Perimeter blockPerimeter block, cornerPerimeter block, infill
Olympic Quarter
Rudy Uytenhaak | Amsterdam, Netherlands | 2005
Image of Olympic ...
Partial south facade, Olympic Stadium to the left

ProjectOlympic Quarter
ArchitectRudy Uytenhaak
AddressHesperiden/Afroditekade (Olympic Stadium)
Building TypePerimeter block
Perimeter block, corner
Perimeter block, infill
Number of Dwellings296
Date Built2005
Dwelling Types1&2 BR flats, cor and infill types
No. Floors6-8
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
brick, stone, glass, wood windows
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicescommunity center, day care center, swimming pool, parking

The Olympic Quarter is the area around the stadium that was built for the 1928 Olympics at the western end of the Amsterdam-Zuid Plan that was designed by H.P. Berlage in 1917. As the population of Amsterdam rapidly expanded towards the end of the 19th century, planning was undertaken for new residential quarters in the districts bordering the central canal zone. Amsterdam-Zuid was one of the most well known of these developments for the southern extension of the city. Berlage’s plan was based on a pattern of regular perimeter blocks with tree-lined boulevards connecting major monuments, and a system of small landscaped squares. This area filled rapidly in the period between the two world wars and became a district famous for the working and middle-class Amsterdam School housing built during this time. The pattern of enclosed perimeter blocks extended to the western end of the district where the Amstel waterway system connects to the Schinkel River. Amstelveeneseweg, the major north-south street along the west, marked the end of the regular block system leaving a large, undeveloped open space that was partially occupied by the 1914 national stadium designed by Harry Elte that had been built just east of Amstelveeneseweg.

Amsterdam was selected to host the 1928 Olympics and a new national Olympic stadium designed by Jan Wils was open a few days before the Summer Olympics began in July 1928. The old national stadium was used as a second stadium but was demolished after the Olympics. The new stadium was built in the open space west of Amstelveenseweg and the oval shape of the stadium, the tall tower that held the Olympic torch, and two smaller buildings along Amstelveenseweg established a E-W axis that extended east into the Berlage block system. The Olympic stadium was small for a modern soccer stadium, seating 31,600, and in 1937, Wils designed an additional ring that increased its capacity to 64,000. The stadium was used as a cycling track for many years and the Amsterdam soccer team AFC Ajax used the stadium for international games until 1996 when they moved to the new Amsterdam Arena and the stadium was no longer used as a soccer stadium.

During this time the large open spaces around the Stadium and including the space around the two buildings along Amstelveenseweg were used for event parking. The curve of the canal on the west and north edges followed the route of the trams using Haarlemmermeer Station. A single small block of Amsterdam School housing built along the west side of Amstelveenesweg was all that had been built of the perimeter blocks originally planned for the Olympic site in Amsterdam-Zuid.

In 1987, the city announced plans to demolish the stadium and redevelop the area as middle-income housing. This was a very contentious proposal and it was only after a long period of negotiation that the Olympic Stadium was declared a national monument and saved. In the new plan, the stadium would be refurbished and returned to its 1928 configuration and underground parking would be provided so that the open spaces around the buildings were not periodically filled with cars. A new Park Schinkeleilanden would be created to west that extended recreation facilities that already existed making a series of connected islands between the Schinkel and Amstel waterways. Finally, the plan called for about 1000 new dwellings to be built on the vacant land north of the stadium.

The idea was to extend the Berlage block system west of Amstelveenseweg to the tip of the peninsula formed by the Amstel Canals. Six new perimeter blocks would be added to the single 1928 Amsterdam School block along Amstelveenseweg that would form a long residential wall along the north side of the Stadium that would also face the new park to be built to the west and canals along the north. The new housing was to be a mix of luxury and subsidized types following the example of the Amsterdam-School buildings in the adjacent communities. Now, part of the block system would be completed but leaving the stadium and its attendant public open spaces. In 2007, O.M.A. presented a design for the Stadionplein area east of the stadium that extended the plaza area east, with new buildings and underground parking.

Typical of large Dutch housing projects, several firms worked on the six new blocks including Rudy Uytenhaak, Lafour, Wijk, and Mulleners & Mulleners. Uytenhaak designed the facades and corners of the blocks facing the stadium, as well as the iron-shaped courtyard block at the west end, including a day-care center, community center, swimming pool, and other community spaces in the courtyard of this building. The courtyards of the other blocks are shared spaces accessible from side streets. Two artists also had a hand in the design of the Quarter. Martin Sandber developed a system of stainless steel bricks that are used to decorate the low garden walls and some building plinths. Reinoud Oudshoorn designed a system of three-dimensional apartment numbers in cast aluminum that recall similar use of stylized apartment numbers in Amsterdam School housing of the 1920’s.

Continuing the Amsterdam School typology of continuous height perimeter blocks while adapting them to nuances of the site offers several contextual advantages. Making a long urban wall along the north side of the stadium is an effective way to enclose the space around the old stadium; it provides a datum that organizes the various spaces and buildings of the Stadium area. There are other examples of extremely long residential walls in Amsterdam, but the separate blocks effectively form a virtual wall when the heights, detailing and materials are the same. The perimeter block type offers a time-tested model for a residential pattern that differentiates between the space of the street and the space of the interior courts, offers strategies for corner versus infill conditions, and provides a quarry of examples of architectonic detailing that was the hallmark of Amsterdam School facades.

