Slab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, point-access
Uytenhaak, Rudy | Amsterdam, The Netherlands | 1986-9
Image of Droogbak
View of the curving facade along the street.

ArchitectUytenhaak, Rudy
CountryThe Netherlands
AddressS. Westerdok Straat/Buiten Brouwers Straat/Haarlemmer Hout Tuninen
Building TypeSlab, gallery access
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellings95
Date Built1986-9
Dwelling Types2-3 br. maisonettes, 1 & 2 br. flats, flats for elderly
No. Floors4
Section Typemaisonettes & flats, point-access and galley type
Exterior Finish
brick, glass concrete, glassblock
Construction TypeR-C frame
Ancillary Servicesplaygrouond, some elderly housing, garage

Built on land left-over from an abandoned highway project, Droogbak is a paradigm of the impossible urban site. The site of a former factory, this long sliver of land fronts Westerdok Straat which, as the name suggests was the major waterfront street, and is also a tramway. Amsterdam Central Station is just a few meters away and across the street are the elevated main railroad tracks into the city from the West. Across the tracks are the docks of the IJ River. Finally, the long curving form, the trace of earlier railroad tracks interfaces a 19th century brick building on the East, a public park on the West along the street, and a 17th century neighborhood on the South resulting in a complex collision of odd-shaped buildings and spaces. By almost every measure, this is the most unlikely place for a residential building.

Conceptually, Droogbak consists of a long curving, stepped slab of cellular units, contained between two diametrically different walls. Along the north side, the wall is a technologically sophisticated sound absorbing glass wall which is designed to control and deflect the noise of the street and trains. The glass panels form continuous horizontal zones of angled glass which cantilever from the undulating facade behind as an independent crystalline veneer. The top zone of glass extends beyond the top of the building enclosing the galleries on the top three floors and drawing south sun into the north-facing gallery at the top.
At grade an independent glass wall separates the building from the street and gives visual and acoustical protection to the entrance lobbies along the north side. A narrow street here is for vehicular access to the building lobbies for the first 5 floors and the parking garage below grade.

The second wall, on the south side of the building facing a public playground, is rendered as a brise-soleil which provides balconies and solar protection for the main living spaces of the dwellings. Like the accoustical wall, the balconies form an independent cantilevered element which is spatially independent of the undulating facade of apartments behind. The detached quality of the brise-soleil, the fact that it is elevated a level above the ground, that it extends past the edge of the building surface and the voids in balconies form interpenetrating vertical zones of space all help to create the impression of an erudite interpretation of the brise-soleil legacy. The apartment plans are zoned in response to the extreme site conditions. Living rooms and major bedrooms face south and open to balconies and small gardens at the ground floor. The kitchen and other bedrooms are on the north side where there are small enclosed balconies with views through noise resistant glass to the IJ river beyond. The section too responds to the site situation. The building steps from an 8 story tower at the west end to an 5 story slab which terminates in the existing 19 th. century at the east end of the site which is the Offices of the Dutch Railroad Company. The bottom two floors are maisonettes with living spaces opening to small, semi--enclosed patios on, but slight raised from the playground. The building steps back at the bottom two floors along the street side with repeating recessed lobbies which provide access both for the maisonettes and for the three floors of flats above. This point access system changes above the 5th floor where there are three floors of dwellings for the elderly arranged as a gallery access organization with individual flats on the 6th floor and group dwellings on the top two. Both ends of the building are rendered in brick. The brick gives the impression of an 8 story tower fronting the small park to the west with an open loggia at the base which in the entrance to the elderly flats. The galleries for the elderly housing really form large glazed common spaces with spectacular river front views.

While there are other examples of buildings designed as accoustical barriers to interior residential communities--Neave Brown's Alexander Road in London, for example--Rudy Utyenhaak's combination of intelligent zoning and creative technology have been applied to render habitable, a basically uninhabitable place. The long, curving, reflective glass wall makes an appropriate edge at an appropriate scale to the city along Westerdok effectively isolating all this activity and channeling it in a defined route. The change in materials from the high-tech glass wall to the prefabricated elements of the balconies successfully transforms this urban wall to the scale of the existing 17th century residential community of narrow streets and canals which existed a block from the docks along the river.

Maarten Kloos (ed.), Rudy Hutenhaak Architect, Architectura & Natura, Amsterdam, 1993, pp. 48-53.

Domus, Jan., 1991, pp. 54-58.

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