Thursday, April 25, 2013



How interesting is that in the design of the museum dedicated to the great and troubled Vincent Van Gogh, perhaps the most important Dutch painter together with Rembrandt, have converged two masters of architecture: Gerrit Rietveld, an architectural exponent Dutch movement De Stijl or Neoplasticism and the renown Japanese Kisho Kurokawa, one of the founders of the Metabolism Movement and subsequently a theoretician of the architectural movement called symbiosis. Other designers have joined them in the landscaping of external spaces.  As a result,  the Museumplein has become the largest Dutch museum complex.

This video, with the song Vincent by Don Mclean is a tribute to Van Gogh, and shows many more works by the painter to the limited space in this post I may.

RIETVELD and Neoplasticism

Neoplasticism or De Stijl was a Dutch artistic movement developed between 1917 and 1931 and promoted by the artist, critic and theorist Theo Van Doesburg. De Stijl was the name of an academic publication in which Van Doesburg discussed the ideas of this movement.

Piet Mondrian: Composition in red, yellow, blue, black and gray.

Born in painting, Neo was based on the abstraction of all forms of orthogonal lines and planes, and all the primary colors, white and black. While Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) is the best known artist of this movement, Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) it was its most renown architect.

Rietveld began as a furniture designer, and in 1917 created his famous "Red and Blue Chair", which is a three-dimensional expression of the concepts of  the Neoplasticism.

Red and Blue Chair and Chair Zigzag two Rietveld creations

His first and most famous work of architecture, the Schröder house, is a three-dimensional composition based on these pictorial ideas. It has been declared a UNESCO heritage site, and we will discuss about it in more depth in our next post.

Neoplasticism had a big influence on the Bauhaus Movement and subsequently on the development of the modern movement in architecture.


Rietveld began designing the Van Gogh Museum from 1963 to 1964. After the architect's death in 1964, the project was completed by his disciples J. Van Dillen and J. van Tricht. The construction of this first building was concluded in 1973. Additionally, in 1999 Martien van Goor added an offices wing that allows better communication between the different blocks in the complex.

Main facade from the street Paulus Potterstraat.
Rear facade to the Museumplein. Note the contemporary addition.

The volumetric composition consists of three overlapping boxes at different heights in a staggered sequence, and organized around a central courtyard. In this space, lit from above, the staircase becomes the central element.

Photos courtesy of Jan Tito

The entrance fromy Paulus Potterstraat Street, is stressed by a horizontal slab covering a lobby; this sort of "floating" elements is very common in Rietveld designs.


Due to a grant from the Japan Foundation, in 1999  an extension to the Rietveld's original museum was carried out. The project was commissioned ti the Japanese master Kisho Kurokawa.

Kurokawa, who shares with Rielveld a love for geometric shapes, proposed a building based on curved lines, based on the outline of an ellipse. Kurokawa champions the concept of symbiosis, a dialogue between two different entities, each with its own personality but seeking a common goal. His proposal is thus a symbiosis between East and West, between the straight and the curved lines, between order and chaos.

Showing humility and respect for his predecessor, Kurokawa buried 3/4 of the building, connecting it with the old museum though an underground passage, in order to minimize its visual impact on the surroundings. However, it is its peculiar titanium curved roof which first catches the visitor's eye .

The oval volume coated in granite is cut diagonally, defining a space that is occupied by a plaza that is eventually filled with water, becoming an abstraction of a Japanese garden.

In the straight wall of the museum stands a metallic, tilted box  that emphasizes Kurokawa's predilection for embedding pure geometric forms on flat surfaces, as he did on the National Art Center in Tokyo, which we had reviewed earlier in this moleskine.

Inside, the light is filtered by the curved roof and it is distributed though the fiberglass walls and wooden floors.

Photo courtesy of MorBCN
Photo courtesy of temp13

Two spaces are clearly legible: the double-height curve area and suspended cube, which contains the collection of Van Gogh Japanese art of Ukiyo-e, such as works by  Kitagawa Utamaro and Katsushita Hokusai .

The plum blossom and The Courtesan (Hiroshige)


Perhaps the question we all ask while approach the museum through the spacious forecourt of the Museumplein is ... Where is the entrance to the museum? Originally, as mentioned earlier, the building used to face a street, and on its back there was another street, the Concertgebouw (Concert Hall), that joined with the Rijksmuseum, the largest art museum in the Netherlands.

The street in front of the Concertgebouwen 1902

Between 1996 to 1999 an intensive renovation of this area was carried out , including underground parking, a wide expanse of lawn, shops, cafes, a pool-skating rink, the relocation of green areas and a memorial to the dead women in the Holocaust. The design was conceived by the remarkable Swedish landscape architect Sven-Ingvar Andersson, who integrated these cultural functions within a public space.

Today this is one of the busiest areas for both residents and visitors, and often holds outdoor exhibitions.

Currently they are carrying out renovations in museums, but in a few years it is expected to become one of the main cultural centers of Europe.


It is always noteworthy  to remember that Van Gogh greatly influenced modern art in Holland, including the De Stijl Movement, and that Vincent in turn was influenced by Japanese art, so it was Kurokawa. The world is a handkerchief.

