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08/10 2021

A building that sets a new standard – how we built the biggest Courthouse in the Netherlands

In ‘Making of KAAN’, we uncover the stories behind some of our most known projects as told by the designers who worked on them. Through personal anecdotes and lessons learned, meet the team that makes KAAN Architecten. We spoke to Marco Lanna, project leader of the Amsterdam Courthouse. He tells us about the collaborative design process in DBFMO contracts, context-aware building and embedded sustainability. Read more below!

The Amsterdam Courthouse is another high-security institutional building designed and built by our office over the past 20 years. In fact, I looked it up – the Courthouse project began around the time we finished the Supreme Court in The Hague, which you also worked on.

Was there a transference of knowledge gained in the Supreme Court and applied to the Courthouse? Perhaps certain elements the two buildings had in common?

Although similar in the program, the Supreme Court in The Hague and the Amsterdam Courthouse have some differences. While the former is a tendentially closed building, only open to selected visitors under specific circumstances, Amsterdam Courthouse is a fully public institution. The urban settlement of both designs is also very different. The Supreme Court reacts to a consolidated urban structure – the historical city centre of The Hague. At the same time, the Courthouse is located in an extraordinary area of Amsterdam South, where three urban plans crucial to the city’s growth have exercised their influence. Our building reacts to this rich history and its truly public character by opening up to the surroundings.

L: Supreme Court of the Netherlands, R: Amsterdam Courthouse
Photograph by Fernando Guerra FG+SG

In French, they have an excellent name for a Courthouse: cité judiciaire. This expresses our goal for the design: a building that continues the city public space. The result is a building that serves its purpose – that of showing the process of justice, visually accessible but still authoritative, imposing in the right measure. Making room for the large public square generated pressure on the programme organisation inside and was reflected in the complex engineering of some parts. Therefore, the functional and logistical challenges of the Amsterdam Courthouse have also been much more demanding than the ones of the Supreme Court.

However, we can find many similarities between the two projects. In both, we see a very high building quality, coming from the choice of durable materials, carefully detailed and well-assembled. In fact, both buildings are conceived under a DBFMO (Design, Build, Finance, Maintain, Operate) contract. In this type of contract, the architect works in a consortium with engineers, a construction company (and its subcontractors) and a facility management party on the design from its early stages. Their expertise is conveniently reflected in the design, which results in a robust, highly qualitative building made to stay.

Indeed, we often describe the Courthouse as a future-proof building with embedded sustainability. Can you reflect on that? Did the collaborative process enable this?

When signing a DBFMO contract, both the client and the appointed consortium enter a mutual commitment for 30 years, which involves a delicate repartition of costs in case of future transformations or adaptations. This situation forces both parties to prevent extra costs beforehand. On the client’s side, occupants and users are intensively stimulated to reflect on foreseeable changes to their primary functional process, which would require an adaptation of the spaces. Envisaged transformations are then included in the project specifications as a requirement. On the designer’s and contractor’s side, there is interest in minimising the costs for replacing or maintaining materials and installations, which would be necessary to avoid penalties.

Hence, combining both parties’ interests results in efficient and flexible layouts based on modularity for the predictable changes and additional reservations for the less foreseeable ones. In combination with state-of-the-art, technical solutions, this results in a building that needs virtually no heavy maintenance over a long time. We have learned to call that “embedded sustainability” – a concept that spans way beyond the mainstream sustainability features.

Photograph by Dominique Panhuysen

In light of this, one could reconsider some elements of the flashy greenwashed sustainability. I am highly conscious of the opportunity and responsibility that the building industry is taking up by broadcasting a “green” future. Our world needs a change and whatever moves in that direction is good. However, a lot of this greenwash is still too experimental or fragile. Take wood as an example: it needs more treatments and is subject to replacement much, much earlier than natural stone. Greenwash is a trend that very much tunes on the needs of today, but a courthouse should be timeless and designed in a way that preserves its image unchanged over time.

Suppose we analyse the energy demand throughout a building’s lifespan, including its construction, transformations, demolition or dismantling. In that case, we see that most energy demand is in the first and the last phase, where the transportation of materials, disposal of debris and the use of building facilities require energy. So the best way of thinking of an energy-neutral building is to make one that lasts as long as it can. This is not just a matter of engineering. For a building to last long, it must gain social recognition and relevance in the community of its users.

Photograph by Sebastian van Damme

This is precisely what happened with the amazing sculpture Love and Generosity by Nicole Eisenmann on the forecourt. The press coverage for it has been probably higher than the building’s itself. Lately, when I pass by the Courthouse, there is always a professional photographer shooting the sculpture. Secondly, there is a group of skaters and BMX-ers who enjoy the ramps and benches of the square. Once I talked to them for a bit, and they told me an incredible story. In the beginning, they were shooed upon their arrival. But then, someone I later learned was a Courthouse representative – visited a local skate guru who addresses the rest of the skating community. Together they established some ground rules; for example, no grease allowed on the benches to preserve the lawyers’ suits. And from that moment on, skaters were welcome again.

A genuinely public building represents the institution’s authority while opening up to the community; it involves art in creating symbols that enrich the narrative and give a sense of belonging.

Source: Skyscrapercity

The construction phase of such a building must have been quite a venture. Can you walk us through some of the challenges you faced there and how you, eventually, dealt with them?

In Italian, there’s a beautiful, old word: sprezzatura. It refers to something that looks easy and obvious but conceals a great deal of engineering. I like to think of this building as an example of it.
When I looked back at the design documents of the first dialogue phases, before a contractor joined our consortium, I realised that the building had the same programme organisation, massing, façade design, and type of natural stone already 6 weeks after the start of the design! We knew by intuition from the very beginning that this was the right model AND the right design. The rest of the process has been a long journey of engineering and fine-tuning. We benefited from the expertise of the engineers, the facility management company, the main contractor, and the subcontractors. The peculiar organisation of a DBFMO design process confronts the designer early on with the need for solutions to design challenges that minimise risks.

Photograph by Dominique Panhuysen

I like to mention the design of the façade as an example. We wanted the columns to be as thin as possible since the building concept is about showcasing the use behind the envelope and not making it carry its own significance, as most buildings on the Zuidas do. At the same time, the façade line in the foyers needed to be flat to prevent people from hiding behind a column which implied putting them outside the glass line – structural profiles inside the metal case, wrapped with insulation. This required consideration of all kinds of challenges early on: production and montage tolerances of the steel parts, sufficient exposure of the structural profiles to the inner temperature to prevent deformations, montage sequence and agreements on the position and size of seams, bolts, welding… These are things you usually deal with during construction. In this case, they were anticipated into the design process by putting the façade contractor, steel supplier, main contractor, structural engineer, building physics engineer, and the architect around one table. Only after two lifesize mock-ups and conceiving numerous innovative engineering methods for steel production everyone had enough confidence that the designed solutions were valid enough.

Photograph by Dominique Panhuysen

Circling back to the thread of knowledge transference – what are the main takeaways from the Courthouse for you? What do you see being embedded in our next projects?

There are multiple takeaways from this project. In my opinion, the most important one is the power of narrative in the design process. As strong and right architect’s intuition can be, there are moments in the design process where hundreds of other people operate very far from the main concept source. How do you make sure everyone moves in the same direction?

Photograph by Dominique Panhuysen

The architect’s authority is essential when exercised constructively and inclusively, as it creates a sphere of trust from which everyone benefits. But this alone isn’t sufficient. We had to respond many times to our own question: what is this building about? We like to work with presentations featuring infographics, a graphic language that can’t be misinterpreted. By constantly referring to the founding ingredients of our story, as communicated to the client and our whole team, we kept a screenplay to which new ingredients would add up in time as the original core values evolved. In the same fashion, all design choices we needed to make, even and especially when in contrast to the Program of Requirements, were documented, explaining alternatives and justifying why we considered the chosen option the best one.

Photograph by Dominique Panhuysen

There is also another important takeaway. The DBFMO design process generates the architect’s awareness of the efficacy and appropriateness of the design choices when time is an important factor. Together with experienced facility managers, you get to think early on about matters such as: how big and well connected does the furniture storage need to be if FM has to arrange the layout of a Courtroom in a contractually given time? Where to place a coffee corner considering the natural routing of people through the building so that revenues can be maximised? Or more technically: what is the best compromise to still realise that nice plaster ceiling in the foyer, considering the frequency of maintenance of the installations behind it?

Photographs by Sebastian van Damme and Fernando Guerra FG+SG

We have learned to think this through at an early stage. And the great thing is that so many people in our office had the opportunity to work on this big project – so this knowledge is now widely spread in the office. After all, once you make a building that sets a new standard, you aim at no less for your next project!

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Marco Lanna is one of the Managing Architects of KAAN Architecten with extensive experience in developing and managing complex building projects such as the Amsterdam Courthouse and Supreme Court of the Netherlands. 

Interview by Valentina Bencic. The original text was edited for clarity and brevity.

Featured image by Dominique Panhuysen. 

17/09 2021

‘Beautiful but not perfect’ – a story of KMSKA

In ‘Making of KAAN’, we uncover the stories behind some of our most known projects as told by the designers who worked on them. Through personal anecdotes and lessons learned, meet the team that makes KAAN Architecten. For the first edition, we spoke to Walter Hoogerwerf, the project leader on the renovation and extension of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Find out how this process shaped him as an architect and his favourite memory of the project!

The process of renovating and extending KMSKA has been at the same time delicate and respectful to the old building but in other parts quite radical when it came to building up the extension. How did you navigate between the two approaches?

Interesting topic. First of all, I’ve never considered it as two different approaches. For me, it is one project where every part was worked on with the same delicacy, attention, respect and, indeed, radicality. Although the monument required more time researching on-site, working with the unknown and dealing with surprises to get, for instance, the same level of integrated details we designed on paper in the new extension.

In our vision, the new spaces are a completely different world with new experiences and possibilities, set apart from the monumental spaces. Therefore, the materiality of the two also required a big focus on contrast. In the monument, we searched for the artisan, the craftsman’s hands, the oak and the wax, the age and the wear, the scale and the weight. At a certain point, I had to explain to the plasterer not to make the walls too smooth, the parquet installers not to close the gaps, things like that. Beautiful but not perfect, matching the monument. Smooth straight surfaces were for the new museum. A similar thing about the paintworks; no perfect spray in the monument but visible brushstrokes. Even on the ceilings.

L: Karin Borghouts, R: Toon Grobet

The abstract immaterial spaces of the new museum had the same attention to materiality. Choice of paint, delicate PU floor with depth, floor boxes in marble and messing, infamous zero-point details, immaculate skylight, those kinds of things. No visible marks of the craftsmen, of the effort, of the engineering, but even more necessary so.

We were also quite radical in the monument to resuscitate it; no small changes were made. The colours, for example, are a far cry from what they were; we’ve even inverted the wall-ceiling contrasts. Most colours were not exactly what we measured but were made more saturated, some colours darker, some colours acting as an intermediate. All decided after applying test surfaces.

