Past Sunday, 21 June, marked the second year since the official opening of Utopia Library and Academy for Performing Arts in Aalst.
The opening festivities in 2018 spanned 4 days and attracted more than 25 000 visitors who participated in concerts, workshops and dance performances. Since the grand opening, Utopia has been established as a cultural landmark of the city of Aalst, thriving on the inextricable link with its citizens and a delicate mixture of seemingly opposite programs it comprises.
Below we look back at the atmosphere of the opening weekend captured by Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti.
Our first monograph, PORTRAITS, published by Park Books, has been released. This is the first substantial publication offering a unique perspective on fifteen of our major built works to date.
The selected projects are portrayed as different characters with distinctive physiognomies but belonging to the same family and sharing similar features, hence the book’s title. “Designs morph into characters, and then into buildings,” claims Kees Kaan. “Each project acquires its own identity through the narrative that is developed by the architect. This is a nurturing process that pulls people and stories together to build a powerful, simple, clearly formulated, and connective concept.”
The same idea runs throughout the book, which draws on rich visual documentation, including photographs, original illustrations, and detailed drawings, to explore the studio’s work using different lenses. The eponymous Portraits chapter retraces and unfolds the projects’ narratives, focusing on single pieces of a complex puzzle: a fragment of an image, a citation from an article, a detail. Meanwhile, Gallery, Drawings and Features simply hold up a mirror to the projects, reflecting them as they are, with no additional interpretation.
Original essays by architecture critics Pierre Chabard and Ruud Brouwers weave through the book, interpreting the common architectural themes evident in the firm’s work. Chabard’s Architecture as dialogue mainly elucidates framing, topology, geometry and craft as the hallmarks of KAAN Architecten designs. At the same time, Brouwers reflects on their strong contemporary identity, which is simultaneously rooted in history and future-proof.
The book is available for purchase online and in specialised bookstores, as well as directly from Park Books.
The iconic Aurora building on the corner of the Stadhouderskade and the Overtoom is heading towards a sustainable future. We are collaborating with Being, IMd Raadgevende Ingenieurs, DGMR and SkaaL to develop the striking corner building into a state-of-the-art office location with international allure.
The Aurora building is a prominent landmark at the intersection of Centrum, Zuid and West and is one of Amsterdam’s first modernist anchor points. It was designed by the renowned Dutch architect Piet Zanstra for the Aurora life insurance company in the 1960s. The elegant curvature of its facade is a characteristic feature, running almost parallel to the bend of the street corner. The building consists of a commercial plinth with spacious office floors of almost 1,000m2 above.
The renovation of Aurora combines character preservation with innovation. The ambition is to modernise and make the building more sustainable while respecting its history and unique features. Adding a new roof structure, green roof terraces, and a vertical greenhouse will create various outdoor spaces and meeting spots to strengthen the connection within the building and with the neighbourhood. The aim is to obtain an A++ energy label, BREEAM and WELL certification for the building. All sustainability measures contribute to a comfortable and healthy living environment. The focus is on social cohesion and achieving a pleasant living environment, with less noise, heat stress and air pollution.
Aurora will make an ideal new home for major national and international companies due partly to its good accessibility and location in relation to the centre of Amsterdam. First activities regarding renovation are expected at the end of 2023, after the departure of the current tenant, Booking.com.
To mark a year since we launched our MINUTES short film series we talked to Martina Margini, the initiator and curator of this unique project at the intersection of architecture and cinema. In a personal essay titled ‘Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams’, Martina describes her fascination with moving images, the beauty of the unseen and the need for new ways of communicating architecture. Read more in the latest ‘Making of KAAN’ edition below!
Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams
I’m not an architect, but I’ve always been attracted to the built environment: the spaces we occupy, what they represent and how we represent them.
Since I joined KAAN Architecten in 2015, I started working on how to illustrate architectural projects. First, I observed how architects describe their buildings, which supports they choose, which language they use and how their narratives come to life. I noticed how a bad presentation could ‘kill’ a well-thought project and how an intelligent presentation could uplift a project designed in just a couple of days.
