By considering the multi-purpose possibilities of buildings and looking beyond the walls of a city, the architects at MVRDV have been fuelling the global debate about the city of the future. The Dutch studio turns 25 this year.
Hidden behind a row of trees in the city centre of Rotterdam, five old warehouses stand neatly in a row. They were once part of a multi-tenant business building that opened its doors for business in 1951. On the exterior of the building, there is little to suggest that plans are being made here for the cities of the future. But once inside, you quickly realize that you have arrived at a place filled with visionary minds.
Niches in the reception desk contain scale models resembling sci-fi creatures. There is an open work floor with rows of desks where mostly young people are doing their work. High up in the space are small, green oases of houseplants. But the most striking are the colourful conference rooms, such as the grass-green ‘Game room’. Fun fact: The ping pong table also functions as a conference table. Welcome to the world of MVRDV.
For a year now, the eternal rebels of Dutch architecture have been housed in an office that visibly reflects the identity of the office: conceptual, playful and with attention to the social aspect of architecture. “We wanted to emphasize a sense of collectivity with the design,” says Jacob van Rijs. The co-founder donated his initials ‘VR’ to the company name MVRDV.
“The starting point was to create an informal and inviting office for the growing MVRDV family,” explains Van Rijs. “We didn’t want a bare filing room, but an intimate dark brown library, not a dime-a-dozen meeting room but a caramel-coloured lounge.”
The social character of MVRDV’s office design is also evident from the 30-metre long dining table where employees eat lunch together every day. Management is sitting in a modest room near the coffee corner and printers. “Although the latter is also based on the idea of efficiency,” Van Rijs points out. “Anyone who goes to get a cup of coffee will immediately drop by to present an idea or a choice. As a result, decisions are taken much more quickly.”
MVRDV’s best-known achievement is the Market Hall in their hometown of Rotterdam. The horseshoe-shaped building combines a food hall the size of a football field, surrounded by 228 apartments. More often than not, designs of this hybrid type remain unbuilt, relegated to a hard-drive mausoleum for stillborn fantasias. But somehow Van Rijs and his colleagues Winy Maas and Nathalie de Vries manage to turn their utopias into reality.
An expo building with a forest on the upper floor, a library shaped like a mountain of books, a temporary staircase built from scaffolding pipes leading to the top of a renovated monument, a park on a former motorway flyover; MVRDV has built one oddball hybrid after the other. “Sometimes you shouldn’t do what you are asked to do, but show how you can do it even better,” says Van Rijs.
A little touch of the absurd
The firm uses this same approach to research, looking beyond buildings or the walls of a city. They explore the smaller problems of larger issues and show what is needed to tackle them. MVRDV also have a tendency to add a little touch of the absurd to everything they do.
Take Pig City, for example – the concept for a 40-storey tower livestock farming system. The design was a reply to a question of whether fifteen million pigs could be housed completely sustainably. A study of the data resulted in a proposal for the towers that would regulate the entire farming process from piglet to bacon.
MVRDV presented this plan only as a concept but they weren’t joking when they stated that this was a plan that could, in fact, be made reality. This was also the case for the studio’s proposal that could allow the billions of people on earth to live comfortably in the future. The architects envisioned Barbapapa-style houses: buildings that transform according to the needs of the inhabitants. Done showering? The bathroom simply folds away. It sounds like pure fiction, but the concept named (W)ego became the subject of academic research at Delft University of Technology.
In the meantime, MVRDV continues to produce hybrid, multifunctional buildings at a rapid pace. According to Nathalie de Vries, ‘Multiplicity’ is the most important requirement that must be imposed on construction in the urban environment.
“More and more people live in the city,” Nathalie de Vries says. “To ensure that this remains a pleasant environment with sufficient public space and housing accessible to all, buildings with mixed functionalities are needed.” De Vries continues by pointing out the necessary properties of these multifunctional structures: They should not only be circular, but also strengthen social cohesion, make the quality of the environment healthier, produce energy, and contribute to the culture of a city. “Only then can the available land be used to its full potential for the quality of life.”
Non-architects can also contribute, according to De Vries. “Think about the changeability of what you build, buy or rent. Look around you, look on top of the building where you live or work – or underneath. You just may find unused surfaces or areas where you can do all kinds of fantastic things.”
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