KAAN Architecten archive

Radical breaches in the monument were necessary to give the new museum its hidden routing possibilities. On the other hand, the new building, where the installations were built in two technical towers and main air distribution filled an entire floor, serves as an infuse for the monument delivering air, heat and cooling. The new and the old need each other; they rely on each other functionally, technically and materially. That is why it is one project and not a monument with an extension.

The project itself took around 17 years, from conception to finish. The conditions for which it has been designed and in which it will continue to live have changed during that time – how do you keep a design relevant to conditions in flux? 

This is a situation that is a reality we are facing in almost every project, although in different proportions. 17 years is a lot, but it took a good 6 years of contracts, master planning and budget finding before the design work could start. We had a good concept, widely supported, strong enough, but not too determined, able to remain all those years: hidden new museum built up within the courts of a revived and freed monument. We could keep using it as a starting point with every new development, enhance it and improve it. We fitted new developments within this framework, and under our control, we kept the consistency in the project.

L: Karin Borghouts, R: Stijn Bollaert

What iterations and changes did you have to make?

One example of this is the redesign of the public facilities with a more generous restaurant, shop and receptions facilities. In the design of phase 2, the budget had to be focused on exposing and preserving the art and the monument for the community. Public facilities, or more precisely, commercial facilities, had to be modest. In 2017 KMSKA changed from a government agency to a non-profit organisation, with more autonomy on finance and development. At the same time, the expected visitor numbers had increased. These conditions made possible, and for KMSKA necessary, a redesign of the public facilities. We could stay within our defined public zone at the front of the building. In fact, extra square metres were found by moving the library office to the back of the building. This way, the entire front became public, and the library reading room became more prominent, with event possibilities.

Most importantly, we had the commissions for all the major phases and disciplines in my team; phase 1, phase 2, security, public facilities, offices and ateliers. This allowed for all these parts to be as consistent as a project can be. With other parts, the ones out of our control, the consistency is not self-evident.

I can only assume this is the longest-running project in your career, and as such, it must have shaped you as an architect – what are the lessons you learned along the way?

It definitely shaped me as an architect. I’m in my 12th year on the project now with one more to go, and I must say it is hard to imagine not working on it. I’ve got the chance to work on it from the start of the preliminary design, from the first phase all the way up to the delivery of the final phase. I was always very aware of how rare that is, but also that I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I learned how vulnerable a project is in this kind of long process. Everything could have and did, in fact, happen. Imagine changing four ministers of culture and three museum directors, new personnel in our design teams, the client’s team and the KMSKA team. Also, imagine working without a set budget and programme at the start. At a certain point, you become the guardian of the project, and I liked that. I noticed recently that it is hard to let that go.

Another thing is the importance of investments in personal contacts. Not only to make sure the mutual understanding is enduring but also to build what we’ve envisioned. I realise that what we designed is in many ways quite out of the ordinary and needs enthusiastic collaboration to get built. Together.

L: Karin Borghouts, R: Sebastian van Damme

Then there’s bound to be many interesting stories from such a long collaboration. Does any particular story or anecdote stand out?  

There are so many, but one that is very dear to me is about colours. Halfway through the construction, doubts were raised about the colours of the museum spaces by someone external to the design process (see my previous point about vulnerability). There was a big debate about our design with the clear white, night blue and saturated dark reds, greens and browns instead of their suggestion to make everything light grey. Indeed, everything in light grey – walls, ceilings and wherever possible, also the floors.

Our approach to clarify this situation for everyone involved was to prepare for a meeting meticulously. We built up a clear argument and made a presentation that outlined our design’s intentions and results compared to the light grey one step by step, from the generic to the specific, with the projected artwork and big colour samples. All this without judgement, relying very much on the quality of our intent. At that time, the most precious artworks of the KMSKA collection were exhibited in an early 17th century premises in Antwerp: Rockox House. We proposed to meet there, among the art, to make the subject tangible and, most importantly, to prevent a theoretical discussion. A new context can be an eye-opener.

This meeting cleared up the subject very well for everyone, as you can see in the built result. To drive the point home, we took the colour samples to the paintings. There I was holding a large NCS 4550-Y90R sample right next to Fouquet’s Madonna surrounded by seraphim and cherubim from 1456. We showed the wall colour samples next to different paintings and got the KMSKA team of art historians assured and even more enthused. In fact, it generated the decision to have another series of rooms, the so-called “salon”, coloured in dark green because it matched better with the artworks planned for those rooms.

L: Karin Borghouts, R: Stijn Bollaert

Many museums ask for rooms as neutral boxes to be filled and coloured by the exposition works. I think that is an unnecessary pity. In KMSKA, we managed to keep the architecture’s coherence, the vision of the monument and the new museum all in harmony with the art. And colour played a more significant role in this than I could have imagined. Our goal for the KMSKA is not only a beautiful, well-built container to experience and preserve the collection, but having the building as a part of the collection, part of the experience with a presence of its own. I’m sure we have achieved this. I can’t wait for the opening.
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Walter Hoogerwerf is a project leader at KAAN Architecten currently working on the last phase of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, as well as the renovation and extension of Paleis Het Loo in Apeldoorn.

Interviewed by Valentina Bencic. Featured image by Stijn Bollaert.

Explore the museum under construction in the video below!

 

 

 

11/05 2021

Courthouse photo series is complete

Photographer Dominique Panhuysen has completed her series on the construction of the Amsterdam Courthouse. To mark the occasion, a compilation of her photography periodicals has been published. Scroll down for a sneak peek!

De Nieuwe Rechtbank Amsterdam comprises eight photo reports Panhuysen made over the period of 4 years. Each issue spans several months and covers the Courthouse’s construction milestones, such as the demolition of the old judicial complex and topping out of the new building.

 The book is a testimony to the efforts of everyone involved in the demanding building process, from engineers and architects to construction workers.

Browse the full book here!

Amsterdam Courthouse was designed and built by the consortium NACH (New Amsterdam Court House) involving Macquarie Group, ABT, DVP, KAAN Architecten, Heijmans and Facilicom Group.

Book design by Studio Vrijdag

08/03 2021

A year later – reflections and predictions

In honour of International Women’s Day, we interviewed the leading ladies of KAAN Architecten – the founding partner Dikkie Scipio, and office directors Marylene Gallon (Paris) and Renata Gilio (São Paulo). Read on for a candid talk on the personal and professional challenges of the past year, technology, sustainability and predictions for the post-pandemic future.

To start us off, can you reflect on what the past year has been like for you personally and/or professionally?

RG: I think for me personally and professionally, it’s the year that it really hit me what it means to run an office, to understand that there are families that depend on the salary they’re making in this office. And I’m talking only about our office here in São Paulo, 7 people. But it is 7 families, and it was hard.
So in the first few months, it was just about understanding which projects are going to get cancelled, which ones are going to continue, and which ones are going to be paid.

We got very lucky that the housing market exploded in Brazil. People living in small apartments realized they wanted bigger houses, better living conditions, and they want them now. Ultimately we managed to secure new projects to tide us over. And now, as we’re slowly seeing the end of this, people are making more plans for the future. The institutional, urban, cultural projects we’ve had are also starting up again, everything is coming together.

Personally, of course, it was quite difficult being home. I have two small children, ages 5 and 7, and they’ve just learned how to read and write. Actually, WE had to teach them how to read and write while keeping up with our jobs. And that was really, really tough. But of course, it does bring you together as a family, you start being a little community, and yeah, in the end, it was OK.

What about you Marylene? We’ve checked in with you in an earlier interview about how you’re handling lockdown…

MG: That interview was in May last year, so it was a different time, right? Pre-pandemic we were already quite used to working remotely with the Rotterdam office, so the most noticeable change was in the comfort level – no more being in the office space and all the comfort that comes with that.
When the lockdown happened in March, we mainly lost time adapting, negotiating, communicating. So, we asked for time to be able to succeed in the projects we were doing. And we did, with a small delay – if you consider the usual duration of projects. Turns out decisions take more time, not actions.
After that, we focused on our Parisian office, setting up a proper branch and a new space in Le Marais. It was important to go on with this project. We got the keys to the new office space in October, on the day of the second French lockdown!

Realistically, in the months after that interview in May, we saw everything (in France) stop. No tenders or competitions; projects put on hold. November and December were particularly stressful, without perspective. But now, from January I see things starting up again. And I am optimistic.
With this crisis, I can see minds changing. What we struggled to explain before, is now easier to understand – the need for accessibility, light, quality of space, robustness, steadiness, discussions of sustainability versus greening. There is a step forward, maybe not a big one, but things are slowly changing. And now that it is a more competitive market, Architecture is back on the plate. It may turn out to be a good crisis. (laughs)

DS: Wow, Marylene! I need to jump on this for sure. It’s quite interesting what you say about the quality of space, that it suddenly counts again. Because we’ve struggled before to get that point across.

We set up a research project with the office and with the university in Münster where I teach. It was a survey at first, called ‘Your home is your shelter’. We had this idea to ask people about the comfort and quality of their homes since it’s such a rare occasion they’re spending so much time enclosed. And some answers were quite obvious. People with children and families expressed their desire to have an outdoor space, a garden, a balcony…But as most participants were young students, they said they’d like to have more functionally non-determined spaces. Spaces that are more flexible and allow for transformations beyond just 4 white walls, a floor and a ceiling. And this is something very difficult to explain to a client. So hearing you say that you feel clients are more inclined to a dialogue about the quality of space is something I welcome.

Excerpt of the ‘Your home is your shelter’ survey

RG: For sure, I think it’s just a given that crisis is a huge opportunity for quality to come back, right? When the economies are booming, people want to build and they want to build fast and make a profit, there is often no time or space for quality. But when you’re in a big crisis like this, you’ve got to have something special, otherwise, you’re not going to be able to sell it. It’s pretty simple.
And what you said Dikkie is just so interesting, because what the people in your research want is not more spaces but more experiences, right? They’re lacking experiences.
And this is a word that keeps appearing in most conversations I have lately, with engineers, reporters, clients, developers, investors…This new generation is focused much more on experiences than on spaces.

DS: Yes, that was already a thing before the crisis, but now even more. I mean, their world is on their computer right now. So there is a strange disconnection between the experience of the mind, the body and space. Right?

RG: Yeah, and it’s all so much more subjective…

DS: I might be falsely optimistic here, but I really hope that this crisis and the rising demand for quality can improve the spaces we design. Not only with materials, but with sound, touch, all these different things you can experience. This is something really difficult to teach. I have to tell my students to step away from the screen and go touch the walls of their rooms, their chairs and so on… Especially now…

Speaking of, Dikkie and Marylene, you are both teaching in different architecture schools. What has that experience been like during the past year?

MG: This is my first year of teaching – ever, so my experience is probably a bit warped. I was teaching in the fall semester to the 1st year bachelor students. In September, we weren’t in lockdown so we got to have a few physical studio sessions, then later in October we switched to virtual teaching. I must say it was difficult. I’ve had students with great connection on a proper laptop, others with bad connection on their phone, on top of the mountains in the Alps, another one in Martinique, in a different time zone…(laughs) Somehow, we made it work, but in December and January we could get back for in-person studios, and… Students were just so happy to be together, and happy to see us, teachers. Because we could speak through our gestures, our pencils. It was all a bit emotional. Overall, this past year, students had to be adaptable and flexible, so I hope that is also a skill we managed to impart to them for the future.
Dikkie, how was your experience in Germany?