Behind the scenes of ‘Today’ by Marcel Ijzerman (the real film director and DOP)
Working in communications, my job is to ‘curate’ the way we present the office’s projects to the broader public: journalists, students, clients, collaborators, social media followers, and so on. It’s complex work requiring understanding your audience and choosing an appropriate language and a suitable medium to spread your message. Because of the press standards in the architectural field, we usually follow a uniform procedure to document projects. This is a ready-to-use package that illustrates the projects at their best. Nevertheless, I felt something was missing, and more could be done to dig into the real essence of a building. Playfully, I imagined a situation where the story of the building is not told by the architect but by someone else who brings a very fresh view of the space.
Behind the scenes of ‘Crafted’ in Maputo with director Benitha Vlok and camera assistant Annalet Steenkamp
During the construction period, the organs and blood vessels of a building take shape; you can almost see the heartbeat. To me, visiting a construction site always felt like an intimate moment, like peeking into a pregnant woman’s belly. Once the machines are gone, the structure is free-standing, now free to roam. The creature (building) has its own life and voice. There is something cathartic about the moment a building is completed. Like the ‘passing of the baton’, the architect and the whole construction team offer a building to its users. From a hand-drawn sketch or 3D model representation, the building is now fully operative and gives room to other narrations outside the contractors’ meeting rooms.
‘Crafted’ behind the scenes at local workshops in Maputo
Thanks to my specific role in the company, I have access to most KAAN Architecten’s buildings. I manage press tours, accompany photographers during their photoshoots, and visit construction sites with our clients to plan a press strategy for upcoming buildings. While walking through these spaces, I was surprised about how many elements I could grasp from these buildings that don’t necessarily emerge through our standard press material. The building ‘lives’ its daily routines, it breathes, and people occupy places in an extraordinary way. There are so many stories to tell.
Erasmus MC Education Centre photoshoot, photo by Fernando Guerra
MINUTES is a way of counting time. It is a standard duration, notes from a meeting, generic and precise at the same time. I thought this name could work well for such an ambitious project. I proposed to launch a series of films. Web and TV series work really well. Series are the product of our times par excellence. Bits of information in a restricted length of time, a story diluted into chapters for better digestion.
MINUTES propose alternative stories about KAAN Architecten buildings. We established a standard set-up for the series, an opening sequence, a clear project identity, and a methodology to approach each movie in a structured way.
Behind the scenes of ‘The Letter H’ by Giulio Squillacciotti
We gave ‘open mic’ to 12 directors from different backgrounds and nationalities to experiment with a selected range of projects. In discussions with them, I always promoted the importance of creating their own vision of the building. The final objective was not to have a documentary of our built portfolio but rather a constellation of stories emerging from personal memories and emotions generated by these spaces.
Fragments of the reality of these buildings are eternalised on film. The buildings aren’t always the centrepieces of narration. Sometimes they serve as settings; other times, we barely see them, which is exactly what I wanted to achieve with MINUTES. Work with evocative images, a sensory experience of space.
Behind the scenes of ‘To become one’ by Romain Loiseau & Tristan Soreau
Our imagination works with images and needs them to operate. Architecture is a constellation of images, but I always thought they lacked the dynamics of how we experience spaces. The vibrating shadows, people’s gossip, the fact that some spaces are dull and others are soothing, dog’s footsteps in an empty space… Films can elevate spaces to places where situations happen.
The adventure of MINUTES was far from being an easy one. In constant conversation with the firm’s partners, I coordinated many directors with brilliant and original ideas while trying to keep the overall project looking like a coherent series. MINUTES touches a vulnerable spot; it is intended as a generous gesture where the architect offers the building to interpretations. It is not very common and, as far as I reckon, this has never been done by other architecture studios, at least not as a full series of movies.
Another significant challenge of MINUTES is offering additional documentation of architectural projects framed at a particular time. For example, I’m thinking about Floating Stillness, which Miguel C. Tavares shot in Lille during the Covid-19 pandemic. We were almost ready to shoot, but then the scenario had to change entirely and adapt to the constraints given by the limited activities in the building and the overall atmosphere of estrangement and loneliness at that moment. On the other hand, when Joana Colomar filmed Utopia, within the walls of a vibrant space filled with the most diverse kind of crowds, she decided to illustrate the building by filming the people occupying the space. Their presence is so significant and gives meaning to the whole architectural project. We can understand the project and how it socially resonates without the need to see the building.
