Ingenuity Drives Innovative Design: What Canadian projects can learn from Dutch design

nether_City hall Zaandam
Photo courtesy Zaandam

By Jacquie Clancy
Last fall, members of the construction and design community from around the world were invited to participate in an architectural tour of the Netherlands to see how the country is designing and redeveloping recognizable buildings. Despite the distance separating the countries, it was interesting to note some of the parallels with Canada in terms of technologies and strategies, as well as what Canadians can learn from Dutch design approaches.

Today, new projects are popping up across the Netherlands, while new life is being given to historical structures through innovative renovations. These projects are coming at a time when the country’s design industry is experiencing a shift in the roles and responsibilities of architects and design professionals, says Mathias Lehner from the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects (also known as BNA).

“Architects are creative and are able to translate conceptual models into solutions for practice,” he explained to Construction Canada. “Therefore, they can have an added value for the construction industry, which is currently transforming itself to become more efficient and to deliver higher-quality services.”

Architects and designers in Holland can potentially act as system integrators, product developers, or network co-ordinators. This change will alter the relationship between architects and their clients, contractors, and users, as well as require different skills. As a result, a more collaborative effort for project development is becoming the prominent process for building and design teams.

“Even traditional architects cannot afford to limit themselves only to designing nowadays,” said Lehner. “Since most architectural firms are fairly limited in size, employees are expected to have basic knowledge on writing a business plan, management, and entrepreneurship, among other things.”

While putting this integrated process into action, new projects are being developed with various design goals—such as Inverdan, the creative redevelopment in the city of Zaandam, or the more functional entryway to the iconic Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and Rotterdam’s impressive Markthal. Revamped historic structures, such as the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, and the Municipality of Brummen’s Town Hall, are also showcasing the design flexibility and creativity of project teams.

Markthal Rotterdam is the first covered market facility in the Netherlands. The building includes underground parking, market and retail space, and residential units. Photos © Ryan Abbott

Markthal Rotterdam
The country’s first covered market facility, the 95,000-m2 (1,022,571-sf) Markthal Rotterdam, also houses 202 residential apartments and 24 penthouses. Designed by MVRDV architects, the strategy was to create a traditional open-air market while densifying the city centre and contributing to the redevelopment of the inner city’s pre-war Rotterdam hub.

“Markthal is part of a larger urban regeneration for its immediate surroundings,” MVRDV’s Jan Knikker told Construction Canada. “More density, more life, and more attractive streets are all goals of the building.”

The apartments—a mix between rentals and units for sale—form the roof above the market square. The units employ significant daylighting through the glazed exterior, and kitchens, dining rooms, and storage areas that line the market provide views of the shopping area below. For units that do not look directly down to the market, glass floors offer views of the shoppers and stalls. These windows and the glass floor panels are triple-glazed to limit the noise and any smells coming from the market place. The apartment’s exterior views look out to the Maas River or the historical Laurens Church.

The housing spans from the third to the 11th floor, each with its own outdoor balcony. The units range from 80 to
300 m2 (861 to 3229 sf), and two to five bedrooms; they are accessible from six access ways at street level. Inside the building, there are 17 elevators and 10 escalators for residents, visitors, and shoppers.

Accessible by public transportation and bike, there are also 1200 underground parking spaces spanning four levels at Markthal Rotterdam. These are not only for inhabitants and market patrons, but also those visiting the nearby library, outdoor market, and tourist attractions.

A five-layered, 100,000-m² (118,403-sf) digital art piece, “Horn of Plenty,” is featured on the interior arch of the building’s ceiling. The piece comprises 4500 aluminum panels that are screwed into the arch’s wooden interior façade. The panels are perforated to absorb noise from the market below. Above photo © Jacquie Clancy. Below photo © Ryan Abbott

“Markthal is a commercial building designed with strict economic constraints, and the result is a great public space in the city,” said Knikker.

Typical to Dutch building challenges, the construction site’s excavation confronted the project team with the problem of wet, unstable soil. To provide a solid base for laying the foundation, 2500 concrete piles were put into the wet soil. The depth of the site was 15 m (49 ft), however, the groundwater was already present at 3 m (9.8 ft) below street level, and the concrete piles were able to keep everything stable.