DS: Well, I haven’t seen my students for basically a year now. And we’ve now also heard that the next semester will be virtual too. And it has some advantages, but also a lot of disadvantages.
At this point, we’ve already gone fully digital. My students are completely immersed in this 3D world, gaming and all. So I get a lot of projects that are actually gaming environments. I discovered it when we were doing a studio about Notre Dame. The first thing we looked at was the Assassin’s Creed 3D model of the cathedral and how realistic it was. I mean, the students have modelling software in their hands already, and they can build up a whole world there. With the gaming industry getting better and better, I see more architects wanting to shift to that industry too, to create designed environments rather than just historical reproductions…
I’ve also had some bachelor students tell me they were inspired to become architects after playing Sims all day…

Funny you should mention that, cause The Sims game has initially been designed to be an architecture simulator rather than a video game…

DS: Oh no, I didn’t know that! If that’s true then I could suggest some improvements… (laughs)

MG: Indeed, this gaming environment is a part of the architecture. Some people are spending a lot of time immersed in that world. The difference is in the sensory experience of it – how do you translate the softness or the hardness of a material, how do you express gravity, the feeling of going from a confined space to an open one, the transitions… How do you translate these feelings digitally?

DS: I know! I’ve discussed this with my students too. Their point was that the gaming industry is already so advanced, there are ways of interacting with these environments through VR, holograms and other devices. So it’s coming closer and closer to the real thing. And I’m not fighting it, I embrace it as a part of the architecture. It doesn’t obliterate the real-life aspect of it.

RG: Although I don’t teach, on this matter, I can tell from my children that they really do lead this double life, immersed in their screens and online games. I had to limit their time. When the lockdown started, the first thing I did was buy 6 chickens for our garden…

DS: Really?

RG: Yes, and I said to my kids: ‘You will spend every afternoon outside with those chickens, I do not want to see you inside!’ If I let them, they’d be inside behind a screen – first in class, then for fun. That is basically their whole lifestyle. So when you speak about your students and this other life that they have, this is the same thing – with just ten years difference.
I find it fascinating how important that world is… I think we’re not the right generation to understand it, we grew up differently. Perhaps because our generation doesn’t understand it, there’s a lot of space for improvement in the way we design the buildings that we build?

It circles back to what Dikkie’s research was saying – about the need for experiences in the physical space around us, and how this demand got projected into a virtual dimension, where we’ve built a different world. We’ve even appropriated the architectural jargon – like online platform, forum, chat room

DS: Yeah, it’s very double. If we imagine, let’s say wood, we think about several different types of wood, how it’s cut, how it smells, we know how to put it together. But for those kids, wood is an abstraction, it has no connection to our mental image. It doesn’t exist. It took me a long long time until I understood that I am teaching people who think that the choice of material means clicking one of the boxes in the right corner of their drawing, that it has no relation to the real thing. And if we don’t teach them that, then that’s a loss. If we are not careful then this knowledge will be lost.

This brings me to another thing I wanted to discuss. Dikkie you’ve been vocal about quality, especially in materiality as a cornerstone of sustainability. Does that exclude more high tech solutions?

DS: No, definitely not. I don’t like to put industrial production and craftsmanship in terms of either one being good or bad, both can be made well. Quality is in how and with what intention the products are made and applied in architecture.

RG: Speaking of high tech solutions…Here in São Paulo I am on several committees for the sustainable development of cities, we meet to discuss strategies as well as business opportunities in the sustainability sector. This puts us in contact with companies that are building the actual technology, we hear and learn about carbon footprints of metropolitan regions, decontamination of rivers with phytorestoration, extraction of methane from water etc. I enjoy that they are business owners and they run their business with this kind of advanced thinking. It’s about communicating and building strategies to actually use the knowledge that we are creating. How can we push it further? Often it’s not about finding a perfect solution, but rather something the public will understand and accept, something that can be financed and applicable now.
You know, I’ve never really understood the term smart city, but I do understand a resilient city. We have to find ways of making cities sustainable for the next 80 years, 200 years…For that we need to start thinking systemically, and looking at the entirety of our processes.

DS: Yeah, we have to step back and see the bigger picture. But that’s already difficult in our tiny country, in the Netherlands. You’d be amazed to see how many questionable decisions can be made only in this small area, now imagine France or Brazil…It’s not easy to solve it.

RG: Yeah, but I don’t think it’s even about solving it as much as rectifying the warped idea of sustainability in people’s minds.

MG: But I also feel that people are learning more and more about this and dismantling the old beliefs. I remain optimistic. In Paris, big moves were made to accommodate bicycles, now I think there is more bike traffic than in Rotterdam! It’s a combination of reasons, of course – fewer people take the metro because of the pandemic, the strikes of the previous years – but when I think about Paris 20 years ago, it was a city for cars. Now it’s a different story. It’s not completely done, but it’s changing, and I welcome this.

DS: Do you think this has to do with people just switching from cars to bikes, or is it because many people are moving away from the city?

MG: It’s both, I think. But yeah, Paris is losing inhabitants, around 12 000 per year for the last 10 years or so, mostly because of the price of living. Once again, I think this crisis is a good kick. I see rent prices coming down, albeit slightly. Also since the pandemic started, the city of Paris set up requirements to be included in the local urban plans (PLU) – demands for more diversity, creating collective spaces, flexibility, refurbishments rather than demolitions, preserving existing nature, creating fresh blocks, sourcing local materials etc. These are not precise measures, but instructions. And we’re aiming at results…

RG: Right now, in Brazil, people still want to leave the city. Infrastructure could be better, everybody wants an outdoor space, a garden…It’s a social condition, it’s just the way people are. They’ve always been willing to sacrifice a certain amount of time for their commute so they can enjoy the advantages of both their home and their work area. But I also think this attitude will change for the better after the pandemic…

MG: Yeah, I really do not miss being on the train or the metro for hours, going from one meeting to another, only to have 10 minutes of productive discussions. We’ve saved that time for real work and life…

On that note, do you have any final remarks on where we’re headed?

MG: The architectural working method remains collective. Our profession is not (only) about producing excel sheets. The essence is in cracking problems through drawings, and a drawing is a collective document. To do that, it is easier to be together around one paper, one plan, because questions and doubts hardly pass through the screen.

DS: I must admit I’m intrigued by Marylene’s optimism about this. (laughs) I have been working the past year through this pandemic, but never really stopped to consider the fact that it might also bring good things. And ultimately, I must agree with you Marylene…

MG: (laughs) I do want to specify that I don’t think COVID was a good thing, eh? But that ultimately the crisis might yield good things.

DS: I’m glad that we had this talk, cause now it makes me think that I should focus more on what positive outcome we can bring to it, as architects. Let’s embrace what we can gain from it, not just what we’ve lost.

08/05 2020

Architectural practice in times of confinement

French magazine L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui initiated ‘Confiné.es’ (Fr. confined), an interview series that gives a voice to architects whose practices had to adapt to the new way of life, due to the imposed confinement over the COVID-19 spread. Kees Kaan, founding partner of KAAN Architecten, and Marylène Gallon, director of KAAN Architecten France, participated in the interview series. They reflected on differences in ‘confined living’ between Paris and Rotterdam and how this influenced their daily life routine as well as architectural practice.

Read the English version of the interview below. French translation will soon be available on L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui.

Where are you locked down and how did you get organised to continue working ?

KK: The lockdown in the Netherlands is relatively soft. A lot of responsibility is expected from the individual, there is no military in the streets. Overall, I see people taking care and behaving according to government’s recommendations. At the office, we started preparing for the lockdown in February. It was mainly about taking some extra IT measures and defining a protocol that enables a complete switch to remote work. We closed our offices in the middle of March, and since then ‘working from home’ has been the modus operandi. At the moment we are looking at how to reopen in the so called 1,5 meter economy.

MG: I am one of the people who left Paris to temporarily return to their native region, to facilitate the coexistence of professional and personal life. The other collaborators in Paris started working remotely from their homes, occasionally grouping up in one location with a couple of architects from different offices.

Are containment and architecture opposites?

KK: I wouldn’t say they are opposites. Architecture is not about enabling as much public interaction as possible. It is all about the relation of private behaviour in different public domains. It is about finding working relations and careful definitions of spaces for public and private interaction.
If social distancing permanently changes human interaction, then that will be a fundamental architectural issue. It will impact how we’ll redesign our physical world, from the detail to the territory.

MG: Considering our professional activity, it depends on the specific moment and phase of the project. Solitude and calm are often welcome. This confinement helps us avoid the compulsive need for meetings and facilitates concentration (once the kids are busy, of course…). Communication through email, team chats and video calls make things easier when we have to communicate with our partners. We were already quite familiar with working remotely between our Paris and Rotterdam offices, although we used to travel back and forth a lot, during certain key moments of the project (Rotterdam is only 2,40 hours from Paris). However, a team meeting around a blank sheet of paper, a plan, a model, a single screen is still extremely important. Projects are more and more collaborative; architecture resides precisely in this work of communication. This is what we keep on doing while adapting our process.

What lessons do you think you will learn from the ecological impact of this crisis?

KK: We see that nature is flourishing. No further explanation needed. Our standard behaviour has had a devastating impact on the environment.
Having said that, this does not mean we are lost and should not try to mitigate this effect. We are operating on the frontline of our profession and the building industry is one of the largest impactors in that environment. In our most recent experiences we learned that making our buildings more sustainable works better when the link that is made between capex and opex, when we not only design to win crazy competitions but also design to build and operate the building. When the lifecycle becomes an integral part of the brief, sustainable design gets a proper dimension.
This crisis shows us how quickly nature responds in a positive way to small changes in our behaviour. We should remember this when things turn back to ‘normal’.

MG: The speed of our society should be reconsidered: technologies, communications, mobility. Same goes for the balance between abundance and scarcity.
The society of abundance in which we live in often distracts us from what is essential. The available excess of seldom useless, energy or time-consuming goods and information, confronts me with the shortage of health supplies we are currently facing (masks, respirators, IC beds).
Within the building industry, many run after this abundance: concepts, materials, shapes, colours, technologies, labels, regulations; until they forget the essence of the projects. At our office, ‘the essential’ is a notion that we always keep in mind, as well as the importance of building something that lasts through time, fostering quality and adaptability.This leads to a certain architectural sobriety.

A film to see / a book to read during lockdown?

KK: Although in lockdown, I am still working both in our practice, as well as teaching and running the architecture department in Delft. At home, I am living with a family with children still in the school age. They are also ‘working’ from home. It is a very dynamic and lively setting here, no lonesome moments.
So now that we work remotely, it is not that I find an ocean of time to read or watch movies, rather the opposite. Not commuting saves time, but online work is slower and more focused.
I have no special books or films associated with the lockdown, although a very nice book comes to mind immediately. It is Being there by Jerzy Kozinski. It tells the story of a gardener, coming out of a lifetime lockdown in his garden, who is suddenly confronted with our society. It appears he has developed a completely fresh, non-corrupted and disarming state of mind.

