CourtyardPerimeter blockSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-access
Willibrordus
Rudy Uytenhaak | Amsterdam, Netherlands | 2000
Image of Willibrord...
West facade, terrace details

ProjectWillibrordus
ArchitectRudy Uytenhaak
CityAmsterdam
CountryNetherlands
AddressCeintuurbaan/Amstel-Dijk/Willibrordus Straat
Building TypeCourtyard
Perimeter block
Slab, gallery access
Number of Dwellings67
Date Built2000
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1 & 2 BR flats
No. Floors5-8
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
Materials
brick, metal windows, reinforced cement panels
Construction TypeRC & steel frame
Ancillary Servicesnursery

This site in the de Pips district of Amsterdam along the Amstel, just south of the canal zone, had been vacant for 30 years following the 1970 demolition of Sint Willibrordus, the basilica church designed by J. P. H. Cuypers between 1864-66. The church was a big object-like building that set back from the river that was a major landmark in a neighborhood of perimeter blocks and was seen dominantly from a bridge crossing the river at this point. The redevelopment strategy that evolved over the years was to continue the line of buildings along the river and to create an open plaza behind that included outdoor playing fields, parking and public open space. The huge, complex volume of the church, free-standing in an open space, was to be transformed into a public plaza using new residential building blocks compatible with the existing context. This was done with two new buildings that form a care center and housing for the elderly and define a courtyard/garden on the interior of the block approximating the gardens on the interior of the perimeter blocks in the neighborhood.

The first of these 2 buildings, an “ell”-shaped, 8-story, double-loaded block continues the line of buildings along the river forming the care center. The second building, designed by Uytenhaak several years later, is a “U”-shaped block that attaches to one side of the first structure, enclosing three sides of a courtyard and forming principle facades to the plaza and the streets to either side. The building mass steps from an 8-story height at the corner of Amsteldijk and Ceintuurbaan to 5 floors at the corner of the playground and Willibrordustraat. The stepping form helps compensate for the difference in height between new and existing buildings.

The stepping in the Uytenhaak building is expressed in a layered organization where an outside veneer of brick wraps the frame structure within. The brick layer, rendered as a thick wall with deep openings, makes references to the architectonic character of the surrounding houses and to a pre-existing residential pattern. The brick layer steps in both plan and elevation incorporating the rhythm, composition, and architectural spirit of the existing houses. Along Ceintuurbaan, where the brick wall intersects the corner of the Amsteldijk building, the brick layer is peeled back and stops at a different height to make a developed architectonic episode out of the juncture of the two buildings and the recessed entrance that exposes elements of the underlying frame construction. On this elevation, the brick wall stops short of the ground floor so that the recessed glass layer at the entrance slips along below the brick wall and turns the corner to the plaza façade. The playground façade is treated like a row of 5 brick houses that step from 8 to 5 floors, the height of the houses along Willibrordus. The deep recessed French windows, the balconies, integral balustrades and awnings effectively suggest traditional vernacular construction and the rhythm of the existing narrow houses. This use of a layered screen as a compositional device to mediate between andinterior order of repetitive cells, and an exterior condition of varied heights and materials is a reoccurring theme in Uytenhaak’s work, including the canal houses at Weesperstsraat, 1980-88), the street facade at Drogbak, 1986-89, the huge Rietlanden project of 1996-2002, and the street façade at Veltmanstraat, 2003.

In contrast to the exterior brick walls that frame views of the city, the courtyard walls are glass so that views of trees and the landscaping of the courtyard are part of the circulation experience in the building. Dwellings are organized so that they face outward on three sides of the block. Movement is along a single-loaded gallery on two sides of the courtyard. The gallery is expressed as a tall open volume glazed on the roof and sides with connecting walks along one side overlooking the garden. Smaller apartments are organized along the west and south sides while larger units are accessed from a separate service core and lobby on Ceintuurbaan. These dwellings have balconies overlooking the court. The public functions at the ground floor are treated as a closed wall, clad with reinforced cement panels that are punctuated with small windows. The courtyard is entered from the recessed area where the buildings join on Ceintuurbaan and also from the gap between the two buildings along Willibrordus where there is a gate. The landscaped courtyard is thus a secure, private domain experienced as an entrance that is visible from the care facility and from the balconies and the glass gallery lining the courtyard.

The idea of using a modern, multi-family slab typology as a model to replicate traditional perimeter block patterns is an interesting notion. This big courtyard block has some of the same qualities like the composition of individual row houses and the garden courtyard. Doubtless though, the need for a higher density forced the stepped form as about the only way to juxtapose the higher density required of new building with the lower density typical to perimeter block patterns. In spite of the obvious skill of the architect and the heroic measures taken to create the illusion of a lower building, Willibrordus, while still far smaller that the church that occupied the site previously, seems out of scale with the context. This is probably most obvious with the west façade that faces the playground area in a classic frontal/planer condition that seems somewhat compromised by the stepped composition.

Uytenhaak office: http://www.uytenhaak.nl/02_werken/01_projecten.php?projectid=9703

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