For the project team to be able to reach the 15-m deep mark, the site was filled with water; cranes on floating platforms were able to dig out the remainder of the pit. Following this, the reinforcements for the concrete floor were positioned, and a 1.5-m (4.9-ft) thick underwater concrete floor was laid. Overall, more than 10,835 truckloads of soil were removed from the excavation site, and 1500 loads of concrete were required for the market’s floor slab.

Once the site was fully drained, construction on the rest of the market structure began. The roof comprises four sections, each supported by a temporary substructure in a ‘super-support construction’ (or, SOC in Dutch) building approach. The erection of the building’s two sides was quickly completed through tunnel shuttering from the second to the 10th floor.

Additional installations for the structure include:

  • 360 km (223 mi) of electric cables;
  • 12.5 km (7.7 mi) of sewer pipes;
  • 20 km (12.4 mi) of water pipes; and
  • 100 km (68 mi) of other piping.

The market is 120 m (393 ft) long, 70 m (230 ft) wide, and 40 m (131 ft) tall. The load and distribution take place underground. This creates a building with no back side, and visitors can access the interior from all sides. This element of accessibility and transparency is also demonstrated by the single-glazed cable-net façade. The cable-net façade is made of pre-stressed steel cables creating a net effect between the glass panels, allowing the loads to be transferred vertically and horizontally. It is able to withstand tension of 25,000 to 30,000 kg (55,115 to 66,138 lb); during heavy storms, the façade’s centre can move inward or outward up to 700 mm (27.5 in.).

Sustainable esthetics
The Markthal project received a “Very Good” rating under Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM)—a method for assessing, rating, and certifying sustainable buildings.

Various sustainable design elements are incorporated into the project, including:

  • heating and thermal storage system underneath the structure which can also heat/cool surrounding buildings;
  • natural ventilation—exterior air flows underneath the façade, rises to the roof, and exits through ventilation shafts; and
  • an information panel reporting on energy usage and carbon dioxide (CO2) savings throughout the building.

“The main issue is the hall’s interior is not air-conditioned, since it is actually treated as outside space. So, in the summer it is warm, and in the winter it is cold,” Knikker explained. “This, in combination with strict Dutch energy efficiency rules, earned the project a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) Very Good rating, which is rare for a shopping centre. However, this idea is quite new and it needs some education and expectation management. Being inside, but in the climate of outside, is an idea people need to get used to.”

nether_Inntel HotelOn the interior of the structure’s arch, there is a five-layered, 11,000-m2 (118,403-sf) digital art piece. “Horn of Plenty,” by local artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, features the sun at the centre surrounded by images of fruit, bread, flowers, butterflies, and leaves. The idea is for occupants below to look up and feel as though they are in a meadow, looking into the sky. The installation comprises a total of 4500 aluminum panels that are 1520 x 1520-mm (60 x 60-in.), 2-mm (0.07-in.) thick, and screwed into the arch’s wooden interior façade. To absorb noise from the market below, the panels are perforated.

On the market floor, there are eight restaurants and 96 stalls selling various fresh foods while the storage, preparation space, and cooling units are located on the level below the ground floor. Further, some of the units—mostly restaurants or catering services—feature roof terraces for visitors to see a different view of the market.

The Markthal opened in October 2014. Its construction took five years to complete—three of which were spent on the structure’s underground portion. About 6000 tonnes of steel reinforcement and 45,000 m3 (58,858 cy) of concrete was used underground, compared to the 2000 tonnes of reinforcement and 21,000 m3 (27,467 cy) of concrete above ground.

nether_City hall 2 Zaandam
Inverdan, the redevelopment in the Dutch city of Zaandam, was designed by architect Sjoerd Soeters. The timber buildings feature designs that pay homage to historical Dutch structures. Above is the Inntel Hotel, a redeveloped office building with 160 rooms, conference and meeting facilities, and a restaurant. Photos courtesy Zaandam

Inverdan, the redevelopment in the Dutch city of Zaandam, was created to stimulate new economic activity, reduce unemployment, and encourage occupants to stay local. The city was seeing many of its young people leave because there was a lack of employment opportunities and the majority of residents were working outside the city. As a result, in the late 1990s, a plan to redevelop the city for its population of 150,000 was underway.