Nowadays, we have the privilege of a fantastic variety of media to capture the essence of a building. Nevertheless, when I’m out of inspiration, I think about the sensibility of Vilhelm Hammershøi, who could evoke the feeling of dust particles dancing in the light that filters through a window with just a still life painting. We all know this precious yet tiny little event. A flat interior space gets inhabited by a small dance originating from the sun. It’s an invitation to discover a story where we thought there was just a dull corner of a building. Life is happening; it’s all about how attentive we are.
Every June, Rotterdam Architecture Month celebrates the diverse and unique architecture of the city. We are pleased to join the month’s festivities by launching an exciting new publication and opening our office to visitors. Scroll down for more information!
On June 21, we will present ‘Portraits‘, the first monograph on KAAN Architecten, recently published by Park Books. This is the first substantial publication offering a unique perspective on our major built works to date. The selected projects are portrayed as different characters with distinctive physiognomies but belonging to the same family and sharing similar features, hence the book’s title. Beyond being a project overview, ‘Portraits’ is a culmination of a research process aimed at interpreting a complex genealogy that reveals the fifteen buildings not as autonomous entities but as parts of a shared vision.
Join us on Tuesday evening, June 21, in a festive ceremony with a brief introduction by the authors and editors. The book will also be available for purchase during the event, courtesy of NAI Booksellers. The launch will take place at Baanhof, a unique and quirky venue located in a mid-century power station in the heart of Rotterdam. Spaces are limited, so get your tickets here!
Photo by Simone Bossi
We are also joining the Open Office Day initiative during the Rotterdam Architecture Month. On Saturday, June 25, we will open the doors of our office space located in the former premises of De Nederlandsche Bank. Come learn about the history of the mid-century landmark as well as about our work and projects. Guided tours in English will occur hourly, between 11.00 and 16.00 (the last visit starts at 15:00). Entry is free with registration. Book your time slot at the ticket link.
Opbouwdag (Construction Day) is a traditional Rotterdam event marked on and around 18 May that celebrates the (re)construction of the city after the Second World War. On that day, just days after the devastating bombing, city architect Willem Gerrit Witteveen was commissioned to develop a plan for a whole new city centre. The day offers an opportunity to look both back and forward to the ever-evolving image of the city. It highlights the importance of heritage, as well as sustainable city planning.
The Reconstruction era was an extremely fruitful period which yielded the city’s many landmarks. As a Rotterdam based studio, we are honoured to have contributed to several of them through renovations, extensions and retrofitting assignments. We dug into our archive to bring you a selected overview below!
Originally built in 1957 in central Rotterdam by renowned architects Van den Broek en Bakema, Galeries Modernes was a prime example of the Reconstruction era architecture of the city. Our new proposal refers to and respects the basic architectonic principles of the original design. Strong volumes with deep setbacks in a primarily horizontal composition and sharp canopies are original qualities that are reinterpreted and translated into a contemporary building.
The Lobby is a sustainable transformation of the current commercial venue Crystal House located in central Rotterdam. Although a part of the historic Lijnbaan ensemble, the building is not a protected monument because it was built later. As a part of the ongoing urban regeneration of the surrounding area, this outdated structure is getting a complete overhaul based on transparency, accessibility and a lively program. The modernist redesign of Crystal House gives the nod to the Rotterdam Reconstruction era yet radiates individuality simultaneously.
In 2013 we have renovated Dreamhouse, one of the monumental buildings by Van den Broek en Bakema from the 1950s in Rotterdam’s Lijnbaan area. While maintaining the existing concrete structure, rectangular volumes have been stacked in balanced proportions and masses similar to the original plan. They display a subtle differentiation of materials, window openings, colours and details, giving a contemporary feel to the traditional post-war architectural identity of Lijnbaan.
We are currently finishing the preliminary design for Lumière, a highrise project adjacent to the protected Lijnbaan ensemble that makes significant steps in the development and desired densification of the city centre and brings to it a qualitative programmatic diversity in line with Rotterdam’s metropolitan ambition.
Central Post is a listed national monument that we transformed into a contemporary and multifunctional office building in 2009. A 90% increase in floor area was achieved through exterior restoration and interior transformation, and the building was granted a Class A Energy Label. The original Louis van Roode art piece on its façade and other integrated art pieces were also restored.
The Education Center is part of the Rotterdam academic hospital Erasmus MC, originally designed in 1965 by Arie Hagoort (OD205) in collaboration with Jean Prouvé. A neglected paved courtyard and an existing low-rise building have been converted into a much-used atrium that connects various new educational spaces.
