Slab, corridorSlab, gallery-access
MVrRDV (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries | Amsterdam, Netherlands | 1997
Image of Wozoco
North facade

ArchitectMVrRDV (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries
AddressOokmeerweg/Reimerswaalstraat (Amsterdam-Osdorp
Building TypeSlab, gallery access
Number of Dwellings100
Date Built1997
Dwelling Types1 & 2 BR flats
No. Floors9
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
casement windows, glass curtain wall, wood siding, glass balustrades, reinforced cement panels
Construction TypeRC frame, steel trusses
Ancillary Servicesbicycle storage

WoZoCo is a project by the Het Oosten Housing Association to provide 100, one-bedroom dwellings for seniors in the Osdorp district west of central Amsterdam. Part of the western garden city communities that were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s following Cornelius van Eesteren’s plan of the late 1920’s, this building is the result of the recent strategy to increase the housing density in the western areas. The 100 units have been packed into a freestanding 9-story slab on a site at the edge of an existing group of 1960’s housing and open fields to the north. Wozoco is the first of the MVRD family of big slabs that include Parkrand, also in Amsterdam’s western area, Silodam, on the Rotterdam waterfront, and Matador, in one of the new quarters in the southern zone of Madrid.

WoZoCo has received a lot of attention since it was built in 1997 because of the extreme cantilever of some of the apartments on the north side of the building---the cantilever is nearly equal to the width of the building—and the kinetic quality of the south façade that features an unusual variety of materials, wood siding, colored glass balconies, metal railings, reinforced cement panels, and a very diverse pattern of different sized windows and balconies. First impressions suggest that the “suspended” apartments are merely an attempt by the architect to attract attention. In fact, the extreme cantilever is the result of a shrewd solution to an almost impossible problem. Dutch housing restrictions forbid north-facing apartments. In addition, there was a height limit of 9 floors and limits on coverage so that about the only way to build on this site was to have a narrow gallery slab of repetitive apartments. The problem, however, was that this only provided 87 apartments, 13 shy of the program requirements. Building codes also required thicker walls between units for acoustic isolation. This was the source of a structural idea to cantilever modified Pratt steel trusses perpendicular to the north side of the building providing the extra beam thickness needed to connect to the structural walls. Apartments hung in this way would have an E/W exposure and would be accessible from the north gallery. The 13 extra cantilevered dwellings were added to create a dynamic 3-d composition of wood-covered boxes, of different depths, one or two floors high. Coverage limitations were met because these units were suspended above the ground.

The cantilevered boxes are the model for the south façade but are applied at a different scale. Each dwelling has a small balcony and different sized windows, some with balustrades. The balconies vary in depth and width and are applied in a quite random pattern, a denser, flatter version of the north façade, now with a much more vibrant display of colored elements. The south façade is covered with wood siding and the balconies are glass where the north façade is covered in glass and the cantilevered elements are wood including the exposed bottoms. The rich contrast between the horizontal wood siding and the metal and glass of the other building elements adds to the dynamic quality of the exterior. The limited longevity of wood raises come questions about the suitability of this material for use on tall buildings. Wood siding, however, has been used in several other recent examples of Dutch housing The photos shown here were taken 9 years after the building was finished and the wood siding looks very dark and weathered.

The gallery-access organization of repetitive small apartments recalls Dutch Functionalist traditions of the 1930’s especially the Bergpolder and Kraingse and Plaslaan slabs built , in Rotterdam in 1936-7. The economy of the WoZoCo plans offset the higher cost of the cantilevered units. Even so, the individual dwellings for seniors are generous with individual bedroom rooms, kitchens, small rooms that have windows on the gallery, and living spaces with balconies facing south (or east and west for the 13 suspended dwellings. The building is sited as a freestanding slab with parking areas on the south and north sides. A zone of small gardens along the south side give some privacy for ground floor apartments, a zone that is articulated by the use of white, reinforced cement panels. The zeilenbau connotations that were typical of other gallery slabs from the 1930’s are relieved here by the extreme plastic development of the west end, where the building mass steps steps down and there is an open loggia and building lobby, by the dynamic composition of the building surfaces, and the exuberant use of color. Tenants have complained about the cold wind in the galleries and the colored glass in the balustrades that render the world in primary colors from a sitting position.

While the van Eesterlen’s planning for the Osdorp area may seem dated today, lacking density and dwelling variety, size and quality, isolated large slabs, whether they be a WoZoCo or a Bergpolder, have limited capacity to enclose space or define a public realm. They are simply large buildings freestanding in an open area. Even though this building is on a corner site, and to some degree defines a public space between it and the 1960’s row houses to the south, a larger urban strategy seems to be largely absent. The spectacular quality of the suspended houses, was a clever way of meeting a seemingly impossible program requirement, but has not resulted in any very useful space along the north side of the building, the roofs are not developed and the space underneath the cantilevered boxes is useful for little more than a semi-protected parking area.

Architecture In The Netherlands, 1996-97, UAi Publishers, Rotterdam, pp. 120-123.73.

El Croquis #87, 1991-1997.

Forester, Wolfang, Housing in The 20th Centuries, Prestel, N.Y., 2006, pp. 131-33.

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