Through architect Sjoerd Soeters’ vision, the area was revamped in a style reminiscent of its history and origins. Actually a collection of seven villages that merged in 1974, Zaandam used to rely on the Zaan River as its economic foundation. However, over the years, the hub of activity was found on the provincial highway and railway, which divided the city into two parts. Now, in addition to a bridge over the river connecting people to the city centre, a new bridge for cyclists and pedestrians is being constructed over the railway line and provincial highway. A city hall, train station, culture house, bicycle parking, fitness centre, and landmark hotel are among the facilities surrounding the bridge.

The Inverdan master plan set out to improve the urban cohesion and public space. The main goals were to create positive spatial flow, strengthen social/economic structure, and foster a strong identity. The new timber buildings are both large and small, and feature angled roofs and gables, historic green façades, as well as white cornices and window frames—a way to pay homage to Dutch structures of the past.

The project was completed as a public-private partnership (P3) with the city teaming up with the National Railway Company and a developer, Multi Real Estate.

Features of the £825,000 (approximately $1.2-million) public space renewal project include:

  • 2000 residences with mixed affordable housing;
  • 23,000 m2 (247,569 sf) of shopping space;
  • 45,000 m2 (484,375 sf) office area;
  • conference facilities;
  • transportation hub; and
  • community structures.

One of the highlights of the redeveloped area is the Inntel Hotel, which opened in 2012. The project redeveloped an office building into a 160-room hotel with conference and meeting facilities and a restaurant.

The 12-storey facility features an exaggerated design reminiscent of nearby historical Zaanse Schans village with typical green-painted houses with white accents stacked atop each other. Overall, the city has seen a 30 per cent increase in visitors and the redevelopment has been a positive change for the community.

Van Gogh Museum
In Amsterdam, the entrance to the Van Gogh Museum is being reconceived to face the city’s Museumplein, or Museum Square, putting it in line with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum. The addition will complement the facility’s original building, which opened in 1973, by providing more space for all visitors entering the museum.

“A new entrance with a larger service area will make the museum more accessible to visitors in the future,” said the museum’s Ingrid Looijmans. “This way, we bring our museum more in line with the other cultural institutes whose access is also situated on Museum Square.”

nether_Museumplein_Hans van Heeswijk architecten
Completed by Hans van Heeswijk Architects, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum features a glass structure composed of cold-bent glass, float glass, and laminated glass beams. Image courtesy Hans van Heeswijk Architects

An initial sketch designed by Japan-based Kisho Kurokawa Architects and Associates, was the starting point for Hans van Heeswijk Architects to complete the £19-million (approximately $24-million) entrance-way project, set to open this summer. The new assembly features a state-of-the-art glass structure including:

  • 650 m2 (6996 sf) of cold-bent glass;
  • 600 m2 (6458 sf) of float glass on the roof;
  • 12-m (39-ft) laminated glass beams—the longest in the country; and
  • 9.4-m (30.8-ft) long glass anchors in the façade.

The glass roof and façade are supported by steel-tube framework, which was pre-assembled to ensure all the connection points were in the correct locations. In addition to the glass structure, 800-m2 (8611-sf) of floor space was added which will improve visitor flow within the museum. On entering into the basement-level foyer, visitors will see a cloakroom, museum shop, information desks, and washrooms. There will also be an option to head directly to the Rietveld Building where the permanent Van Gogh collection is housed or the Kurokawa Wing, completed in 1999, used for temporary exhibitions.

“Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous artists of all time, and he has become an almost mythical, larger-than-life figure,” said Looijmans. “This underlying idea is the basis of the museum’s redesign.”

The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, located in The Hague, houses a renowned collection of 17th-century Dutch paintings. Originally designed as a residence for Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, the building was completed in 1644. More recently, the museum was struggling with its small size. To address the issue of space, architect Hans Van Heeswijk’s firm created a design to increase the facility’s size by connecting two wings with an underground addition and providing more space for visitors and the collection.

In 2008, plans for the museum’s significant overhaul began. Included in the revamped design for the Mauritshuis was a renovated wing, underground extension to a former clubhouse located across the street—Plein 26, now the Royal Dutch Shell Wing—and a 5-m (16.4-ft) high, 15 x 50-m (49 x 164-ft) underground foyer connecting the two wings. In addition to the foyer, a museum shop, restaurant, information desk, and cloakroom were also included in the underground area.