- OTHER WORKS OF Kisho Kurokawa


With Eric, Techi  and little Rafael

Friday, April 19, 2013



HafenCity is a vast  waterfront development and urban rehabilitation project of located in Hamburg, the largest German port and the second in Europe, after Rotterdam. In addition to revitalizing the downtown and bringing urban life near the water, this project is an important attempt to carry out sustainable design, implemented in the contemporary architecture and urban design of public spaces located in the area.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hamburg grew from a secondary port to a carry a protagonist role by controlling much of the maritime traffic from the Baltic to Germany and Central Europe.
In this context a project was developed to revitalize an old pier on the River Elbe that had been affected during the war and was  abandoned by disuse and deterioration.

The HafenCity project, which began in 1999, is expected to be completed by 2020, although today it is possible access some areas that have been partially completed.

Project Area in 1944
Project Area in 2013. See location on Google Maps

The project, designed by the Dutch-German consortium  Kees Christiaanse / ASTOC in 1999, expanded the central area of ​​Hamburg in 40% and transformed this unused storage area. This renovation kept in some cases the building typology of brick warehouses, but preparing them to accomodate other purposes .

Looking to combine concepts of economic, social and environmental development, HafenCity includes mixed-use areas, such as housing for 4000 people, 45,000 offices, restaurants, a university, cultural facilities, parks and public areas. However, there has been criticiscm regarding it as elitist district, given the cost of the departments that are located in this area.

The canal area is marked by the longitudinality of the space that visually opens to the river. Our impression was that these buildings, respectively designed by architects winners of competitions, keep a human scale in relation to the pedestrians while allowing certain density in the district. The result achieved aesthetically composed yet highly efficient buildings in terms of sustainability.

It is also notable the recovery of old brick warehouses and public buildings or offices, in a fashion that was pioneered by the project of Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Some sculptural elements are references of the industrial past of the area.


One of the most celebrated contributions HafenCity is its public space, designed by Spanish firm EMBT, from the well remembered architect Enric Miralles and his wife Benedetta Tagliabue . The design exploits the interface between the city and the water, establishing various levels of contact and accessibility. It is noteworthy that the Elbe river floods two or three times a year, and for that reason the design should  provide security for the people and structures.

"Our intervention is dynamic and flexible. A changing landscape on a human scale, moving partially with the floods, bringing people nearer to the water and its moods."

In this regard the project of EMBT was carried out in three levels:

a) Water level:  a floating platform running longitudinally parallel to the channel that provides access to most boats while including gardening items. The zigzagging composition of this path contrasts with the marked parallelism defined by the buildings in both margins of the channel and produces  various dynamic views and sensations, a concept that is characteristic of  EMBT work.

b) Low Promenade level: Located 4.50 m above the water, it is used mostly by pedestrians to overlook the river from a safe area. The cantilevers offer coverage and a virtual channel that emphasizes directionality, while affording open views.

c) At the street level. Is located at 7.50 m, separating vehicular pedestrian traffic. It also includes playing areas and pedestrian promenades.

It is also noteworthy the  detail of the furniture, a sort of sculptural pieces that have been appropriated by the users of this space


Standing over the channel by way of a flagship, the  project is the most emblematic of the district and it was designed by the award-winning and Pritzker Prize Laureates Swiss architects  Herzog and De Meuron.

The building has been built on a former warehouse located on keel-shaped plot at one end of the pier, which has been gutted inside, leaving only the facade. Given the role that it should accommodate the building, it was impossible to keep the original layout of the warehouse and instead this impressive cultural facility is being assembled, that will include three concert halls, a hotel and luxury apartments.

The main concert hall shows an unusual arrangement of the seats, which will allow viewers to have a different listening experience and a greater proximity to the orchestra.

From the outside, what is most striking is the facade of the building, a  skin made of special double glass containing gas in between the two layers, which allows a sophisticated thermal control inside while creating a striking texture from the outside .

The project has not been without criticism, since a large number of postponements have increased its cost over 200 million euros. During our visit, we will told that the facility should be concluded in 2012, but probably its construction will be completed only in 2015. However, it is clear that despite these drawbacks, it will be one of the most emblematic landmarks of the city.


This dynamic sculptural tower of winding terraces contains luxury apartments overlooking the river, piled up to a height of 55 m. Its design, developed by Behnish Arkitekten, is based on an elaborate eco-design that had a low environmental impact during its construction and maintains an efficient control of its energy consumption.

Next to it is another building designed by the same office, this time it is a predominantly horizontal volume, the headquarters of the Unilever-Haus offices. This building presents a second skin composed of a transparent film that can provide environmental protection against the strong winds blowing in the area, Inside, light enters generously and illuminates a large multi-storied lobby, crossed by  bridges in various directions, allowing to experience an open , flexible and transparent interior. This spatial conception also favors the interaction of workers inside the building.


The scale of this large urban pilot project, its emphasis on sustainability, underpinned by a varied repertoire of high quality contemporary architecture, make HafenCity one of the biggest developments of waterfront development in Europe. Probably when it finished in the next decade it will be an important reference on sustainable urban design.


- Waterfront Development

Curious outfit of young girls in HafenCity.