July 29, 2007

Amsterdam 2 (Netherlands)

A long tram ride to the Western Garden Towns brought us to an MVRDV housing complex named "Oklahoma" (also called "WoZoCo"), built in 1997. The most striking aspect of this building was a series of cedar-wrapped, cantilevered apartment house boxes that seemed to defy gravity. The effect was further-emphasized by a full-height glass walkway that the apartment houses disappeared into (along with the fact that all the steel structure supporting the feat was concealed). This inventive design was born through a zoning challenge: because only 87 of a required 100 apartments would fit in the restricted site footprint MVRDV cantilevered the remaining 13 out on the north facade. The south facade was marked with a random assemblage of balconies with guardrails of varied and brightly colored glass that is referred to by the architect's as "small talk."

Back downtown we stopped by the Sarphatistraat Offices.. behind them along the canal was a Steven Holl designed a pavilion used for public and community events. The sponge-like building was clad in perforated copper with square and rectangular openings that formed interlocking volumes. The copper was not wearing consistently, with some panels green and others washed out... this did not seem to be intentional.

Renting bicycles in Amsterdam is essential! They opened up the city and brought many good times. There are a lot of places that offer rentals... we decided to avoid the tourist tag of bright red Mac Bikes, and instead picked up a pair of black Gazelles at Het Zwarte Fietsenplsn. After adjusting our seats we loaded up our list of projects to see outside the city on the GPS. We were a little over-ambitious starting out... the first project was 20km away from downtown.. which felt much longer than we were expecting because it had been a looong time since we rode and these were 3-speed "omafietsen," not touring bikes.


It took us a while to find the first project due to a rogue GPS coordinate we followed (entered back in Seattle, located on a Google satellite map), but luckily only a kilometer away we found what we were looking for. Built by Asymptote in 2002, the Hydra-pier sits like an aircraft poised to take-off into the sky. The project is sited on an artificial lake near Harrlemmermeer, built for a once-a-decade horticultural fair. Originally a viewing platform, the pavilion is sadly now closed, surrounded by video-surveillanced gates, and beginning to show wear. Most noticeably a large glass bubble at the rear of the pavilion, sagging below a canted wing, was filled with mucky water, no longer able to drain. It was interesting to come across such a highly photographed and published building in somewhat dire conditions.. only 5 years old. The project is loaded with theory. Hopefully it will be restored soon.


Nearby, in the small city of Hoofddorp, was NIO Architecten's pretzel-like bus station, set in the middle of an oval round-about. Reminiscent of stretched taffy, the sculptural form is made of factory cut polystyrene foam wrapped with a polyester skin. We were expecting it to be white in color, but it had been re-painted a sparkly orange... at least partially due to accumulating grime and a reported green color emerging from the polyester (photos here
). The fluid form was compelling sculpturally, it added interest to an otherwise empty void. The architect's own description of the form is nebulous: "Like the white face of a geisha, every opinion and image can be projected onto the building and it has no answers of its own."

After another 20km chug back downtown, we made a stop at Mercator Sportsplaza by Venhoeven CS, an example of a Dutch response to the green building movement. The whole facade of the building is clad with a patented system called "Wonderwall" that combines an automatically regulated feeding and irrigation system into a black mesh fabric that supports 50 different types of plants. Along with a green roof, the whole building blends into the grassy hills of adjacent Rembrand Park. The building houses a fitness club and... get this... a drive-through KFC. Colorful and a little strange.

Amsterdam was a beautiful city, we could have easily spent another month exploring the many canals, streets and outskirts... we will return someday.

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