The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis houses a renowned collection of 17th-century Dutch paintings. The plans for the structure’s overhaul began in 2008. Photos © Luuk Kramer. Photos courtesy Hans Van Heeswijk Architects

The redeveloped expansion of the Royal Dutch Shell Wing includes features such as:

  • education space;
  • library;
  • temporary exhibition hall;
  • lecture hall; and
  • offices.

The foyer addition, as well as much of the other newly added space, is 6 m (19.6 ft) below ground level. Therefore, even though the space of the museum has nearly doubled in size—from 3500 to 6800 m2 (37,673 to 73,194 sf)—it is essentially unnoticed at street level. However, through daylighting design and glazing, the foyer remains well-lit and welcoming for visitors and museum staff.

The three spaces of the museum all boast different architectural styles:

  • the original Mauritshuis was designed in the 17th-century Dutch Classicism style by Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post;
  • the Royal Dutch Shell Wing’s (or Plein 26’s) 1930s’ Art Deco design by local architect Jo Limburg; and
  • the new, modern addition by Hans van Heeswijk Architects completed in 2014.

Although the elements differ in style and material, the areas blend together with organized wayfinding, and the new foyer bridges the gap with a prevailing theme of daylight.

Originally, the strategy to connect the Mauritshuis and the new Royal Dutch Shell Wing was to construct an underground corridor. However, after logistical analysis, the design team decided this approach would feel uninviting for visitors. Rather, the underground foyer provides an easy-to-navigate starting point for museum visitors.

The open space for the visitor entrance ‘s elevator and stairwell includes extensive glazing in order to allow natural light into the underground foyer.

To bring natural light into the 6-m below grade lobby area, glass floor panels were installed, as well as a large open space for the visitor entrance’s elevator and stairwell. Windows are also incorporated into the design as much as possible to offer street views from the entrance hall. Further, the 10-m (33-ft) high elevator transports visitors from street level to the foyer’s entrance; it comprises structural glass, without the support of a steel structure.

A challenge for the construction of the new space was to accommodate the difference in elevation between the foyer and the Mauritshuis’ first floor. The 7.5-m (24.6-ft) difference in elevation made an elevator a necessity on the interior. However, it was not permitted to include an elevator through the building’s centre because of its historical status.

As an alternative, a recessed, fully transparent glass-clad elevator was installed in the draught barrier behind the main entrance. This was challenging because the elevator well is located beneath groundwater level—a common problem with many construction projects in the Netherlands. For both elevator installations, large-diameter drilling in the soil was done to allow the installation of 8-m (26-ft) steel tubes to accommodate elevator pistons.

Another challenge came when constructing the corridor from the foyer to the Royal Dutch Shell Wing. The basement level had to be deepened by 1.5 m (5 ft) to make it on par with the new foyer. To complete this, an excavation pit was dug beneath the building. Ground anchors were used to prevent the basement, at 1 m (3.2 ft) below street level, from being flooded by the groundwater. Employing jet-grouting walls, the Royal Dutch Shell Wing’s front elevation was raised, allowing the deepening of the basement to take place. Jet grouting was used to create new columns in the foyer that replaced the existing brick façade and foundation. The process involves mixing or replacing existing soil with grout; in this case, three jet-grout columns were installed for every two of the original columns. Further, to prevent any damage, temporary hydraulic lifts were employed to guide the settlement of the new foundation and columns.

The problems with connecting the basement to the building’s open area in front of the entrance were addressed by using an excavation pit of underwater concrete. Four foundation structures were used to get the foyer in the correct location and unite the facility’s dimensions.

During the execution phase of the underground foyer area, struts and beams were specified to support the erected walls, and steel-fibre-reinforced underwater concrete helped achieve a watertight installation.

Volker Staal en Funderingen (VSF), the civil contractor for the project, completed the foundation elements. Some of the additional challenges facing the team included the museum’s close location to the city centre and parliament buildings, and the amount of cables, ducts, and heating lines involved.

For the design team, creating an inviting, well-illuminated, and clearly laid out facility was a top priority. In this particular case, the unobtrusive design for museum visitors was reflected in all three sections of the £30-million (approximately $43-million) redevelopment project.

“In renovation and transformation projects for museums, we choose a different approach,” said architect Hans van Heeswijk. “In the design process, we first examine and analyze the existing monumental building. We study its spatial principles, scale, routing, and overall structure. After that, we use these qualities as a starting point for the new building extension. We reorganize them into a new design clearly related to the old building.”