Recently, we have been collaborating on several projects with the Groot Handelsgebouw (GHG), the icon of the 1950s reconstruction. GHG is located in the centre of Rotterdam, right next to the city’s Central Station.
We are participating in the L’Architecture Manifeste exhibition in Rennes organised by the French association La Plateforme and École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Bretagne from 17 May to 10 June 2022.
KAAN Architecten is among ten offices, collectives and groups that have been commissioned for the L’Architecture Manifeste exhibition, which aims to highlight the conceptual practices of today’s architects. The official opening will take place on Thursday, May 19, at 19:30 at the ENSA Bretagne in Rennes, while the exhibition remains on show until June 10.
The award ceremony for the BNA, rewarding clients and successful projects for society, took place at the Theatre Zuidplein in Rotterdam yesterday evening.
The jury, headed by Barbara Baarsma, recognized the social value of Courthouse Amsterdam: “Strict, respectable – humane. This building places the administration of justice where it belongs, at the center of society, and provides guidance during compelling moments when life-changing decisions are being taken.”. The jury was impressed by the powerful visual impact of the Courthouse “rather solemn from a distance, while very open and light once close by. The enormous scale of the building is additionally softened by the approachable sculpture on the front public square. The building ‘calls to order’ whilst embracing the visitors, with a generous natural stone square that invites you to step inside.
We’d like to congratulate and thank Rijksvastgoedbedrijf, who trusted consortium NACH and allowed us to develop a successful PPP (Public-Private Partnership) for this project. Congratulations to the whole NACH consortium as well, involving Macquarie Capital, ABT, DVP, KAAN Architecten, Heijmans and Facilicom. We finally would like to congratulate all the other winning offices: Bedaux de Brouwer Architecten, Olaf Gipser Architects, CULD Inbo vof and MVRDV.
Meet Koen Bosman, a KAAN-er for six years whose adventure to build his own small and sustainable home on the outskirts of Eindhoven has become the talk of the office. In his own words, Koen describes the motivations, challenges and ideas that fuelled his decision to forgo the usual path to getting your first home. Read more in the latest ‘Making of KAAN’ edition below!
As architects, we usually design buildings for other people. We provide a service to clients, small or big, and we try to place ourselves in their position and into the position of the building’s users. For the last six years, I’ve been doing exactly this at KAAN Architecten for buildings like the new Amsterdam Courthouse or the new Education Centre of the University of Groningen. The chance to design something for yourself becomes increasingly more difficult with rising real estate and material prices. Especially when you would like to design your own house, the plot price is usually well above the mortgage a 30-something-year-old can afford, let alone the costs of building a house. Luckily people are looking for alternative ways of living, most famously with the Tiny House movement, which is increasingly winning ground in many municipalities in the Netherlands. Although many people, myself included, wouldn’t want to live on 25 sqm with the risk of moving within a couple of years, this movement is actively proving the potential of self-built, bio-based, prefab and modular building, albeit on a very small scale. However, this scale might be on the verge of change.
In Eindhoven, a new neighbourhood called Buurtschap te Veld (En. neighbourhood in a field) is being developed. This neighbourhood will be located in the north of the city, adjacent to the A50 on a large plot of fallow land and will give room to about 570 apartments of different sizes and 100 spaces for self-built houses. Depending on the permit (temporary or regular bouwbesluit), the houses are allowed to stay for 15 or 30 years, resulting in mainly prefab, modular and/or rebuildable homes that are largely bio-based, leading to more sustainable development. Although the project has a supposed end date, this amount of time really allows residents to invest in the project and the environment. Depending on the size of the houses, the people pay a monthly rent of between 300 and 400 euros to the municipality to use the land. Since the area is not divided into plots, all outdoor space is communal. Together with their neighbours, residents can design and maintain the outdoor areas themselves and in agreement with the municipality. At Buurtschap te Veld, my girlfriend and I will be building our own house as well.