MG: Considering the current atmosphere, I would suggest watching Soylent Green by Richard Fleischer and, for something more ‘French’, The wing or the thigh by Claude Zidi.
As for books, I would recommend some maritime tales to which we can relate at the moment: The long way by Bernard Moitessier, a story of a solo race lasting 11 months in 1969 and, more recently, Woman at sea by Catherine Poulain, a harsh story of large fishing boats in Alaska.
Finally, the special AA Hors-Série on KAAN Architecten: “Master Narrators” , of course😉

A social network to follow?

KK: @cp.complexprojects, @datapolis_cp, @espaciogris

MG: Keep in touch! Call your neighbour or your grandpa. Connect with your friends and family! Otherwise, follow @AA and @KAANArchitecten

What do you expect from this experience?

KK: I hope that after lockdown we can maintain some parts of the remote working system. In certain cases, it is more effective than continuously trying to meet physically. It saves travel time and it is better for health and the environment.
I also learned how vulnerable our system/economy is. It is entirely cashflow based. There are hardly any reserves. When the cash stops flowing – systems collapse. We somehow need to make our economy more sustainable. This requires us to plan for the longterm rather than for the quick win. Make companies more resilient on one hand, the employment system more flexible on the other.

A very interesting phenomenon is how quickly the new exceptional became the new normal.
People can adapt quickly and easily to new rules which become new norms, and then we display different behaviour. Dutch government bet on people’s sense of responsibility by announcing a relatively loose lockdown. I think it has worked, and it has set an example.
The 1.5-meter rule made us more gentle towards each other, and maybe even more polite. We avoid unnecessary movement and we have developed a cure from the ‘fear of missing out’ caused by intense social media exposure. Maybe we can hold on to this feeling after lockdown gets alleviated.

MG: First, I hope this will enhance Europe’s cohesion: beyond the circulation of people and capital, cultural and social ties are still far too weak. Education and sharing of knowledge still need to be consolidated and supported. Besides this, I wish the health system (finally) finds stability and balance. Being French and having lived in the Netherlands, I believe that the Dutch health system can teach us something in this regard. Finally, I hope education and culture get recognition as essential activities.

What impact does this containment have on the perception of both your workspace and domestic space?

KK: I have always loved working from home. I like the idea of participating in processes without being constantly present in the office. I have a great workspace in my house that allows me to work comfortably and in an effective way. Still, I miss the office and my team very much today.
The lockdown has forced many people with children to combine family life with daily work. Most of us have had a good opportunity now to test our homes, not just as places for touchdown and sleep, but as real homes to live in, spend hours together with family and find a good balance of privacy and company. I am sure the requirements for our living spaces will be critically reviewed in the near future.
I am also sure that most of us will be relieved when the kids go back to school and the office reopens.

I’m also doing my teaching and other TU Delft related work remotely. We meet students and have critique sessions online. It works, but it is far from ideal. Although it surely is a very interesting additional tool, online environments cannot replace real-life interaction (yet). This is why I believe that, as physical entities, the faculty and the office space will remain important for teamwork and for the special ambience they have for exchange of ideas and knowledge. The question is, however, if the large open floorplates crammed with people are sustainable in the coming years.

When the digital age started, some predicted that paper industry would die, but the opposite occurred. We use more paper now than ever before. On one hand remote work might reduce the need for office/work space, but increase need for living space on the other. Maybe the reduction was already assumed in the previous crisis implemented in flexwork offices. The need for social distance increases the demand for built space and infrastructure in general, and this is interesting in the context of the density debate.

The COVID-19 charts displayed on all media clearly showed the relation between urban density and levels of contamination. The denser the area, the more likely and quickly the virus could spread.
This puts the entire discussion on density, urbanity and territorial development of metropolitan areas in a new perspective. Maybe the polycentric model of The Netherlands is not such a bad one in this context after all.

MG: I constantly shift between my screen, on which I work at 200 km/h, and the slowness of family life. It is a bit like combining an early 20th-century lifestyle with the technologies of the 21st…Nevertheless, I’m grateful that this situation allows me to pursue both family and professional life in an isolated location.
Talking about housing conditions, isolation is not only a problem related to this crisis. Think about sick or elderly people, about geographically, socially or economically isolated citizens, or children who receive home-care and those who look after them (parents, nannies, babysitters), adolescents who spend a lot of time in their rooms, professionals who were already working remotely even before this crisis, etc. All living spaces must be dignified and comfortable, allowing people to spend most of their time there. It is now evident. This sanitary confinement consolidates certain ideas about house design and essential topics such as natural light, views, exposure to the sun, air circulation, flexibility and adaptability, outdoor spaces, nice atmosphere, etc. The city’s stakeholders should certainly learn the most from it. The opportunity is there, it must be seized and maximized.

 

 

31/03 2020

‘This will kill that’ – an essay by Dikkie Scipio for de Architect

In the March issue of de Architect, Dikkie Scipio wrote an essay about the shifting position of architecture within the scope of all arts, weaved through the story of the Parisian Notre-Dame cathedral. Find below the full transcript in English.

The original article written in Dutch can be found here

“Recently I read Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, written in 1830. The book became widely known as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and is remembered as the love story between the gypsy beauty Esmeralda and the pitiful creature, deafened by the bells and living in the belfry of the cathedral. Victor Hugo wrote his novel as a plea for restoring the Notre Dame which was in great disrepair at the time. In doing so, Hugo showed a thorough and detailed knowledge of architecture. He formed a passionate opinion about the matter and did not avoid writing a strong manifesto against the damage done by the Academies, professors and “certain individuals that have adopted the title of the architect”.

Victor Hugo classified three sorts of devastation that had brought Notre Dame to its state of ruin at the beginning of the nineteenth century. First: Time, responsible for the wrinkles and warts on the building’s skin. Second: the acts of violence and the brutalities, the bruises and fractures being the work of Revolutions. And third: the mutilations, amputations, and dislocations by A Swarm of Architects from the schools – licensed and certified – who defaced by choice with the discrimination of bad taste. In summary, he applied the Latin quote Tempus edax, homo edacior (Time erodes, man erodes more) which he freely translated as: Time is blind, man is stupid.

To put this into perspective, the Notre Dame of Paris was built over a period of 182 years, starting in 1163, the age of Charlemagne and Romanesque architecture, and ending in 1345 after the reign of Philip IV in Gothic architecture. By the time of Victor Hugo, the Vitruvius books had been recovered, and the Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism and Romanticism had touched the cathedral. Revolutions of the religious kind (Luther’s Theses of 1517 and the Reformation), economic kind (rise of the bourgeoisie), social kind (French Revolution of 1789) and political kind (Napoleon’s reign 1804-1814) had all scratched and scarred Our Lady.

Victor Hugo was right to note the state of the cathedral, but after 600 years it could hardly be a surprise the building had been modified, even if they were bold modifications like the removal of the spire. What might have enraged him so about mankind and architects?

The answer to this is revealed when he explains the full significance of chapter one, ending with the Archdeacon directing our gaze away from a book, made possible by Gutenberg’s printing press, to the monumental cathedral, and lamenting: “Alas, this will kill that”.

Until the fifteenth century, architecture was the principal register of mankind, man’s chief form of expression. All ideas of any complexity which arose in the world became a building. Every popular idea, just like every religious dogma, had its monuments. In fact, the human race inscribed in stone every one of its important philosophies. When this was disseminated among the masses and then suppressed by feudalism, architecture was its one outlet, eventually being fully unleashed through this art form by the realization of cathedrals. The other arts all submitted to the discipline and dominance of architecture.

Thus, up until Gutenberg in 1439, architecture was the chief, the universal form of writing.

With the invention of the press, books took over the role of architecture as the exclusive mode of expression. Architecture was dethroned. It was no longer the total, the sovereign art; it no longer had the strength to keep hold of the other arts and so they set themselves free. Sculpture became statuary, imagery became painting, canon became music and, from the sixteenth century, the great artists rose to prominence. Architecture became merely one art among others.

As human ideas change their shape, they change their mode of expression. The central idea of each generation would no longer be written in the same way or with the same material. The book of stone would give way to the book of paper. Paper was to kill the building and the sole power of the Church, and the Archdeacon was feeling the transition. For Victor Hugo, it was the ignorance of the ‘architecture as one art among others’ making adaptations to the ‘architecture as the mother of all arts’ that infuriated him.

Today we are again in transition. This time books of paper are losing their absolute power to express knowledge, as the digital realm and internet rise. Like architecture, books will not be lost but they will have to reinvent an independent status as one art among many.

As for architecture, digitalization adds an extra dimension to our profession. It would not be surprising if many young architects started designing videos, virtual reality and gaming experiences of architecture and urban design, as a precursor to building. In the digital world, again many independent arts are being combined to create an energy that raises overall design quality. Who knows, architecture may regain a position of hegemony and virtual cities and buildings may become our combined mode of expression once again.”

 

Prof. Dikkie Scipio

for De Architect

1st quarter, 2020

 

Translated from Dutch by Dianna Beaufort (Words On The Run)

16/03 2020

KAAN Architecten remains fully operational

Collaboration and teamwork are key aspects of our daily work in architecture. While the circumstances of society change by the minute, KAAN Architecten’s workflow continues remotely to serve our clients and partners, safeguarding our fellow citizens’ and employees’ health and safety.

By means of our digital platform, the integral processes concerning design, meetings, presentations and communication are maintained without reservations. Our teams are active and can be contacted during office hours through the usual communication channels.

On behalf of the team, KAAN Architecten sends its warmest regards for your health and safety. Remain responsible and vigilant for the benefit of your community.

11/03 2020

Enter the KAAN Architecten publication giveaway!

Due to great interest, we are giving away several books and publications about the work of KAAN Architecten. Find out how to enter below!

Enter for a chance to win a copy of limited edition project books and monograph issues with rich illustrative and photographic documentation of KAAN Architecten projects. Click on links below to explore the publications eligible for the giveaway:

L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui Hors-série – KAAN Architecten

I Maestri dell’Architettura Collector’s Edition – KAAN Architecten

Crematorium Siesegem

Utopia – Library and Academy for Performing Arts

ISMO – Institut des Sciences Moléculaires d’Orsay

To enter, fill in the form HERE with your contact information and mark your preferred publication. Please note the giveaway will close on 18 March 2020. Winners will be selected at random and notified by email. Collected information will be kept confidential and used solely for contacting the winners.

28/02 2020

KAAN Architecten Hors-série monograph issue published by A’A’

KAAN Architecten is pleased to announce the release of a Hors-série publication focused on the firm’s projects and practice, published by L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, a Paris based international architecture magazine founded in 1930. The magazine, renowned for its critical look at architecture and urbanism, dedicated a 64-pages issue to the work of KAAN Architecten, available in both English and French.

The volume opens with Andrew Ayers’ in-depth interview with partner and co-founder Kees Kaan entitled ‘Master Storytellers’. It traces the milestones of the office’s history during the last two decades, touching upon important features of the firms’ philosophy, most prominently the narrative nature of the design process.

