Slab, corridorSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-access, skip stopSlab, corridorSlab, double-loaded, skip stopSlab, corridorSlab, double-loaded
MVRDV (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries | Amsterdam, The Netherlands | 2002
Image of Silodam
View from the Southwest, existing grain elevators to the right

ArchitectMVRDV (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries
CountryThe Netherlands
AddressWesterdoksdijk (Wester-dok)
Building TypeSlab, corridor
Slab, double-loaded
Slab, double-loaded, skip stop
Slab, gallery access
Slab, gallery-access, skip stop
Number of Dwellings157
Date Built2002
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1,2,3 BR flats; 2,3,4 BR maisonettes, lofts.
No. Floors10
Section Typeflats and maisonettes
Exterior Finish
concrete, aluminum, glass curtain wall, cedar, reinforced cement panels,steel panels, resin wood, brick
Construction TypeRC frame and walls, glass and metal skin
Ancillary Services600sq. m. commercial, parking garage

Silodam is one of a group of large residential slabs designed by the Dutch architects MVRVD between 1994 and 2007. This group includes three Amsterdam projects, WOZOCO housing for seniors (1997), Silodam (2002 and Parkrand (2007), and The Mirador (2004), a tall slab in the new Sanchinarro district of northern Madrid designed with the Spanish firm Blanca Lléo. All four of these buildings demonstrate a provocative attitude about the forms that new housing should adopt on dense urban sites, about the mix and kinds of “houses” that are needed in today’s housing market, and about the innovative use of new materials in housing construction.

Silodam, named after the large grain silos already on the site, is built at the tip of one of the loading piers that extend out into the IJ River in the industrial area west of central Amsterdam. This reflective, polychromatic cubic block of apartments has become a new landmark along the Westerdok waterfront that contrasts sharply with existing buildings in the IJ maritime landscape. The project was originally offered as a limited competition with MVRDV and two other firms well known for their housing work, Rudy Uytenhaak and Martorell, Bohigas, Mackay of Barcelona. As the mixed residential/commercial/public space program evolved, the commercial component was reduced so that the building now contains 157 “houses”—a combination of 142 privately owned and 15 rental apartments--600 sq. meters of commercial space beneath a large terrace on the east side of the building, a marina for small boats in the open colonnade at the base of the building, and two automated parking garages for 109 cars built inside the dock. The original dock was built for storing and loading grain. The two existing brick and concrete grain warehouses were built in 1896 and 1952. These two blocks have recently been converted to housing and form a group of large freestanding elements. Silodam continues this massing past the end of the pier but uses a completely different repertoire of details and materials. Various maritime metaphors have been used to describe Silodam. Most obvious among these is that it is a cruise ship being re-supplied at the Amsterdam waterfront, or that it is a container ship, or it is just another stack of the containers, like those that dot the IJ landscape; a new version the same modular, polychromatic, stacked, multi-directional agglutinated organization, the marine version of a giant Lego construction, affixed to but at the same time detached from the end of the pier.

The first impression of Siloam is that this is a glass version of the venerable unité type: a big rectangular volume organized repetitively and supported by an articulated base of freestanding columns. While it has the same 165m long x 24m wide footprint, at 10 floors it is only about half as tall as a unité so the proportions are actually quite different, and it contains less than half as many apartments. But, this big volume dominates even with the great complexity and variety of the exterior details, and materials. The slab is zoned as 4 connected towers each with different plans. The use of a 5.4m module results in a consistent, repetitive organization. Three vertical stair and elevator cores service the four towers and the two middle towers share another. The service cores connect to a horizontal circulation network that changes in position from floor to floor and varies from a standard double-loaded corridor organization to gallery access types, which occur on both sides of the building, including skip-stop variations of each type.

An important principle guiding Dutch housing since the 1980’s was to provide a range of dwellings types in all new housing design. The idea was to provide buyers with more choice of living arrangements. Following this principle, MVRDV designed fifteen different types of apartments for use in Silodam. The apartments vary in width from 20 to 50’ and in depth from ½ building width (double-loaded) to the full 24m-meter depth, and from one-story to 3-story (loft) types. This diverse range of dwelling types is organized into “neighborhoods” of 4-12 apartments that are organized vertically or horizontally as distinct groups or zones. This variety can be seen in the plans but it is a dominant characteristic of the exteriors. Different neighborhoods are legible on the facades and each is expressed with different materials, windows, and colors and results in a diverse display of dwelling possibilities and groupings within a single volume. Apartment types include flats, maisonettes, unité-type skip-stop maisonettes, overlapping dwellings, 2-story galleries, patio houses, three-story lofts, live-work units and includes varied public experiences such as the glass galleries on the upper floors and public corridors that are color coded for different neighborhoods. Each dwelling has an outdoor space, a balcony, terrace, gallery, or patio and most have panoramic views of the dynamic nautical landscape of the IJ.

