Perimeter blockSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, point-accessTower
Uytenhaak, Rudy | Amsterdam, The Netherlands | 1992
Image of Weesperstr...
Corner block with taller element and gridded row housing left along the canal.

ArchitectUytenhaak, Rudy
CountryThe Netherlands
AddressWeesperstraat/Nieuwe Keizers Gracht/Nieuw Prenzengracht
Building TypePerimeter block
Slab, gallery access
Slab, point-access
Number of DwellingsNA
Date Built1992
Dwelling Typesflats and duplexes, various sizes
No. Floors5-12
Section Typegallery slab , some maisonettes, point-access to
Exterior Finish
brick, cement panels, glass
Construction TypeRC frame, brick, metal, glass wall panels
Ancillary Servicesshops, parking, offices

In the 1960's Weesperstraat, one of the radial roads leading out of the concentric canal system of central Amsterdam, the old road to Weesp, was enlarged as part of the construction of the city's subway system. The new buildings built along Weesperstraat during and since this time form a typical modernist commercial boulevard with a rather loose mix of freestanding, slabs and towers with mixed commercial and residential use. The difference in scale and character between the individual 17th and 18th century 5-story residential buildings along the canals and the 10 to 12-story commercial slabs fronting Weesperstraat is a jarring reminder of the exaggerated contrast between modern and traditional building. The buildings lining the canals form a typology of individual narrow plots which are 22 meters deep with living spaces facing the canal, a kitchen and service court on the interior and sleeping rooms at the rear opening to the interior of the block. There is a distinct quality of individual buildings and, although each house is different with different windows and doors and detail, there is a repetitive order and a sense of collective continuity. On Weesperstraat, by contrast, the surface is emphasized, buildings are not continuous--sometimes set back from the street-- and the residential quality gives way to the noise and traffic of a busy commercial thoroughfare. Uytenhaak's design is an ingenious way of bringing together these two incongruous styles into a unified, coherent ensemble. Both building traditions are combined using modern materials while maintaining the best qualities of each.

Along the canals, Uytenhaak has continued the 5-story height, narrow width, 22 meter depth and courtyard typology of the existing row houses. While the dominant building system is a concrete frame and glass infill rather than brick with tiled gable roofs, the scale, repetitive nature and individual quality of the original parceled is followed. Using an independent concrete frame as a kind of false facade which covers a rather ordinary street of row houses behind that is actually 6 floors high, allows Uytenhaak to respond to the variety implicit in the old row houses; they vary slightly in height, floor levels change, openings do not occur at the same heights, walls are not plumb, and some houses have balconies and other do not. This frame idea is a device which Uytenhaak used before at the Droogbak apartments of 1989, and which is also used as a frame to support the balconies on the garden facade of the buildings facing Weesperstraat. The frame is allowed to slip past the ends of the buildings fronting the boulevard and also appears as a 5-story high section of the main block along Weesperstraat which extends from the virtual face of the slab about the depth of the balconies on the canal streets. This strategy creates an inter-penetration of canal and boulevard facades, effectively reducing the stark lack of contextually characteristic of other buildings along Weesperstraat.

The zoning requirements of Weesperstraat required greater density and taller buildings. Here, the continuous row of buildings is formed several freestanding elements: a 12-story rhomboid-shaped tower, a 10-story slab, and a 6-story block marking the end of each of the three canal streets. The tower and the slab step back from the edge of the street forming a long narrow public plaza which is marked by a curious sculpture. Shops and building entrances front this plaza. At each end of the complex, the canal buildings extend to the edge of the street with a high portico implying that the rhythm of the canal frame has turned the corner on Weesperstraat. These porticos also form an entrance to the long plaza at each end. These "bookends" which are surfaced in dark clinker brick are similar to an existing condition on the opposite side of the street. The tower and the slab are rendered as versions of the precast concrete curtain wall buildings of the 60's across Weesperstraat and contain both offices and apartments on the upper floors. While the surface of these buildings is modernist the modular division in plan repeats the proportions of the row houses, another device to combine elements of both building types. In the tower, four flats on each floor are grouped around a central service core. The slab is organized as a point access building at the lower floors changing to a gallery-access system at the 5th floor. This division again reflects the heights of the canal houses. This height division is also apparent on the south garden facades. Here an independent concrete frame which supports the diagonal balconies is used at the lower floors but not above. The garden facades of the individual cells in the slab are not parallel giving the impression of an undulating glass wall behind the frame. This too is an idea used at Droogbak as a technique to create an exaggerated architectonic dialectic between frame and surface.

Uytenhaak's complex provides a unique model of a strategy for how to apply modernist building forms, and materials in the context of a historic site. Rather than resorting to trite reproductions of classical or traditional detail and building forms, this strategy allows the use of modern materials and building technology but in a way that makes reference to historical building forms, organization and critical élan.

Martin Kloos, ed., Rudy Uytenhaak Architect, Architectura & Natura Press, Amsterdam, 1993, pp.;42-47.

Amsterdam Architecture, Architectura & Natura Press, Amsterdam, 1991-93, pp. 114-15

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