The publication further investigates the approach of KAAN Architecten through analysing four buildings as the highlights of the office portfolio: Supreme Court of the Netherlands, Utopia Library and Academy for Performing Arts, Chambre de Métiers et de l’Artisanat and Erasmus MC Education Centre. These four essays are written by Christelle Granja, implementing the voice of Marylène Gallon and Vincent Panhuysen.

Furthermore, the Hors Série also features editorials by Emmanuelle Borne, editor-in-chief of A’A’, and three ‘Carte Blanche’ contributions. This editorial space is dedicated to selected artists who established fruitful collaborations with KAAN Architecten: Victor Vroegindeweij (filmmaker), Helen Verhoeven (painter) and Dominique Panhuysen (photographer).

The issue is available for purchase in selected architecture and art libraries world-wide, as well as online at the following link.

KAAN Architecten would like to thank the editorial team behind this publication: Laure Paugam, Guillaume Ackel, Anastasia de Villepin and Caterina Grosso, as well as the very talented journalists Andrew Ayers and Christelle Granja. This publication would not have been possible without the help and support of Groep Van Roey and Velux.  

18/02 2020

I find ‘women in architecture’ a difficult subject – an interview with Dikkie Scipio

Founding partner of KAAN Architecten, Dikkie Scipio, recently sat down for an interview with Merel Pit for A.ZINE’s Ms. Architect section. Read their conversation below!

 

Originally published on a-zine.nl (available in Dutch here

“The fact that there are fewer women than men in architectural firms has nothing to do with the profession itself.” Dikkie Scipio, founding partner of KAAN Architecten, launches right into the interview with a statement about women in architecture. What follows is a discussion about her desire to take her responsibility as a role model seriously, and her opinions on what quality means in architecture. If she could plan the future, she would be designing two more significant buildings and then become Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands.

Once we’ve taken our seats in the meeting room, Dikkie Scipio gets right down to business: “So you interview women working in architecture. I find ‘women in architecture’ a difficult subject; I’ve always felt this. I fight it tooth and nail, the idea that there are fewer female architects because of the nature of the work itself. It’s nonsense that gender has any kind of influence on the quality of work you produce as an architect.”

What is the reason behind it then?

“Everything has to happen in that first phase of life – buying a house, having children, building a career – and in the meantime our life expectancy keeps rising. We’re gaining more and more time, while our window of fertility remains the same. So we need to develop a vision for the entire span of our life. The time for having children and raising them is diminishing relative to a whole lifetime. In the first phase of life we should allow ourselves the freedom to focus on this and getting a good education. After 18 years of child-rearing, during which you’ve developed in all kinds of ways, you can devote yourself to a career. A comprehensive view like this will benefit society, creating happier, more relaxed people. But it won’t be happening just yet.”

When will it?

“Once the baby-boomers are gone. Then the urgency becomes real, because the responsibility for a functioning society will suddenly rest on the shoulders of a very small group of people. A large part of this group is already suffering from burn-outs, because it’s incredibly hard to raise kids and move up the career ladder at the same time – whatever the profession.”

So fewer women at architectural firms has mostly to do with having children?

“Yes. When a woman doesn’t have children, then the same rules apply as they do for men.  Then she can put all her energy into her career, without anything holding her back.”

But how can it be that young fathers do continue to work at architectural firms?

“Because they are men. Of course, they also have a caregiving role, but they do not get pregnant, give birth or breastfeed. We women can more or less act as though we don’t have children, at least if we are lucky with our partners. Yet, if we were to feel prouder about being a woman, then we would simply invest more time in that busy, early phase of life. We’d have children first and then later invest the time in our career.”

Take more time. Is that your advice for working mothers?

“Yes. Motherhood is the most beautiful thing in the world. When I think about it, it’s such a shame that I didn’t allow myself the space and time to enjoy it because of my own notions about needing to prove myself at work. I was just on the go all the time. But it’s not healthy, and it’s also not necessary. It’ll happen later. We women need to – calmly and confidently – establish our position. I decided a while ago that I would no longer work on projects that require me to be away from home for more than one night. This was a very conscious choice, and it means that I cannot take on any projects in China, for example.”

My column Ms. Architect is primarily intended to give a platform to female architects. I feel they are less visible. For example, many people don’t know that you are a full partner at KAAN Architecten. Everyone thinks that the office is run by Kees Kaan. How do you feel about that? 

“It’s really annoying. I’ve recently realized that a public presence is actually an important part of my job. If I want to be a role model for young women, then I need to step up and become visible. I also don’t want my work to be ascribed to someone else. This means I need to work on getting seen, but I find that tricky. I really just want to work on my projects, give them my full attention and ensure that we achieve quality. And all this should not suffer from efforts to increase visibility.”

 What does quality in architecture mean to you?

“That I take the skill and professionalism of our discipline very seriously, at all levels. As an architect I create spaces, but before I get there I have to examine what really needs to happen from a multitude of perspectives. I only start once I fully understand the needs of the client and users. There’s a big difference between what people think they want and what they actually need.

Ultimately, I want a building to last, and to bond with users by making it so innately attractive to their needs that they will continue to explore and experience the building. I want them to have a relationship with the spaces and materials that make up the building. As an architect it’s important to be able to visualize this. The biggest compliment I can get when a building is completed is when clients and users tell me: we never could have imagined it this beautiful.”

What do you think is the current state of quality in Dutch architecture?

“The discipline of architecture in the Netherlands is lacking leadership and vision at the moment. There seems to be a misguided view among many clients that you can call up an architect to get them to design a pretty picture. But that is a fallacy. Architecture is so much more complex, in both the design and the execution of projects. We as a community have unfortunately allowed this to happen. Now it’s a constant struggle to achieve quality. In a few years, when Floris [Alkemade] has finished his mandate, and after I’ve completed two large-scale projects, I would love to take on the role of Chief Government Architect.”

What would you be able to do as Chief Government Architect to raise the level of quality in Dutch architecture?

“During the recession we still had the DBFMOs. They had their disadvantages, but the collective priority of creating a building based on sustainable quality was good. Now that the market is restored, making money has become the priority and creating a building that lasts is less important. Now a building has to be ‘circular’, which means nothing more than ‘easy to demolish’. I can accept the mechanisms of the market, but not that municipalities and other governing authorities have lost the capacity to develop visions.”

I’ve spoken to a lot of architects who long for a return of the climate 20 years ago, when young architects in the Netherlands had much more access to opportunities.

“Yes, a lot of young architects have a chance to develop their skills then, thanks to the regulated Dutch housing market. But they didn’t really have access to the big projects, with the exception of a few. I think it’s presumptuous for young architects to think they have the right to design a big complex just after graduating. You need to have a lot of experience to do that. Fortunately, experience grows automatically, that is, if you work on developing your skills and talent. Architecture is about understanding the client, managing processes, designing details and building the actual structure. Quality means you strive for perfection in all these aspects.”

 What would you still like to achieve as an architect?

“A building that will stand for centuries. Many developers write off a building after fifteen years. In this context, I could create seven buildings in a century. But I’m not interested in numbers, only in quality. The French writer Marguerite Yourcenar inspires me, for example. She rewrote and rewrote the same book until it was perfect. I ask myself in my work: when have I captured the essence? If I want to design a building that will stand the test of time, its quality needs to be at 100%.”

Merel Pit is the founder of A.ZINE, initiator of Ms. Architect (Mevr. De Architect) column and a 2019 Quarterly Winner of Fleur Groenendijk Foundation. As a board member of the Foundation, Dikkie Scipio writes in response to the chosen winners, and her follow-up on Merel’s win can be found here.

Photographs by Inga Powilleit.

 

07/02 2020

Italian monograph issue of KAAN Architecten has been published

As a part of their Masters of Architecture series, the Italian publishing house Hachette has dedicated an issue to the work of KAAN Architecten.

The publication traces the history of the office through milestone projects, most notably revisiting the Netherlands Embassy in Mozambique, Supreme Court of The Netherlands, as well as the UTOPIA library in Aalst and the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Terminal.

The Masters of Architecture series of illustrated monographs features the works and protagonists of contemporary architecture, including among others UN Studio, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Foster+Partners, Studio Liebeskind and Zaha Hadid Architects.

The issue is available in Italian only, and can be purchased online or on newsstands across Italy. Get your copy here!

18/12 2019

Sixth issue of New Amsterdam Courthouse book series is out now!

The sixth issue of the photo series by photographer Dominique Panhuysen has been published. The series follows the New Amsterdam Courthouse construction site and building process.

This latest edition chronicles June throughout October 2019 during which the highest point of the building has been reached. Meanwhile, the facade glazing is being mounted, nearly closing up the building. On the inside rough finishes have been put in, as well as natural stone wall cladding.

KAAN Architecten is undertaking works for the New Amsterdam Courthouse as part of a consortium which includes Macquarie Corporate Holdings Ltd., ABT, DVP, Heijmans and Facilicom.

Explore the design here or browse the full photo report here.

 

09/07 2019

Fifth New Amsterdam Courthouse photo report is out now!

In her latest photo report, photographer Dominique Panhuysen captures the progress made during past six months at the New Amsterdam Courthouse construction site.

As showcased in the previous issue, the building started to rise above ground with first facade columns being put in place. In the past months, the remainder of 22-metre high facade columns, spanning all the way up to fifth floor, have been set up and first glass panels mounted. This phase is also marked by the completion of the concrete structure of the public area.

KAAN Architecten is undertaking works for the New Amsterdam Courthouse as part of a consortium which includes Macquarie Corporate Holdings Ltd., ABT, DVP, Heijmans and Facilicom.

Explore the design here or browse the full photo report here.

21/06 2019

Listen to Change – Eyes and Ears of the City

Ahead of the 2019 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB), titled “Urban Interactions”, Kees Kaan joins the collective discussion on the evolving relationship between cities and technology. 

Opening in December 2019 in Shenzhen, China, UABB will feature two shows run by two independent curatorial teams. The “Eyes of the City” section, curated by MIT professor Carlo Ratti, investigates the way digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence will impact both urban life and architectural practices. In his statement as Foundational Contributor, Kees Kaan discusses what happens when the sensor-imbued city acquires the ability to see – almost as if it had eyes.

Digital technology in the Information Age, and all its offspring, are having a significantly different effect on our lives than previous technological revolutions had. With the possibility to develop and produce in different and quicker ways, these new technologies allow us to use what we already have in a completely different manner. New technologies bear the promise of a more sustainable life.

The space that we move in will be aware of our presence and actions, and the vehicles we drive and the tools we use will be connected and communicate with us and each other directly. This opens a perspective on previously unimaginable possibilities of a different daily life coming true in the existing urban space. The future will not only be made of new buildings and spaces but will also reveal an entirely different use to what is already there.

Architects are ultimately interested in urban change caused by new ways of living and working, new infrastructure and urban facilities and different uses and management of public spaces. To be able to design for an unknown future we need to develop a proper understanding or informed intuition of this change. To predict the future based on what we know and can imagine today is hardly possible. However, it is possible to get a better understanding of what is already there and from that point onwards to identify and understand what is likely to change and what is not. Only then can we start to speculate on how to recover the future with architecture.