The façades have the variegated quality of a modular stack of shipping containers or, a huge, polychromatic, three dimensional sliding tile game, perhaps the vertical version of the horizontal robotic parking machines used in the parking garages below the surface of the adjacent pier. These exteriors are a sampler of window and wall materials, details and colors. The basic transparent reflective qualities are established by the extensive use of glass but other materials include aluminum panels, reinforced cement panels, prodema wood panels, western red cedar, glass curtain walls, brick, painted profiled panels (containers), and painted steel. Operating windows in various sizes and configurations are mixed with zones of glass curtain wall and glass balustrades. The use of bright colors, orange, blue, white, red, terra cotta, and black, reinforce the polychrome imagery and form a spiritual connection to other MDRDV designs.

Besides references cruise and container shipping, other precedents for Silodam include the legacy of Dutch functionalism that is certainly part of the DNA of Silodam but absent the relentless minimalism of earlier slabs like Bergpolder or Kralingse Plas. Inevitably, comparisons will be made between the unité d’habitation of Le Corbusier and Silodam. The most obvious difference between the two is the use of exterior materials, raw concrete and wood and glass infill walls in the unité as compared to the energy efficient glass and metal skin of Silodam. While the unité is a much larger structure and is not actually in a maritime setting, both buildings share the nautical imagery of a big vessel berthed to a pier and share attitudes about the articulated base, and pilotis, the repetitive exteriors, and developed roof. Both buildings have many different apartment types. The unité apartment type, (a version of which is used in Silodam), of course dominates the 337 unités in Marseilles, however, 23 different apartments were used, even more than Silodam’s 15. In Silodam, however, a much more complex range of sizes and types are used in a variety of arrangements many of which, like the unité, have 2-story high spaces. The unité pays more attention to the north/south orientation with a zone of special units on the north façade, but Silodam matches this gesture by the sitting of the building at the end of the pier and the position of the Crow’s Nest on the top floor of the north end, a two-story high community space looking out to the water. Roof gardens are used in both, but the much larger roof garden of Marseilles probably has no equal as a model roofscape although the patios and skylights at the 10th floor in Silodm are certainly a move in this direction. Individual apartments in both buildings have balconies or outside space. Interior corridors in the unité are all double-loaded, skip-stop as compared to the alternate positioning of Silodam and the great advantage of being able to circulate on the outside surface as compared to the experience of walking along an interior corridor. The use of color was an important design element with both buildings but with Siloam the use of color is taken to a whole new level, the brilliant, crystalline, skin even begins to assume the colors and reflective qualities of the maritime landscape it occupies

Many of the original public spaces in the program were left out for financial reasons and the commercial space reduced by half. Public spaces that were included in the finished building include a marina for small boats in the open, colonnade in the central bays that allow views of the IJ through the building from the dock and a large open wood stair connecting to a colonnaded entrance deck and steps further to a raised wooden deck that extends out into the river overlooking the IJ on the east side of the building. The commercial spaces in the program are located under this deck that is left empty. The galleries that alternate in position and height also read as public spaces on the exterior.

The beautiful apartments within and spectacular views from Silodam define a surrealist experience at the windswept end of a barren “strekdam”, a veritable “machine for living” but, living a life that is curiously disconnected from the city. There were not many options for parking. The amazing machine within the dock manages the cars but at the expense of any reasonable public space on top of the dock, a few parking spaces and the glass elevator porticos for the cars. In the absence of a more expansive program, projects like Silodam, and even the retrofitting of the two old grain elevators, will languish as examples of an incomplete urbanism. Even a line of the ubiquitous boats that seem to eventually line all of Amsterdam’s waterfronts would enliven the edge of the dock and add a layer of domesticity to the public spaces.

Burman, Marlies & Maarten Kloos, ed. Amsterdam Architecture, 2000-2002, Architectura + Natura Press, Amsterdam, 2003, p. 50-51.

AV Monographs,

L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, July-August, 2002, pp. 18-20.

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