The new street along the four blocks facing the stadium has (including the existing 1928 structure) a wide sidewalk and a double row of trees that form a pedestrian promenade that connects across a new pedestrian bridge to the islands of Park Schinkeleilanden. This provides a spatial conclusion to Uytenhaak’s long façade. The iron-shaped block at the end of the street continues the south façade, but then steps to the curvature of the canal. The interior street passes through this block so there is a view of the park to the west and opening to the second row of perimeter blocks along the canal on the north side of the peninsula. The community facilities have been built as separate 2-story buildings in the space of this courtyard.

All three buildings are organized around a repeating pattern of vertical access cores and kitchen and bathroom elements. Five different dwelling types are deployed in the system, 2 infill types, and three corner types. All are organized as through apartments with living spaces facing the street and bedrooms on the courtyards. In the stepped infill type used in the iron-shaped block the dwelling can be reversed with living spaces on either the inside or outside. The front-rear aspects of the plans are reflected in the use of building materials, windows, and balconies so that the south façade is a very dynamic, layered, horizontally organized situation featuring red brick while the courtyard facades are organized vertically with small repetitive windows and light-colored brick. Different bay sizes of 6.9 and 3.6 meters are used to create a concatenated, repetitive, hierarchical composition.

Many of the design features that can be seen in the existing 1928 building have been reinterpreted and applied in the in Uytenhaak’s new buildings. These features include the use of red brick and red tile roofs, the overall heights that share horizontal alignments even though the new buildings on the south are 6 floors high as compared to the 5 floors in the old. Other similarities include the gradation of detail from base to roof, the articulation of the “re-entry” corners, the development of a roof zone where the windows are smaller and a new solarium/terrace that is used to articulate the top two floors and the use of a cantilevered zone that gives layered depth to the façade. The commercial ground floor is accentuated by the use of a light- colored stone with alternating strips of thin travertine, and shop-front windows. The building entrances are recessed and detailed in wood to further enhance the plinth concept. A key design feature relates to the problem of using brick for the exterior walls on a frame building. Large windows were necessary to provide lighting to apartments that are deeper front to rear than the 1928 prototype leaving large expanses of glass on the south façade. A grid of brick struts is suspended a few inches in front of the glass in the four middle floors. These struts are several inches deep and aligned with the window divisions, a module of 2 meters. Seen from inside the brick struts are barely noticeable, however, from the exterior, when combined with the brick spandrels, and vertical zones of brick wall between zones of glass the dominant material seems to be brick rather than glass walls. This is especially the case when viewed obliquely. Using the brick struts this way also creates some of the sense of layered depth to the façade that is so critical to the dynamic quality of the Amsterdam School facades and defines space for the roller blinds and the balustrades needed for these floor-to-ceiling windows. The application of these principles on the south façade results in the rich, layered, three-dimensional quality typical of Amsterdam School buildings.

The Olympic facades are just the latest in an on-going exhibition of extreme residential walls designed by Rudy Uytenhaak in Amsterdam the past few years. The vertical surface has always been a dominant emphasis in Uytenhaak’s work and his buildings always demonstrate the innovative use of new materials and details. The long linear building is typically seen as an urban device to be used in the context of other buildings and spaces to define and resolve larger urban-scaled problems. Weesperstraat (1992), for example, is a mixed use, ten-story high wall along a major street with bookends, a new interpretation of a traditional row of canal houses on one side street, and both facing terraced gardens on the interior of the block. In the Czaar Peterstraat (1993) project, built in a district of long narrow blocks, the pressure to combine blocks was resisted with the result that a 10 m wide, 6–story high wall, 150 meters long organizes the street with a repeating rhythm of thresholds and entrances miming the previous pattern of individual houses. This tall narrow wall organizes a zone of free-standing “palazzi”, lower in height and spaced to give views of a canal to the north. The Drogbak (1999) street façade, built in one of the nosiest places in Amsterdam was conceived as a huge, double-glazed, curved and canted foil designed to deflect the noise of metropolis while defining a public park on the opposite side of the building, again overlooked by balcony gardens. Perhaps the most astonishing wall of all is the Reitlandpark housing (2002). Like the Olympic Quarter, this wall is three blocks long and combines new blocks of housing while forming a colossal urban fence along one side of the huge grass field above the entrance to the tunnel under the IJ. Levitated, canted, and stepping in height from 6 to 9 floors, this enormous grille functions as an inhabited veneer connecting the three perimeter blocks while at the same time enclosing the side of park with an appropriate large-scaled urban wall. The Olympic walls (2007), the most recent of the wall series, is actually 3 buildings that together constitute a single façade nearly 300 meters long. And, it seems to be even longer because of the way the last block turns the corner and curves along the canal and seems to wrap around itself.

Uytanhaak, Rudy, , )10 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2008, pp. 60-63

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