For planners/architects/designers, the challenge is to translate the impact of rapid changes – especially on energy, mobility, health and leisure – into planning and design questions. The question for us is: “how can the City of the Future be imagined? How can those smart innovations be introduced into the domain of architecture and urban design?”

By using Amsterdam as a living laboratory, graduate students, researchers and teachers have been exploring how these changes might affect this city. We aim to understand the structure of today’s Amsterdam, to explore possible future scenarios and to speculate on new architectural types and new ways of living in this city. By listening to the changes from the past, we foresee what is then coming.”

Find more information about the Biennale here.

21/05 2019

Two realms, one building, one book

Created and published by KAAN Architecten, ‘ISMO’ is a book about Institut des Sciences Moléculaires d’Orsay, a building for scientific research designed for Paris Saclay campus in 2018.

The subtle yet elegant design of the book mirrors the design of the building in several features. The duality of ISMO’s programme is reinterpreted through two types of paper sewn together by aptly chosen Swiss binding technique often used in scientific publishing. Meanwhile, the recognisable concrete facade is referenced in the grid-like positioning of the ISMO logo and the texture of the grey cover paper that uses genuine pulverised cement to give it a rough chapped feel.

Along with an original essay by Ruud Brouwers in both English and French, the book expresses the essence of the building through rich photographs by Fernando Guerra and Sebastian van Damme.

Explore the full publication here.

20/03 2019

“The Profession of the Architect” – a column by Dikkie Scipio

Oscillating somewhere between art, engineering and entrepreneurship, architectural profession has always been difficult to categorise. Even within the institutions that provide architectural education, there is a systematic difference in opinion and, consequently, the focus of the curriculum.

In her latest column for Fleur Groenendijk Foundation, Dikkie Scipio explains the workings of the architecture education system in The Netherlands and how in 2015 it brought about the BEP (Professional Traineeship approved by the Register of Architects). This marked a tectonic shift in acquiring the title of ‘the architect’, impacting the career trajectories of architecture school graduates.

Promoting young architects has been a sole focus for Scipio, who is in her fifth year of serving as a board member of Fleur Groenendijk Foundation. In an interview earlier this year, she explained that aside from graduating with top marks, the success of every young architect relies heavily on being recognised and embraced by potential customers or employers. To that effect, with initiatives like De Meester, she seeks to highlight the work of recent graduates that shows social and contextual relevance, craftsmanship, and a clear vision.

Read the entire column here (English, Dutch).

 

01/03 2019

‘Stations as Nodes’ book is out now!

Led and curated by the Chair of Complex Projects, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment TU Delft and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, ‘Stations as Nodes’ explores the role of stations in future metropolitan areas from both French and Dutch perspective.

Summarizing the activities currently running at AMS Institute, Delft University of Technology and University of Paris-Est, the book presents Stations of the Future initiatives and the Integrated Mobility Challenges in Future Metropolitan Areas summer school, accompanied by a curated reportage of the Amsterdam Sloterdijk station area by Sebastian van Damme.

The book also features contributions by invited experts on specific aspects and problems of conception, management and development of stations. Included as a ‘project from practice’ is Kees Kaan’s essay about the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Terminal designed by KAAN Architecten. Other Dutch contributions include Benthem Crouwel Architects and UN Studio.

Find more information about the book here, or visit BK Books to download the e-book copy.

 

26/02 2019

A brick-red book about Utopia

Following a sequence of awards and honours, KAAN Architecten published a “brick-coloured” book about Utopia Library and Academy for Performing Arts in Aalst capturing the intricacies of its design.

The book includes a text written by architecture critic Ruud Brouwers describing the history of this peculiar project and its relation to the city of Aalst, accompanied by a rich illustrative and photographic documentation.

Utopia Library and Academy for Performing Arts has been slotted into the urban fabric of the city center creating three new squares alongside adjacent streets. The new building integrates into its design the ‘Pupillenschool’ building from 1880: its historic façades blending perfectly with the new structure through a dialogue of materials.

The complex is enriched by the vibrancy of the two seemingly opposite programs it comprises – the library and the academy for performing arts. The windows offer unobstructed views through the building showcasing the bookshelves and the rehearsal spaces for the various performing arts. The complex is not ornamented but is itself an ornament for the city.

Browse the full publication here.

 

15/01 2019

‘Non-Super Dutch’ – WA magazine issue curated by Kees Kaan

In order to present the exciting new currents of Dutch architecture, Chinese magazine World Architecture (WA) has invited Kees Kaan to curate the issue aptly titled ‘Non-Super Dutch’.

In his opening statement, Kees Kaan elaborates on the contemporary developments in Dutch building culture: “The Netherlands has an ideal culture for conventional architecture. The cultural consensus here leaves no room for the unbridled creativity of a genius. Property development has been regulated in such a way that all parties involved or tangential to the process have a right to voice their interests or concerns.” By default, this has influenced the role of the architect within that process, making it a role of inspiration, storytelling, conception and management. “Architects have relinquished control as master builders and are not the sole authority on how to build, but are now professional advisors in teams of interested parties,” says Kaan.

Along with Kaan, a group of independent writers – such as Ruud Brouwers, Kirsten Hannema and Yang Zhang, have contributed to revising the iconic, yet outdated notion of ‘Super Dutch’. Moreover, the issue includes a project selection which is completely arbitrary, in order to showcase a diverse range programs and typologies in recent architectural production.

Read the full opening statement here.

 

09/01 2019

Dikkie Scipio on creating a platform for young architects

‘Young people with fresh new ideas are the lifeblood of our office’ claims KAAN Architecten founding partner Dikkie Scipio in her latest interview for the Fleur Groenendijk Foundation where she serves as a board member. Right at the heels of announcing the new De Meester winner for 2018, this rings true more than ever. 

Graduating with top marks aside, the success of every young architect relies heavily on being recognized and embraced by potential customers or employers, explains Scipio. This is why De Meester award was created – to give young graduates a platform to present themselves to larger audiences and make a debut within the professional sphere. Along with a jury of industry professionals, she seeks to highlight the work of recent graduates that shows social and contextual relevance, craftsmanship, and a clear vision.

Same rules apply within the office, where combination of experienced and young architects meet in a dialogue that is essential for the design process. In her own words: ‘This is the start of the dialogue that you hope will lead to something better, something that you could not have thought of beforehand.’

Read the full interview here. (Dutch only)

 

08/01 2019

Fourth New Amsterdam Courthouse photo report is out now!

Photographer Dominique Panhuysen continues her photographic expeditions to the New Amsterdam Courthouse construction site, showcasing the progress made during past six months in the latest photo report issue.

After the completion groundwork and construction of the two basement levels, as showcased in the previous issue, the building started to rise above ground with first facade columns being put in place. KAAN Architecten is undertaking works for the New Amsterdam Courthouse as part of a consortium which includes Macquarie Capital, ABT, DVP, construction companies Heijmans and M.J. de Nijs & Zonen, and Facilicom. Completion of the project is expected in September 2020.

Explore the full publication or find out more about the project here.

22/11 2018

Crematorium Siesegem book is published

To mark the release of the new Crematorium Siesegem project, KAAN Architecten has published a book showcasing the design.

Nestled in the landscape, the crematorium building is a comforting sequence of spaces in symbiotic relationship with its tranquil surroundings. It is an ode to verticality, while being horizontal and pure in its geometry and balanced proportions. Its calm, easily readable environment and tranquil landscape merge together to emanate genuine serenity.

Explore the Crematorium Siesegem showcased through the photographs of Simone Bossi and Sebastian van Dame here.

 

 

31/10 2018

B30 featured in the Grote Nederlandse Kunstkalender 2019

Every year the Grote Nederlandse Kunstkalender provides a cross section of the current art scene, and the newest issue will feature the work by KAAN Architecten. This year’s edition will be presented during a launch party on Friday, 2 November at Het Industriegebouw. 

Marked under the date 13 June 2019 of the new calendar is B30 – a historical building in Bezuidenhoutseweg 30 in The Hague, now transformed into a contemporary and state-of-the-art working environment. The original building acts a vital and sustainable component of the total design brought to life by use of rich materials and clear layouts. 

As such, the renovation process relied heavily on the expertise of the craftsmen who supplied their skills during the construction. In their honor, under the photograph by Karin Borghouts, the calendar also features a short ‘Ode to the Craft’ by KAAN Architecten founding partner Dikkie Scipio:

Ode to the Craft

This is an ode to the craftsmanship of
the carpenters, the painters, the plasterers and the tilers,
of the natural stone workers, the bricklayers and concrete makers,
from road workers, metalworkers, parquet layers and glass-workers,
from the mosaic layers, the furniture makers, upholsterers and carpet weavers.
This is an ode to the creators without whom we were left empty-handed.
This is an ode to the craft.

-Dikkie Scipio

Find more information on the calendar here.

07/09 2018

‘Thank the crisis’ – column by Dikkie Scipio

Dikkie Scipio’s new quarterly column for Fleur Groenendijk foundation has been published.

In her latest column written as a board member of Fleur Groenendijk Foundation, Dikkie Scipio reflects on the implicit advantages for societies and economies that occur during troubling times. The essay elaborates on how unexpected debates and initiatives develop when different actors are brought together by extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, it also advocates keeping up that positive momentum even after the times of crisis have passed, in order to keep benefiting the larger community.

Read the full article here.

13/08 2018

UTOPIA featured in worldwide press

Almost two months have passed since UTOPIA Library and Academy for Performing Arts in Aalst has opened for public. In that period, the project as well as the grand opening weekend have been widely covered by local and international media, both in print and online.

Anna Winston of Dezeen has interviewed Vincent Panhuysen, one of KAAN Architecten founding partners, about the making of UTOPIA and the process behind the design. Read the full article here.

Other media platforms like Yatzer, Wallpaper and Archinect have all featured the UTOPIA project, praising its masterful integration with the old school building. The project has also received worldwide recognition with ArchDaily publishing it across its multiple international platforms in China, Brazil and wider South America. The most intensive coverage has been by the local Belgian press, which has written multiple newspaper articles about the library and academy, focusing on its importance on civic life of Aalst.

Below is a short overview of the extensive press coverage.

United Kingdom:  Wallpaper Dezeen

USA Archinect  ContractDesign  aWorkstation

Italy  Designboom URDesignmag Divisare ArketipoMagazine ProfessionArchitetto Floornature MaterialiCasa

Russia TheArchtect ADMagazine

Ireland Architecture-design

France Architecture d’aujourd’hui

Spain DXI Magazine Revistaad TCCuadernos

China Gooood Popbee

Netherlands Architectenweb deArchitect stedebouwarchitectuur NOBB

Germany Baunetz  DEAR Magazin

Poland PointofDesign

Argentina NoticiasArquitectura

Thailand Handhome ThepamDesign

Greece Yatzer Elculture

Turkey Arkitera

Brazil Archdaily

Switzerland World-Architects

26/07 2018

New publication on UAM campus projects in Brazil

After completing two projects in Brazil just a year after the official launch of an outpost in São Paulo, KAAN Architecten has published a booklet showcasing the campus buildings of Universidade Anhembi Morumbi.

