Slab, point-access
La Fenêtre
Rudy Uytenhaak | Den Haag, The Netherlands | 2005
Image of La Fenêtre
South facade, detail

ProjectLa Fenêtre
ArchitectRudy Uytenhaak
CityDen Haag
CountryThe Netherlands
AddressPrins Bernhardviaduct 5
Building TypeSlab, point-access
Number of Dwellings115
Date Built2005
Dwelling Types2 BR flats
No. Floors17
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
Materials
glass steel, concrete
Construction Typesteel framd, concrete floors, Infra + floor system
Ancillary Serviceshealth clut, parking for 161 cars

It is difficult to imagine a more extreme and difficult place to build housing than this site near the center of Den Haag. A 17-story residential skyscraper has been inserted into an irregular leftover void between a 4-lane elevated viaduct, the sprawling, multi-level Dan Haag central train/tram/buss station, and the stepped forms of the National Library and National Archive buildings. La Fenêtre, a green, prismatic rhomboid containing 115 apartments elevated 20 meters above the level of the viaduct, is supported on a portico of angled round steel piers rising out of the spatial chaos resulting from years of piecemeal development in this corner of the city. The decision to build a residential component in the area seems to have been the result of a late hour strategy for developing the site, a high-rise solution because of the small footprint, with exclusive owner-occupied apartments as the only viable economic model.

The multi-level aspects of the site and the existing buildings meant that multiple entrances would be needed, one at the upper level of the boulevard and one at the lower level, the service access to other the other buildings on the site. The program therefore is expressed in three horizontal zones; the health club and parking in the lower three levels, the level of the 20m high portico at the level of the upper boulevard, and a 17-story zone of apartments above this. This strategy has several design features. The lower levels respond to the stepped form of the existing National Archive building beneath the new building and create a platform that supports the clusters of steel piers. This element is glazed along the lower street and has entrances for the apartments and heath club. The middle zone of columns forms a colonnaded porch 20 meters high that serves as the building entrance and forms a public space at the level of the boulevard. This high space was necessary so that the apartment levels would be above the adjacent Archive building and the busy viaduct. It is expressed as a covered plaza beneath the building with two elevator/stair shafts extending through the space. The piers are arranged in nine clusters each with four piers. The lower building forms the foundation for the piers that are angled to connection points on the bottom of the platform that supports the upper zone of floors. While the portico space seems very high it is tempered by the presence of the two service shafts that are covered with polychromatic panels, the glazed lobbies, two hanging candelabras, and the balustrades and bridges that connect this space to the adjacent public walks. The building line sets back several feet along the boulevard and the edge of the bus terminal platform so the portico is protected somewhat from the activity of the streets and this improves day lighting at the lower levels. Along the north edge the portico sets back a few feet from the walls and the green roof of the existing Archive building. The angled piers support a deep steel platform that connects to the steel framing used in the residential floors, the third zone in the organization of the building. This part of the building utilizes light steel framing and INFRA + floor construction. With this system, a thin, 70mm concrete slab is cast around the lower flange of the “I” beams in the floor creating a space for pipes and ductwork between the concrete slab and the subfloor. This results in reduced overall height and weight of the upper floors and improves plan flexibility. The concept of building a strong structural platform to support upper floors that are built using steel joists is not new. Le Corbusier used a similar system in the Pavillon Suisse in Paris, in 1932. Here the open portico beneath the building was made of large in situ concrete piers and the framing, including the walls of the upper 4 floors, was made with steel framing. In another similar example, the La Muette project outside Paris at Drancy designed in 1934 by Eugène Beaudouin and Marcel Lods , steel framing and concrete were combined in the Mopin system although here the floors were made using precast concrete panels.

The name La Fenêtre suggests a preoccupation with glass and windows and seems to be a suitable metaphor for the prismatic glazed volume of elevated residential floors. The hierarchical, crystalline quality of the glass walls implies a small-scale repetitive structure rather than the emphasis on frame typical of most housing. The trapezoidal shape of the plan, the articulation of the two ends of the volume, and the position of the balconies give a vertical emphasis missing in the structure. The glass wall is detailed with a 10 cm projection every other floor, expressed in a zig-zag pattern that has the effect of overlapping shingles and a certain almost imperceptible outward tilt and dynamic tension to the east and south facades. Some balconies are cantilevered while some are recessed but the green glass cladding dominates the overall appearance of the upper floors. The creative manipulation of surface effects, different materials, patterns textures, colors, and fasteners has long been a feature of Uytenhaak’s design philosophy including projects like Rietlanden (2002, Veltmanstraat , (2003), the Olympic Quarter (2004), (see: Ed Melet, The Architectural Detail, pp. 158-163). La Fenétre is merely the most recent application of these techniques.

The trapezoidal plan of La Fenétre is the result of the irregular conditions of the site. This is expressed as a zone parallel to the viaduct that widens at the south end with a zone of balconies that have spectacular views of the city and the center of Den Haag just a few blocks away. The dwellings are grouped around the two vertical service stacks with seven, two bedroom apartments per floor. The building steps back at the top floor where there are only three large dwellings that have roof terraces instead of balconies. These dwellings have normal ceiling heights and it is perhaps surprising that there is not a more exuberant solution to the design of the top of the building: maisonettes with more expansive interiors perhaps, shared deck spaces and facilities, the expression of the service cores, of even the use of different roof heights, a strategy Uytenhaak used before, the Almere tower (2001), for example.

Housing seems to have been missing from the programing and planning process of this area. In the absence of public open space and other residential amenities, housing seems like an unlikely addition to this chaotic place. Prince Bernhard Viaduct gets billed as a “boulevard” but it seems more like another busy 4-lane street that is hardly friendly to pedestrians. La Fentre is a spectacular building, a shimmering opalescent crystalline object hovering in space above a constructivist scene; a milieu dominated by the needs of infrastructure. Life within La Fenétre must approach a utopian, almost otherworldly encapsulated existence slightly estranged from the real world but with an amazing panorama of the urban landscape below.

Architect, No. 5, 2006, pp. 82-85

Melet, Ed, “The nap of the surface”, The Architectural Detail, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam, 2002, pp. 158-171.

Uytenhaak, Rudy, cities full of space; qualities of density, 010 publishers, Rotterdam, 2008, pp. 68-69.

Smeets, Huub, Hans Michel, Rudy Uytenhaak, La Fenêtre Den Haag, Rudy Uytenhaak Architectenbureau, Vesteda Architectur, Maastricht, 2007.

Pronk, Arno, Presentation of a new floor, paper presented at Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture, (no date).

Borch, I. ter, Project document woongebouw La Fenêtre. Transparant flexibel woongebouw in staal. Venster op Den Haag, Bouwen met Staal, Zoetermeer 2006, ISBN 90-72830-67-9, (project document).

“Residential Building “La Fenêtre” in Den Haag, www.apta.com.es/pdf/fenetre.pdf

List all by: Project Name | Architect | Building Type | City | Country

©2002 Roger Sherwood. All Rights Reserved
http://www.housingprototypes.org