Perimeter block
Kollhoff, Hans & Christian Rapp | Amsterdam, The Netherlands | 1989
Image of Piraeus
General view of the building on KNSM island across the water.

ArchitectKollhoff, Hans & Christian Rapp
CountryThe Netherlands
AddressKNSM Laan/Levantkade (KNSM island)
Building TypePerimeter block
Number of DwellingsNA
Date Built1989
Dwelling Types1,2 bra. flats, 2-3 bra. maisonettes
No. Floors6
Section Typeflats, maisonettes, & some special studios at th
Exterior Finish
brick, metal windows, and wood frames for shops
Construction TypeR-C frame
Ancillary Servicesshops along water, some glazed balconies

The master plan for the old KNSM island, one of several vacated in the Eastern port area of Amsterdam proposed a unique type of perimeter block along the south edge of the long, narrow island. Jo Coenen's concept of a large rectangular courtyard block with a round courtyard building inserted into the center was the beginning point for this building. The theme of cylinders versus rectangles was a theme on the island and included the perimeter block just north of the "Piraeus" block designed by Bruno Albert as well as Coenen's building in the ensemble, a round courtyard building at the tip of the island. While the perimeter block idea was retained, the presence of an existing three story building along the water required some modification of the cylinder and this idea was transformed through several design stages. In the final version, a 9 story wall along the interior street, tapers down to a 6 story wall along the waterfront, which then tapers to a 4 story wall which is folded past the existing building and slips under the wall along the street. This folding tapering notion leaves the original dock building as a freestanding historic artifact while providing passage from the street to the waterfront through the building. The folding/tapering also is a practical response to a south facing site and the excitement of the waterfront along the south edge of the island. The whole form of the block is thus sloped, tucked and folded back on itself to reduce the height of the south side of the building to allow more light to reach the interior courtyards and the dwellings on the south side of the north wall. The sloping roofs, and angular bends heighten the sensation of a continuously folded form. Some details such as the windows that turn the corner at a fold , skylights in the sloping roof, and areas on the south wall where the bottom four floors tuck back under the upper floors which define the virtual edge of the block, and zones of planar glass surfaces such as the solariums along the north facade all contribute to this experience of a continuously folded monolithic form. The flush windows, metal roof, and dark brick also reinforce the image of a diagrammatic three-dimensional computer drawing of an abstract geometric solid. In addition to the site strategy for dealing with the waterfront, the west end is cutaway in a four story high colonnade, designed by artist Arno van der Mark, which allows the space of the interior courtyard to extend out to the quadrangular space defined by two other existing structures. This garden was designed by Dutch landscape architect Mien Ruys

Piraeus contains 304 dwellings in a complex organization of flats, maisonettes and ateliers. The folded wings on the south contain mostly 2 bedroom flats. The taller north and end wings contain a complex mix of flats and maisonettes sometimes in a point access arrangement, sometimes in a gallery access type. Studio flats are found next to large ateliers and maisonettes and there are even apartment arrangements which allow doubling of dwellings to create a wide mix of types and sizes including some three story dwellings on the upper floors with skylights and large windows. Some dwellings have balconies, and, along the north facade in an upper part of the building, the gallery reads as a cantilevered glass element. The glazed balconies are a form of solarium which was applied by Hans Kollhoff and Arthur Ovaska before in some of the Berlin projects. Here the continuous glass of the living area opens to a balcony within the volume of the building. The balcony then has folding windows open by a thin slot at the sides so that ventilation can be controlled.

The entrances to the building read as cutouts in the dense, dark brick wall and principle lobbies which lead to interior elevators are rendered in Western Red Cedar a unique signing achieved by use of a contrasting, almost semi precious material. The wood detail is also used in the shops along the waterfront, another gesture to creating a place with special meaning. These shops are planned to run continuous along the south waterfront and should provide the activity and interest appropriate to this density. While the idea of a continuous commercial frontage would seem to be absolute here, the actual quay along the buildings is under-designed, without the paraphernalia necessary to accommodate the range of public activities that could be expected to take place here.
The building typology required in the master plan may be of questionable value here. Even though the width of the island was such that a single row of buildings along each waterfront would have left too much undeveloped space on the interior of the island, the perimeter block kind of building implies an equality of surface and an emphasis upon the interior courtyards that seems almost to defy the strong single orientation of the waterfront situation. While Kollhoff/Rapp skillfully adapted the block to a one-sided situation, the waterfront elevations are far more successful that the north facade along the interior street. Monolith that it is, Piraeus is not large compared to other linear buildings ( Karl Marx Diff in Vienna for example, is one kilometer long and contains about 1500 apartments and Erskine's Byker Wall could probably extend for the entire side of the island) and it is tempting to imagine that the folded and tapered south wall of Piraeus should be the prototypical image of how to build along the water. Compared to the more stringent programmatic requirement of most modernist housing models, Piraeus offers an exceptionally varied selection of dwelling types and one of the compelling ideas of this huge residential warehouse is that the dwelling program comes much closer to offering a match between dwelling tastes and opportunities.

Architecture In The Netherlands Yearbook, 1994-1995, NAI, Rotterdam, pp. 54-59.

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