The sibling buildings in Piracicaba and São José dos Campos are landmarks that firmly and visually open themselves to the city, giving the University a recognizable position within the architectural panorama. Adhering to the motto ‘two campuses, one architectural identity’, both projects feature representative facades and generous central common spaces based on sustainable building principles of inner climate control. The projects were coordinated by BRC Group.

Browse the entire publication here.

11/07 2018

‘Beauty does not judge’ – new column by Dikkie Scipio

“Stripped of its culpability or glory, what remains is the proof of craftsmanship by architects, artists and builders. Beauty does not judge.”

Continuing her work as a board member of the Fleur Groenendijk Foundation, Dikkie Scipio writes quarterly columns in response to the incoming funding applications. Her most recent column reacts to this quarter’s application ‘Controversial Heritage’ by Ankie Petersen. Aptly named ‘Beauty does not judge’, the essay discusses how we deal with politically charged heritage, and can we separate the valuable architectural and artistic opus from the regime that brought it about.

Read more here!

09/07 2018

Out now: third issue of New Amsterdam Courthouse photo report

The third issue of the book series by photographer Dominique Panhuysen has been published. The series is dedicated to the New Amsterdam Courthouse construction site and building process. This latest edition features a look at the current groundwork and construction of the two underground levels.

Spreading over approx. 10 000 sqm, the New Courthouse project aims to merge the city streets with the layout of the building, creating an extension of urban space within. Comprising 12 levels, the building is exemplary in its efficiency, like the organization itself, and is part of the daily life surrounding it.

KAAN Architecten is undertaking works for the New Amsterdam Courthouse as part of a consortium which includes Macquarie Capital, ABT, DVP, construction companies Heijmans and M.J. de Nijs & Zonen, and Facilicom. Completion of the project is expected in September 2020.

Browse the entire issue here!

25/10 2017

A book series about New Amsterdam Courthouse

The demolition works and construction of the New Amsterdam Courthouse started in January 2017. Photographer Dominique Panhuysen is reporting from the site to realise a dedicated book series.

From behind the construction fences and up in the tower cranes, she captures the work of demolishers and builders on the building site from a very personal perspective. Every building phase will result in a photo section. When the New Amsterdam Courthouse opens its doors, the series will be complete.

Browse here the first issue!

12/07 2016

KAAN releases the book “Nieuw leven voor Huis van Brabant”

The Provinciehuis of North-Brabant was originally designed in 1971 by Dutch architect Hugh Maaskant. The challenge of the renovation project by KAAN Architecten, completed in 2015, stands in the right reading of the original spatial quality and in updating the building to contemporary needs.

KAAN Architecten’s intervention achieves an extensive openness of the three levels of the horizontal plinth; in the office tower rooms are replaced by a flexible working space and clustered in three floors each.

596 provinciehuis book pictures-2

The dualism of then and now, the contemporary renewal by KAAN Architecten in the Maaskant spirit, have been captured in both photographs by Sebastian van Damme, and words by Ruud Brouwers. Sebastian van Damme is permanently searching for the essence of the built environment. Ruud Brouwers is an architecture critic and a consultant on urban development and architecture policy.

Their complementary works are now combined in the book, published by KAAN Architecten.

09/06 2016

Dikkie Scipio’s essay to present the book “BEELDEN”

The new book “BEELDEN. Stadsverfraaiing in Rotterdam sinds 1940”, written by Siebe Thissen (head of Beeldende Kunst & Openbare Ruimte) is about the reconstruction in Rotterdam and the role that art played in it.

On the occasion of the book launch, Dikkie Scipio has signed an essay about the relation between sculptures and public spaces in the city of Rotterdam.

You can read the full essay “Sculptures in Public Spaces” in the Academic section of the website.

“While public space used to be defined as space that wasn’t privately owned and was delineated by building facades and entrances, and where on occasion the space might have been entrusted to artists when conceded by the generosity of a builder/owner, today the line between public and private is slowly blurring. A new generation has emerged that no longer aims for possession, not on account of political ideals but because they do not see the point of ownership.”

Schermata 2016-06-09 alle 15.14.00

Schermata 2016-06-09 alle 15.14.26

22/04 2016

Book: De Hoge Raad der Nederlanden

Photographer Dominique Panhuysen has recently released the book “De Hoge Raad der Nederlanden – under construction”, a collection of photographs taken during 25 construction months of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands.

In early 2014, KAAN Architecten asked Dominique Panhuysen to follow the construction of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague, confident that her peculiar view would have offered an insightful documentation of the building process. Focusing her attention on people, traces of life and gesture, this voluminous compound is able to depict, at the same time, the beauty and the roughness of this high court complex.

DSC_3618 copy2

Dominique Panhuysen is a photographer and visual artist. She has a keen eye for the extraordinary of the ordinary. A prominent feature of her oeuvre is to capture and document everyday situations. The materials and subjects generally appearing in her work are found casually, during daily explorations. Her photography projects often consider series, spanning over several years.

To browse the book, follow this link.

The book is available as a paperback 38x30cm/320 pages, with ISBN 978-90-324843-1-1, published by KAAN Architecten.

For more info please contact dominique.panhuysen@online.nl.

 

01/05 2015

“Na de afbraak, de opbouw” interview with Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 12

On December 1st 2014 has started phase 2 of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts renovation. Three years of demolition are followed by three and a half years of building process.

The museum official magazine Zaal Z has interviewed KAAN Architecten partner, Dikkie Scipio together with Jan Severyns and Nathalie Vandebrouck, team and project leaders of the Government of Flanders Facility Management department.

Dikkie Scipio says: “We want to preserve the 19th century museum, so to experience it as it was. The new museum is organized in a very different way and it should lead to a different perception of space”.

You can find the full article from page 18 of the PDF.

 

09/10 2014

Domus 983 features PLANTA and Kees Kaan essay “Time puts everything in place”

The September 2014 issue of the Italian magazine dedicates four pages to KAAN Architecten’s project and exhibition of PLANTA at the Venice Biennale. Down here the full text.

Times puts everything in place – Kees Kaan

The field covered by architecture seems to be without boundaries. Architecture is present everywhere, and as a result the subject of public debate. The profession has a long tradition. Depending on the stance taken by the observer, either this tradition or the latest fashion in building dominates. Most commissions emerge from the societal desire to build, but within a framework of economical and political culture.

It is very tempting to label oneself as an architect with a specific trademark or speciality. The use of an extreme style makes you more easily recognisable as an expert or an extravagant designer. Personal branding has become the standard. Architects like to see themselves as boosters of innovation. This is the most inappropriate and undeserved self-image of our profession. By its very nature, architecture is a slow profession, so trendsetting or being ahead of social changes is a contradiction in terms.

Time is a constant and puts everything in its place. Jerzy Kosinski describes this beautifully in his novel Being There. The story is about Chance, a gardener, who spends his entire life in a walled garden, isolated from the surrounding world. Behind this barrier, time passes without any reference but the seasons.

“What was nice about the garden, was that at any moment, Chance could start to wander, never knowing whether he was ahead of or behind his previous steps. All that mattered was moving in his own time, like the growing plants”.

There is an unbreakable bond between the material from which a building is made and the zeitgeist enclosed within it. But in time the object can liberate itself from the idea from which it emanated. The idea was just the cause, a means to the end of having a building. When the circumstances in which the building emerged change, the spaces and bricks remain and may harbour new activities. I consider an essential aspect of architecture to be its generosity in cutting itself free from its lead position. At the end of the day, a building is nothing but a tool facilitating human activity. The quality of a building is measured by its conveniences, durability, ergonomics and functionality. Contrary to what happens in society, the physical reality and thus the fundamental requirements of human life hardly change.

Form is not the aim of Chance’s garden, but the result of a series of actions performed with care and attention. Quality and universal wisdom are the implicit consequences in this metaphor. This goes for the creation of buildings too. We produce good buildings through dedication and concentration.

When the physiognomy of a building is right, its appearance will correspond in character, function and essence. Beauty in the conventional sense is irrelevant. A building that is correct in its physiognomy might very well be unattractive but its appearance and character correspond. In order to achieve this we follow a conceptual and programmatic path. Our architectural designs are rid of all elements that do not contribute to the conceptual essence of the project. What remains is the most direct, intense representation of the fundamental idea behind the project.

29/09 2014

“Invisible” Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 10

They built solid and well-planned structures in the 19th century, which means the building can take quite a bit. Its Neo-Classical architecture is proud and majestic, qualities that for many years were not much appreciated. However, its central position in the Zuid district allows it to come into its own. That’s why we have chosen to limit the museum’s expansion to within the contours of its roofline.

The large new gallery will not be visible from the streets and square adjacent to the museum. The gallery space will only be seen, amidst the old roofs, from a more distanced perspective in the diagonal streets that delineate the 19th-century star-shaped urban plan, in which the museum is the central point.

From inside as well, the new gallery will not be immediately visible because the focus is primarily on re-establishing the routing of the original layout.

The new museum is anchored in the building’s four patios and has a large upper gallery above that. Perhaps it’s easiest to visualize as a big table, with four legs standing in the patios and with a hole in the middle of the tabletop that penetrates the roof of the central Rubens and Van Dyck galleries. Of course, you are likely wondering how this looks from the inside and how you can travel from one table leg to the other. The new space cannot be seen from the old museum space at any point. Yet you can go from one leg to the other. This will be made possible by doubling the wall, over the whole height, between the Rubens & Van Dyck galleries and the two small anterooms. Because the rooms of the new museum are at a different level to the old rooms, one can walk – unseen – between the two walls, above the entrance to the Rubens and Van Dyck galleries to the other side of the new museum.

In this renovation there are no changes planned to the largest room, the Rubens gallery, but the Van Dyck gallery will change since it is being shortened by 2.9 meters. This involves contracting the space by precisely one bay and merging the new wall with the existing space without disrupting its pattern. Designed by architects Winders and Van Dijk and considered significant, the proportions of light admitted into the interior at a height of 14.7 meters over 12-meter widths are being maintained.

The recesses that make the hidden passageways possible have now been made. Parts of the cornice have been carefully dismounted and are being saved to re-use in the reconstruction. In this way, the new museum infringes as little as possible upon the character of the old museum. The new museum remains invisible to the old.

19/06 2014

“Not ideal” Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 9

Nearly all old buildings have some amount of asbestos. In the last century it was an extremely popular building material because it was cheap, easy to work, strong and served as insulation. Asbestos is fire resistant and for this reason it has been used since antiquity. Roman Vestal Virgins for example incorporated asbestos into the wicks of their eternal flames.

Asbestos is a collective term for several naturally occurring minerals that are comprised of very fine, microscopic fibres. There are two kinds of raw asbestos: one with a spiral fibre structure (white asbestos) and the other with a straight fibre that can be blue, brown, grey or green. Actually, these colours can only be seen in the raw state. Once the asbestos has been worked, the type used can only be detected through lab research. It was thought that the biochemical composition of asbestos is what causes cancer, but now it is believed that its cancer-inducing properties lie in the length to diameter ratio of inhaled fibres. As long as the fibres stay bound, they are not dangerous.

