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Crystal Houses – CHANEL Amsterdam

The 630 m2 of retail and 220 m2 housing of Crystal Houses, designed by MVRDV and located on P.C. Hooftstraat 94 in Amsterdam is a flagship store with a replica façade made entirely out of glass. The structure of the glazed facade consists of UV bonded, solid glass bricks. Not only the bricks, but also the frames and even the panel door are made of glass. A self-bearing facade has never before been made with solid glass bricks.

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© Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

“Long ago, this was a typical workers’ street, and we thought it was a shame that it was losing its character,” says Gijs Rikken of Rotterdam firm MVRDV. “We wondered how we could retain some of that, but add to it as well.” The solution is a simple brick facade that mimics the traditional workers’ row houses that previously stood on the site. But with the lower storeys realized in bricks cast in glass, the result is something totally unique.

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© Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

The increased globalisation of retail has led to the homogenisation of high-end shopping streets. Crystal Houses offer the store a window surface that contemporary stores need, whilst maintaining architectural character and individuality. The near full-glass façade precisely mimics the original design. Glass bricks stretch up the façade of Crystal Houses, eventually dissolving into a traditional terracotta brick façade for the apartments.

Solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by Poesia in Resana, near Venice. Despite its delicate looks, strength tests by a research team from Delft University of Technology proved that the glass-construction was in many ways stronger than concrete. The development of new construction methods unearthed additional possibilities for future building, such as the minimisation of waste materials. In essence, all of the glass components are completely recyclable.

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© public domain


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© public domain

“Solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by Poesia in Resana, near Venice. Research undertaken by the Delft University of Technology, in partnership with engineering firm ABT and contractor Wessels Zeist, led to the development of structural solutions and fabrication techniques, with the use of a high-strength, UV bonded, transparent adhesive from Delo Industrial Adhesives in Germany to cement the bricks together without the need for a more traditional mortar.” – MVRDV

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© Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

MVRDV:

MVRDV’s Crystal Houses began its existence with the request of Warenar to design a flagship store combining both Dutch heritage and international architecture on the PC Hooftstraat, Amsterdam’s one and only luxury brand street that was previously primarily residential. MVRDV wanted to make a representation of the original buildings and found a solution through an extensive use of glass. The near full-glass façade mimics the original design, down to the layering of the bricks and the details of the window frames, but is stretched vertically to comply with updated zoning laws and to allow for an increase in interior space. Glass bricks stretch up the façade of Crystal Houses, eventually dissolving into a traditional terracotta brick façade for the apartments (as stipulated in the City’s aesthetics rules), which appears to be floating above the shop floor.

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construction process – © Poesia

The design hopes to provide a solution to the loss of local character in shopping areas around the world. The increased globalisation of retail has led to the homogenisation of high-end shopping streets. Crystal Houses offer the store a window surface that contemporary stores need, whilst maintaining architectural character and individuality, resulting in a flagship store that hopes to stand out amongst the rest.

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step diagram – © MVRDV

“We said to the client, ‘Let’s bring back what will be demolished but develop it further’” explains Winy Maas, architect and co-founder of MVRDV. “Crystal Houses make space for a remarkable flagship store, respect the structure of the surroundings and bring a poetic innovation in glass construction. It enables global brands to combine the overwhelming desire of transparency with a couleur locale and modernity with heritage. It can thus be applied everywhere in our historic centres.”

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construction process – © MVRDV

After conceiving the initial idea MVRDV worked closely with a number of partners to develop the technologies to make it possible. Solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by Poesia in Resana, near Venice. Research undertaken by the Delft University of Technology, in partnership with engineering firm ABT and contractor Wessels Zeist, led to the development of structural solutions and fabrication techniques, with the use of a high-strength, UV bonded, transparent adhesive from Delo Industrial Adhesives in Germany to cement the bricks together without the need for a more traditional mortar.

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construction process – © MVRDV

Six to ten experts worked every day for a whole year in a place that bore more resemblance to a laboratory than a construction site. Due to the sensitivity of the materials, an extremely high level of accuracy and craftsmanship was required and a technical development team was onsite throughout the process. Since this construction is the first of its kind, new construction methods and tools had to be utilised: from high-tech lasers and laboratory grade UV-lamps, to slightly lower-tech Dutch full-fat milk, which, with its low transparency, proved to be an ideal liquid to function as a reflective surface for the levelling of the first layer of bricks. Despite its delicate looks, strength tests by the Delft University of Technology team proved that the glass-construction was in many ways stronger than concrete. The full-glass architrave, for instance, could withstand a force of up to 42,000 Newton; the equivalent to two full-sized SUVs.

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construction process – © public domain

The development of new construction methods unearthed additional possibilities for future building, such as the minimisation of waste materials. In essence, all of the glass components are completely recyclable. Waste materials from the project, such as imperfect bricks, could simply be (and were) melted down and re-moulded or entirely repurposed. Such is also true for the entire façade itself, once the building has reached the end of its life span, the whole facade can be melted down and given a new life. The only exceptions to this rule are added features which ensure the security of the building, such as a concrete ram-raid defence plinth, hidden in a blend of reflective and translucent materials and built to withstand the force of a car crashing into the building. Repair-protocols were developed in the event of any damage, allowing for the replacement of individual bricks.

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elevation – © MVRDV

With a façade made primarily out of glass it was important to ensure that energy requirements were supplied through renewable sources. Therefore, the building was designed around a ground source heat pump, its pipes leading up to 170 metres underground, allowing for an optimal indoor climate throughout the year. A crucial element when dealing with delicate, sophisticated detailing while striving for a proper energy balance at the same time.

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© Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

Project Data:

Project name: Crystal Houses
Location: P.C. Hooftstraat 94-96, 1071 CA Amsterdam, Netherlands
Coordinates: 52.360135, 4.879900
Type: Shop / Store / Showroom / Retail
Project area: 840 sqm
Status: Built
Completion: 2016

Awards:

  • 2017 – ArchDaily Building of the Year Award – Category: Commercial Architecture – Winner
  • 2017 – Architizer A+ Awards – Typology Categories: Commercial / Mixed Use – Popular Choice Winner
  • 2017 – Amsterdam Architecture Prize – Nominee
  • 2017 – Dutch Design Awards – Public Award – Winner
  • 2016 – Bouwend Nederland Glas Award – Glass Innovation Award – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Warenar Real Estate Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Architects:

  • MVRDVDunantstraat 10 3024 BC Rotterdam Netherlands

Co-Architect:

  • Gietermans & Van Dijk Wim Gietermans, Arjan Bakker, Tuğrul Avuçlu

Design Team:

  • Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries with Gijs Rikken, Mick van Gemert and Renske van der Stoep

Contractor : Wessels Zeist – Robert van der Hoef, Richard van het Ende, Marco and Ronald Van de Poppe
Constructor: Paul Brouwer (Brouwer&Kok ), Rob Nijsse(ABT)
Research: Delft University of Technology – Frederic A. Veer, Faidra Oikonomopoulou, Telesilla Bristogianni
Selected suppliers & subcontractors, Manufacturers:

  • Manufacturer glass bricks: Poesia (brand of Vetreria Resanese): Ivano Massarotto
  • Importer of Delo glue: Siko – Rob Janssen

Text Description: © Courtesy of MVRDV, world-architects
Images: © MVRDV, Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

Location:

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Crystal Houses - CHANEL Amsterdam / MVRDV
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