August 5, 2007

Utrecht (Netherlands)




We took an early train to Utrecht to visit more projects and catch part of a music festival. A city bus delivered us to the De Uithof campus of Utrecht University, the master plan of which was designed by OMA. This campus holds a hotbed of interesting projects, however surprisingly there is no architecture curriculum.

Our first stop was the University Library by Wiel Arets (2004). The composition of this cubic building is a series of closed volumes (which hold books and light-sensitive materials) that divide a larger more transparent volume into zones of open spaces that provide naturally lighted areas for students and researchers. This solution of black opacity and lightness is the defining concept for the building. Vegetal patterns are an overall theme, they are silk screened onto glass and figured into cast black concrete panels. These patterns were selected to evoke a sense of 'being in a forest', to reduce the amount of direct sunlight coming through the glass, and to also recall the depths of time behind the knowledge contained within the library by appearing as fossilized branches in the solid panels. On the East side of the library an open-air courtyard offsets the adjacent 5-story parking garage to preserve natural light entering the building. The parking garage is also clad with the silk-screened glass panels to unify it with the Library building. The open spaces between the opaque 'book depots' on the interior are further defined by interconnecting stairs and ramps (additional photos here).

A block away was Rem Koolhaas' Educatorium, OMA's first University building designed in 1997. We had heard a lot of positive things about this project from friends who had visited years ago and were excited to see it for ourselves. The building is comprised of lecture halls, a cafeteria, exam rooms and large public spaces. The most defining characteristic of the building is an elevated curved concrete plane that wraps the North end forming the roof and providing a gathering space for students. The edges of all sloping concrete floor planes and ramps are exposed through the glazing on the North and South facades, clearly defining the layout of spaces within. Unfortunately, as we approached closer, parts of the building that are not wearing well came into view. Most prominent was the exterior of the curved concrete plane... badly stained with running lines of moss and muck the worst of the problem was below where the canted wall of glass housing the cafeteria met the underside of this concrete plane. Water infiltration was apparent, and long runs of black window gaskets were hanging from the ceiling where the glazing touched. Not a good sign for a project barely 10 years old. This somewhat diminished our overall opinion of the building, though we did like the concept, layout, and modest choice of materials. The 'idea' seemed to be there, but the execution was lacking.

A few blocks west of the Educatorium was the Minnaert Building by Neutelings Riedijk Architecten (1997). This building was created to offer shared facilities for departments of physics, astronomy, earth sciences, mathematics and information studies. The building exterior is distinguished by its reddish colour, rough texture, and a series of worm-like forms that are raised on the surface of the exterior. (No word on the function of these worm-like forms, other than creating interesting shadows and collecting grime on the underside). Also prominent was the over sized letters that spell out the name of the building, support the Southeast edge, and form a covered arcade where students can park their bikes. The central interior characteristic is a large open hall concentrating "requirement-free space" where water is collected in funnels on the roof and splashes down slanted walls, where it collects and forms a pool off to one side. (see interior photos here
) The building has several environmentally conscious aspects, including a natural heat exchange system, where heat built-up during the day is conveyed to a rain-water buffer on the roof via conducting ceilings and then is released to the colder night skies.

Unfortunately our visit to the campus was on a weekend (Saturday), so the majority of buildings were closed or inaccessible.

Part of the reason we visited during the weekend was to see some of the ROCKIT open air festival to catch a dj set by Ricardo Villlalobos. The Chilean-German producer / dj was one of the few that we didn't get a chance to see at Mutek or the MELT! Festival. Thankfully this was a daytime show, as we were still a little burned-out from the MELT! all-nighters. This festival was set around a lake with 6 stages and more than 70 artists. We came only to see Villalobos and also Ellen Allien, who had a set earlier in the day. After a long, sweaty line and 45 euros each (ouch!), we made it inside. While eating a slice of pizza under a tree a short time later, two golf carts pulled-up right in front of us... we were surprised to see it was Ellen Allien and Ricardo Villalobos being dropped-off at their stage-tents. Ellen's set was a little too 'poppy' for our likes and the ipod-ad-like shadows of figures dancing behind white screens on either side of her became distracting after awhile. (Part of the 365mag sponsored stage get-go). Around 6:30PM Ricardo Villalobos emerged on the 'TWSTd' stage, wearing a t-shirt printed with "IT'S HAWT IN HERE." It took a while for him to get going, but his material quickly began to move people. He was tag-teaming with the Swiss dj 'Melon,' which was also a surprise. It was decent, but compared to the many other shows we'd seen over the summer it really didn't stand-out. (video here)

As a 'drive-by' during the return bus commute from the festival we saw the Acoustic Barrier by ONL (Oosterhuis_Lenard) (2005). This barrier is an organic and geometric form that smoothly stretches 1.5 km along the A2 highway in Utrecht. The parametric design permitted an integration of the design and production process, making the manufacturing literally thousands of unique parts a less-daunting task. Also included in the design is the Hessing Cockpit, a display and sales space for Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley, and Rolls Royce cars. The cockpit is described by Oosterhuis as being inspired by the smooth body of a Starfighter. (cockpit photos here) The barrier was designed to have a smooth appearance when passed on the highway at speeds of 120km / hr, where is slowly raises and then sinks back into the ground.

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