Asbestos has an infinite number of applications, from protective clothing to building materials such as roof coverings, sewage pipes and chimneys. In times of need, even holes in cooking pans were repaired with asbestos plates and who hasn´t felt the cold of those vinyl floors laid over asbestos tiles that were very popular well into the 1980s. When office and public buildings were fitted with climate control installations, spray-applied asbestos was invented to provide an easy solution to coat pipes and wires with a fire-resistant and insulating layer. However, sprayed coatings of asbestos damage easily causing a greater dispersion of fibres. Asbestos in this form is what first led to the discovery that it is a cancer hazard. The use of spray-on asbestos has been prohibited in the Netherlands since 1978 and all other asbestos products were prohibited in 1993. A 2001 royal decree in Belgium ensured a ban on manufacturing, using and offering for sale products that contained asbestos.

Nearly all old buildings have some amount of asbestos. So, too, the museum. Much asbestos has been found around the pipes of the out-dated climate control installations. It has been removed in containment. For security’s sake we did some extra investigating. What we found was not ideal. Around the roofs and shafts more asbestos was uncovered. We cannot proceed before this is removed as well.

You can download the PDF version via the link down here and you’ll find Dikkie Scipio’s article from page 27.

10/12 2013

“Surprises” Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 8

The construction of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts is challenging, but the design teams always manage to find a solution together to enable the implementation of the design itself. Every shipyard has surprises, which at the end become genuine gifts.

The contractor has now been working on our museum for two years. Other than the large crane protruding out of the roofline, not much of this work is visible from the outside. It’s a different story inside, however. Despite the stripping and demolition work, which makes the building look and feel like a ruin, already the quality of the new space can easily be visualized. Later additions, both structural and in terms of climate control systems, have been removed, bringing the building closer to its original state. The suspended ceilings introduced in the course of time have also been removed. Many galleries have therefore regained their original dimensions, making the museum appear even larger. On the ground floor at the rear of the building, the removal of the grid ceiling has revealed an attractive arched space which, like the new art storage facility, feels like the space of catacombs. At the front, where the public will enter, the structure has been punctured at a number of locations to establish a relationship between the ground floor and the entrance on the first floor. The most prominent example of this is the removal of the floor of the old auditorium. The beautiful double-storey space thus created will be the library’s reading room and can be viewed from above through the new museum shop and bookshop. It is a simple spatial intervention with an exceptional effect.

The space immediately below the entrance has been far more challenging. Both here and at a number of other places in the building we encountered a few surprises, such as beams, walls and recesses that were different than we had anticipated and also asbestos at locations where we had not expected to find it. Although challenging, the construction and design teams have always managed to find a solution together to enable implementation of the design. Every building site has surprises. They come with the territory, certainly when restoring and refurbishing large old buildings, since it is not always clear how building work was carried out in the past and what changes were made to a given building. Surprises usually mean unpleasant setbacks, but sometimes we get lucky. In the skirting, we found a pair of old window decorations for the seawater aquarium that was displayed during the second World’s Fair. We can save at least one of these, the one best preserved, for posterity. So on occasion, surprises are genuine gifts.

 

You can download the PDF version via the link down here and you’ll find Dikkie Scipio’s article from page 36.

30/09 2013

“Wait a little while longer” Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 7

In 2003 we agreed the Museum should be kept as a monument because a rapidly changing environment would increase its historical significance. Regeneration of the urban axis is now the foundation of the building’s restoration concept. We just have to wait a little while longer and then sand grey will be beautiful again.

Although hard to imagine now, Antwerp’s ‘Zuid’ (South) district only recently emerged from a difficult period in its history. Things slowly began to improve for the run‑down area only after the arrival of the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (MUHKA) in 1987 and the Zuiderpershuis Cultural Centre in 1993. When we submitted to the selection process to design the museum’s master plan in November 2003, we were confident that the district would revitalize rapidly. Art, culture and the hospitality industry were already leading the way and architect Richard Rogers had already been commissioned to design a new court building that would be located at the former Zuiderplein on the site of Zuidstation, the railway station that was demolished in 1965. The arrival of law firms, which would undoubtedly take up residence within walking distance of the court building, would ensure that the South district would quickly regain its allure. And an urban district that gains in standing will reflect the spirit of the new era rather than be conserved. We were awarded the contract for our pitch that the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp should be conserved because a rapidly modernizing environment would increase its historical significance.

Ten years later and South is now a trendy district. It looks as though the court building has always been there and Zuidstation never was. The station, which was built in 1898 based on a design by the Ysendyck brothers, was part of the urban expansion at the end of the 19th century. The star‑shaped street pattern of the South district with its dramatic axes are characteristic of the urban planning ideas of the fin-de-siècle. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts is centrally located at Place du Peuple on the Schelde–Zuiderlei axis. It was one of the first public buildings and architects Winders and Van Dyck almost literally allowed the urban axis to run through the building as an extension of public space, reinforcing this with appropriate colours and materials now lost. For a long time, as was the case with respect to the district, the old museum building was not valued. To those in the second half of the 20th century, the 19th century was not that long ago and its architectural style was considered to be excessively monumental.

Re-establishing the experience of the urban axis in terms of colour and material now forms the foundation of the building’s restoration concept. Just wait a while and in the 21st century, sand grey will be beautiful again.

 

You can download the PDF version via the link down here and you’ll find Dikkie Scipio’s article from page 35.

19/06 2013

“Built to impress” Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 6

The blueprint for the refurbishment and extension of the museum is ready: a monumental building entrusted to paper in flat and folded form. Is huge for a reason: it was designed and built to impress. Is therefore more than a museum building, it is an important part of its own collection.

The blueprint for the refurbishment and extension of the museum is ready: over 150,000 m3 of monumental building have been entrusted to paper in flat and folded form. Sixteen boxes with forty archive boxes contain 150 drawings and approximately 100 structural detailing, along with 16 lever arch files that contain specifications (documents that specify exactly what and where materials will be used). Waiting in our corridor, they will shortly be sent to Brussels, where they will be used for the European tendering procedure to select the contractor that will carry out the project’s second phase, the actual refurbishment and extension works.

The 19th-century building is large, or perhaps better said: voluminous. Yet, one does not get the full sense of its scale when viewing the drawings. The historic building’s clear floor plans are symmetrical again and easy to read, and the old walls are between 60 and 80 cm thick which optically reduces the size of the building as drawn by half. Regardless of how well you know the building, the scale is deceptive and it is always the figures that remind you of the building’s actual size. The footprint is almost 10,000 m2, museum gallery space will total 7,400 m2 following the refurbishment and over 3,300 m2 of existing roof will be renovated, for example. Other figures are even more remarkable. For example, 15,000 m2 of thermal insulation is required for the channels and the construction’s rolled box beams will account for no less than 835,000 kg of steel.

Even so, the grand lady still stands tall beyond her stature for she was designed and built to impress. She was first showcased in 1894 during the second World’s Fair in Antwerp. Aquariums for subtropical fish were immured in the ground-floor corridors for the event. The map of the World’s Fair indicated the Musée des Beaux-Arts as attraction number 118 and the sous‑sol aquarium as attraction number 119. This was the 19th century. People were fascinated by technology, travel and discoveries. It was the century in which chemistry became a science and the principles of biology were established. It was also the century in which, for the first time, large collections of art were put on permanent display for ordinary citizens. Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts is therefore more than a museum building. It is a building characteristic of its era and is therefore an important part of its own collection.

 

You can download the PDF version via the link down here and you’ll find Dikkie Scipio’s article from page 40.

27/03 2013

“Nude” Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 5

The building work has been completed, demolition can begin. We are gradually revealing what has remained hidden for so long. The museum will later be completely exposed, showing us its true beauty before we dress it again for the 21st century.

The building work has been completed, demolition can begin. This statement seems to be paradoxical, so perhaps some explanation is in order. Up until now, the overriding focus has been on building the new art storage centre at the museum’s bomb-proof heart and then creating a route to transfer the works of art that were being stored in the museum to the new art depot. Although the museum’s original layout comprised of a sequence of rooms through which visitors could pass, its natural flow became blocked by the multiple uses that were added to the museum over the years. Directly above the entrance for example, one of the most beautiful and monumental wings became home to a number of very large works of art that, mysteriously had made their way into the space, but were now impossible to remove without cutting away parts of the walls. And so we sawed.

The paintings from the Rubens Gallery were able to be lifted through the hatch in the storage centre. For a few moments each painting, of tremendous value as a work of art, was no more than the sum of its weight and dimensions. Never before have so many of these works been seen from the back: a Rubens that was just a heavy colossus consisting of a number of wood panels – with a carved Hand of Antwerp – bound together by large iron bars. Its construction was like that of a building: monumental and solid. This is the ethos we will return to.

The galleries are now empty and, without the works on the walls, appear even larger than before. In the 19th century, a walk in the museum was like a walk in the park. There was no climate control, nor even electricity. The museum simply closed its doors when darkness fell. Systems were later installed for the comfort of the public and the well-being of the art, but these are now outdated. We are removing them just as we are removing everything else that has accumulated in the museum over the years. We are gradually revealing what has remained hidden for so long. Soon the museum will be completely stripped and exposed, showing us its true beauty before we dress it again for the 21st century.

 

You can download the PDF version via the link down here and you’ll find Dikkie Scipio’s article from page 17.

05/12 2012

“A work in progress” Dikkie Scipio – ZAAL Z number 4

A work in progress, the storage area, a cavernous empty space at the heart of the building vaulted like a cathedral, awaits the many valuable works that will fill it. Shelves and paintings a place where the work ripens until it is ready to be shown to the public.

This month, the storage facility at the heart of the building is, at last, complete. The empty, cavernous space, vaulted like a cathedral, will soon be ready to receive its many valuable works of art. Once the space is filled, it will be the museum’s treasure trove. For now, and only briefly, it is a space of beauty, strength and security: a cathedral for art.

Strewn around the garden are 90cm-thick chunks of stone, remnants of the 125-year-old protective walls, sawed out to create access for the ventilation channels.

Storage racks will be installed and then the paintings will be ensconced, leaving little trace of all that went before to accommodate this. Only the initiated understand the long road travelled before a building is ready for use. Like the production of a painting, the public generally only sees the end result. People can sometimes catch a glimpse of the building behind the scaffolding, yet they are rarely allowed to enter a studio. This is where experimentation takes place, concepts are explored and compared, and skilled craftsmanship is exercised. In this protected environment, the artist does not have to account for his or her choices or explain his or her inspiration. This is where the work ripens until it is ready to be shown to the public.

On rare occasions, one gets the opportunity to view an unfinished work and consequently becomes more aware of the wealth and variety of layers that have gone into it. This is the case with respect to Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece ‘Saint Barbara’, which is currently on loan at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam from our Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. The story of a Syrian nobleman’s daughter who converted to Christianity is told by means of symbolism and drawing. More than that, however, the panel magnificently shows a gradation of detailing – from relatively undefined and sketchy to extremely detailed and coloured. Van Eyck placed Saint Barbara in front of a large Gothic tower that is in the process of being built, a construction site like ours. For now, ours is likewise a work in progress.

 

You can download the PDF version via the link down here and you’ll find Dikkie Scipio’s article from page 48.