave-room he had seen in China, which was to form the basis for his design for a new house; sadly the sketch was washed away by a thunderstorm that same night.’ The Telegraph. []
  3. See Beyond Beyond the Brick: Narrativizing LEGO in the Digital Age by Aaron Smith []