The separate spaces of the museum all have unique functions for the facility’s operation. The original 17th-century Mauritshuis houses the permanent collection of Dutch paintings, while restoration workshops are located in the basement. Public facilities and the museum’s offices are found in the Royal Dutch Shell Wing, including the museum shop and restaurant in the lower floor looking out at street level.

Through the overhaul of the structures, some of the original design elements covered in previous renovations were brought back to the museum. For example, an entrance that formerly led to bicycle racks, but was bricked up during renovations in 1989, now forms the entrance to the museum’s café. A marble staircase, also added in 1989, has been removed and replaced with a restored Art Deco staircase assembly. A large Art Deco stained glass skylight was also maintained from the original structure and implemented into the new design. Windows and HVAC equipment were replaced, and halogen lights were retrofitted with light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

netherlands_villa nieuwbouw courtesy municipality Brummen
Designed by RAU Architects, the new town hall in Brummen incorporates a historic structure with a modern addition. Photo courtesy Municipality Brummen

Brummen Municipal Town Hall
In 2013, Brummen, a municipality in eastern Netherlands, unveiled its new town hall facility that blends a historic structure with a modern addition. Designed by RAU Architects, approximately 90 per cent of the materials in the newly added space can be dismantled and reused at the end of its service life.

The project focused on various design and construction considerations for the new addition that are specifically relevant to the Dutch architecture industry currently. These include:

  • renovation;
  • blending new construction with historical structures;
  • sustainability; and
  • design and build co-operation.

The building’s foundation is an historic structure dating back to 1890. This structure has been revamped and integrated with a new addition that replaced an existing office extension from the 1980s. The qualities of the historic building were kept intact, and it is now connected to the new addition with a glass roof.

The load-bearing structure and floors are made of prefabricated wood elements, and triple-paned glazing was employed on the façade. Displaceable steel interior walls were employed, and a vegetated roofing assembly is also included. The design used a minimal amount of
concrete, since most of the materials are designed with reuse after a service life of 20 years in mind. After this period, or longer if the
municipality chooses, only the original 1890 building will remain on the site.

The building’s design primarily used materials that would accommodate reuse after a service life of 20 years. Photo © Jacquie Clancy

On the ground level, the connection between the new building and the old is at an even elevation. The existing structure’s symmetry is reflected in the updated design and
a flexible joint connects the roof of the atrium to the old villa’s façade.

The design for the new addition was chosen through an architectural competition where the requirements for elements such as work spaces, conference rooms, parking, and gardens were provided. Designers had to meet the criteria of:

  • blending the old building in with a new design;
  • creating a structure with an estimated lifecycle of 20 years; and
  • achieving the highest possible sustainability within budget.

The project team faced numerous challenges in regards to the connection of the new and existing façades. The addition runs directly through the glass roof, and as a result, special gutter construction was created around the perimeter which controls the flow of water. The glass construction is at a pitch of three degrees, which requires horizontal structural seams.

After opening its new doors in April 2013, the town hall received a Dutch Award for Sustainable Architecture.

Overall, the building community in the Netherlands is adjusting to collaborative building processes for various types of projects.

nether_hal en brug courtesy municipality Brummen
The load-bearing structure and floors are made of prefabricated wood elements, and triple-paned glazing was employed on the façade. Photo courtesy Municipality Brummen

“Flexibility is a key factor for the master plans that are developed for these areas that evolve and develop over many years,” said Lehner.

This flexibility is important for both new projects and retrofit designs when considering professionals from various disciplines working together. Canadian project teams can learn from these integrated processes to create successful buildings and communities.

Moving forward, Lehner and BNA suggest the challenging areas for the design/building community will be:

  • meeting sustainable design/net-zero energy;
  • transit-oriented mobility;
  • building in city centres and highly concentrated locations; and
  • infrastructural projects.

To address these issues, the collective effort strategy being employed allows architects and designers to a have a broader scope of responsibilities.

“The aim of this integral building process is not only a good building, or good architecture, but an environment, an ensemble of buildings and public or outdoor space, that is more than ‘only’ architecture, but intends to claim also a social, societal, or ecologic quality,” said Lehner. “To sum up: work in teams, involve various disciplines, and come up with an integral design that improves over the years.”

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