MVRDV has designed a neighbourhood with a large variety in façades for Almere Poort, an area in the city of Almere, The Netherlands. For budgetary reasons, parking for the area is concentrated in two communal car parks.
Mr Jacob van Rijs, architect for MVRDV, states: “Almere Poort will have the highest density in Almere.” Where the A6 highway meets the railway line from Amsterdam to the east, the fourth urban core of Almere will arise over the next decade. In this area, the presence of the nearby city of Amsterdam will be felt more strongly than in the other three areas that make up Almere. Its urban character should attract a whole new target group.
The design was commissioned by Amsterdam housing corporation Stadgenoot. Mr Van Rijs thinks it is characteristic for this project that this is the first time the housing corporation is involved in a project outside Amsterdam. In this area, a new, different Almere should arise. While housing in Almere currently almost exclusively consists of low-rise private houses with gardens, Almere Poort will offer mainly rented apartments.
VARIATION The neighbourhood designed by MVRDV is an elaboration on a subarea of the centre of Almere Poort. The design was based on the urban design framework that Mecanoo drew up for Almere Poort. The structure of closed blocks of buildings was prescribed. However, MVRDV did not settle for three different buildings per block, as Mecanoo suggested: they wanted more variation.
MVRDV’s design divided the blocks into 8 to 10 buildings and between 1 and 3 ‘parasites’: small buildings that hang between two of the larger buildings. These ‘parasites’ allow free access to the communal gardens on ground level. MVRDV compares the buildings to a chain, as they have been linked into a circular shape. As for the variation between buildings, MVRDV wanted to find the balance between an excess and a lack of variation.
In order to alternate the height of the various floors in adjacent buildings, MVRDV varied the height of the ground floor. The added height of the floors may, in future allow the spaces to be used for catering and hospitality purposes.
25 ARCHITECTS The chain concept resulted in about 100 plots for the urban design. MVRDV suggested to invite 100 architects to create the designs for these plots. However, the suggestion was above budget. Instead, 25 architects were invited to each create 2 designs. The other 50 designs were made by MVRDV. In order to limit the expenses, the 25 architects were only allowed to make a preliminary design. MVRDV completed the detailed design.
The 25 architects put MVRDV in a whole new position: they became the client. In consultation with the housing corporation, a mix of very different architecture offices was selected: some of them well established, such as Onix or J. Mayer H., some of them quite new, like Powerhouse or Monadnock. They also wanted to make room for ‘the ugly’, although Mr Van Rijs will not mention any names in this category.
Together with the local authorities, MVRDV decided where every design should be situated. Exceptional designs have been given a prominent position. For some buildings, the location meant a change of function: from office building to residential block, or vice versa.
JDS’s design for a residential building was so distinct, that it was situated at the central square. In order to counter-balance the extravagance of the designs by the 25 commissioned architects, MVRDV said they decided to make their own 50 designs more modest. According to Mr Van Rijs “buildings can be extravagant, but not all of them should be showstoppers.”
PARKING MVRDV’s plan for 100 buildings includes 120,000m² of residential space, 60,000m² of office space and 15,000m² for a school. For these functions, 1,800 parking spaces are needed. Usually these would be created by providing every block with a basement for parking. However, on reclaimed land, a basement is an expensive option, too expensive for the housing market in Almere. At first, MVDRV wanted to solve this problem by stacking a parking lot on the top of every block and providing a car lift.
As this solution was also too expensive, the architects decided concentrate parking for the area in one smaller and one larger communal car park. A communal car park is more flexible as it can be used by different groups at different times. People will walk from the car park to their offices or their homes. This will liven up the street scene, in the opinion of Mr Van Rijs. He hopes this liveliness will generate support for public functions on the ground floors of the buildings. However, the main advantage of the communal car parks for the neighbourhood is hidden: as none of the buildings have basements, the courtyards can contain mature trees.
“The larger car park is about the same size as the Royal Palace in Amsterdam”, according to Mr Van Rijs. That is quite sizeable, but no bigger than the Europarking in the west of Amsterdam, which is situated at about the same walking distance from the nearest neighbourhood in Amsterdam as the parking in Almere Poort. If it works in Amsterdam, it should work in Almere, right? Mr Van Rijs thinks that the key to the success of the car parks is in the added functions such as a public swimming pool, a supermarket or a drive-in theatre.
LETTER-CASE MVRDV has managed to design a rich and varied street scene for Almere Poort. A few buildings have been set back from the building line. In order to preserve living space, balconies have been added to the façades of these buildings. Also, between the buildings and the street a strip of 1m was allocated to serve as pavement or garden, as required in Mecanoo’s plan. The street scene is reminiscent of certain areas in Madrid, Berlin or Paris. “The attraction of a historic city is most certainly a source of inspiration,” Mr Van Rijs admits. “Although we do not copy.”
“The 100 designs are like a letter-case: you can take a design and place it anywhere in the area. Developers complain about the start-up costs of a project, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. In an urban design with closed blocks of buildings, the designs can just be re-used, although they may need to be stretched here and there. The designs then become ready-mades.”