The house should have a maximum footprint of 50 sqm and a maximum height of 6 m. Secondly, it should be compact and sustainable. Because the project has multiple intake rounds, we were already designing our house before we had any idea where the house would exactly be located. This resulted in an interesting design approach, where the house is truly designed from the inside out. Because of the still relatively small plot size, we had to rethink the usage of spaces and formulate our personal living preferences. Quite quickly, we concluded that many spaces in a house only serve one specific purpose and are not in use most of the time. By creating a sequence of connected spaces, functions can more easily flow from one into the other, allowing all spaces to be used throughout the day. While positioning the windows and ventilation grills on the first floor, it has already been considered that three bedrooms can be realised by reducing the void. The use of moveable walls will ensure that the spacious concept of the house will stay intact.
The technical space, kitchen and bathroom are grouped on one side of the house, for the efficiency of the MEP, which will also result in a reduced energy loss of the hot water plumbing. Towards the north and east, large windows are positioned to allow for large amounts of daylight while reducing the change of high temperatures in summer. Not only do these windows allow daylight to come far into the house, but they also provide a view of the green surroundings from the working space adjacent to the void.
The house’s exterior is clad with anthracite corrugated steel, reminiscent of burned timber or black tar facades found in rural architecture, allowing it to become a more abstract shape within its eclectic surroundings. The wooden window frames with extended exterior jambs create an interesting contrast with the steel cladding and literally bring the wooden interior outwards, allowing for a connection with the ecological character of the building.
Interestingly, sustainability is not quantified in the project requirements, but many try to build as sustainably as possible by default. For example, many people use bio-based insulation materials such as hemp, wood fibre, flax, recycled cotton or hay. These materials are renewable and compostable, but they are also better at storing heat. Their breathability allows for a vapour-open structure, which creates a much healthier living climate and reduces the amount of heat loss through ventilation to get rid of excess moisture. To minimize costs and the carbon footprint, a lot of houses, including our own, will be built with second-hand materials, such as window frames or leftover batches of insulation.
All houses that want to stay for more than 15 years have to comply with all Dutch regulations, including BENG (Bijna Energieneutraal Gebouw). This can be a challenge since all materials used for the facade should be documented for the final energy label of the house. Our current apartment in Rotterdam has already turned into a storage with stacks of OSB, kitchen, bath, scaffolds and insulation packages all around. Moreover, the new house will be equipped with an air-air heat pump with heating and cooling capabilities. Because of the compact and adjustable design, it will be naturally ventilated. High costs of heat pump systems led us to use an electric boiler, which could be exchanged with a ventilation air-water heat pump in the future since the boiler and ventilation unit are located in the same place. On the south-facing pent roof, PV panels will be placed.
We are currently in the process of finalising the design to submit the building permit. The first apartments are already built at Buurtschap te Veld, and the first self-build houses will start construction in May 2022. The area where we will build is due to be ready for construction in Q3-Q4 2022.
– Koen Bosman
Follow the progress of Koen and Maartje’s house here!
We are proud to announce our winning proposal for the renovation of the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht. The assessment committee, led by Chief Government Architect Francesco Veenstra, unanimously opted for our vision in which the monument and the new architecture optimally reinforce each other.
The committee appreciated the integrated attention to the visitor experience and the interplay between old and new. They also praised our reflection on the museum’s contents, in which daring interventions bring unity to the entire complex. On this assignment, we worked together with Origin Architecture & Engineering, who contributed with their expertise in restoring and renovating monuments and landscapes.
Museum director Marieke van Schijndel says: ‘We are delighted that KAAN Architecten will be making the design for our new museum. The current museum building has a capacity of 100,000 visitors per year and no longer meets the needs of the 160,000 exhibition visitors, school children, families and tourists we receive every year. The vision of KAAN Architecten is a brilliant translation of our ambitions and makes the building, which is so linked to Utrecht history, part of the visitor experience. The proposal solves logistical challenges, provides space for all our visitors and offers opportunities for sustainability. We will have more space for our temporary exhibitions and the outdoor spaces will become more accessible’.
We are looking forward to developing the vision for Utrecht’s historical landmark. Find more information about the project here.
Out of 82 entries, the jury selected ten candidates to compete for BNA’s Best Building of the Year 2022 award. Our Amsterdam Courthouse is nominated in the ‘Identity and Iconic Value’ category.
‘Best Building of the Year’ is a Dutch architecture prize awarded by the Dutch Architectural Firms Association (BNA) for buildings that offer added value to clients, users and society. The nominated projects are eligible for the jury prize and the audience award decided by a public vote that is open until April 28. Cast your vote here! The winners will be announced on May 12 in Theater Zuidplein in Rotterdam.