Questioning Typologies

JDWA's Huis van Droo is the translation into shapes, program organization and space of a simple yet courageous intention: to question architectural anchors in order to meet specific requirements and bring architecture beyond the expected.

The significant freedom in formulating design solutions that the projects of the Netherlands have witnessed during the last decades has probably characterised a major part of Dutch architecture. Several distinctive projects — largely published — reflect this approach which to many can have appeared innovative, new or even bizarre (think of the shoe-shaped Meyer &Van Schooten's ING Group Headquarters in Amsterdam 2002). However, if observed from a closer perspective, most of these projects have a continuous reconsideration of their building typology in common. In fact, having no dogma (as Hans Ibelings once noted) [1] allowed designers to start their projects every time from scratch and focus on the solution of the concrete problems set by the specific situation. The result of this approach is often clearly visible at first glance: the building's shapes, gestures or distribution reflect the laconic intention of the designer, responding to a clear set of problematic requirements from the client's side.

Albeit with a few exceptions, the work of Rotterdam-based Johan De Wachter Architects (JDWA) can be comfortably observed with this lens [2] . Their design approach is clearly visible in the recently completed community centre Huis van Droo [House of Droo]. The project — encompassing within 1650 square metres a new gymnasium, the neighbourhood lounge, a child daycare centre and para-medic services — has been developed together with users as part of the master plan Droo-Zuid, in the small city of Duiven, in the eastern Netherlands. JDWA worked together with Duiven municipality and Andries Geerse first on the master plan level with the aim to provide housing for locals who require care, both younger and older people. The main intention was to create a safe and pleasant environment for them without being isolated, but surrounded instead by their community, family, neighbours and friends. "The heart of the housing & service area must not become a large foreign body with a care label. The challenge is to realize a residential area that derives it's appeal from the (natural) mix of residents, the presence of low threshold facilities and services for both young and old, comfortable homes and a relaxed atmosphere in the public space" explain the architects.
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands
After the main guidelines have been settled for the new development of the area, the building of the Huis still needed to be resolved in a coherent way. At this point of the design process the ability to challenge the typological discourse emerges. "A gymnasium is per definition a closed space, which does not add to the liveliness of the public space in the area. By wrapping the central sports hall with all the other public programmes the building becomes active towards all directions and can become the real lively centre in the neighbourhood." says Johan de Wachter, principal of the office.
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands
The "starting problem" of avoiding the closed and massive volume prefigured by the gymnasium has been solved in a quite pragmatic yet smart way. The sports hall has been brought to the centre of the project, as the main spatial core generating the rest of the program. More than a closing volume — which would have played a negative role in the overall master plan, based on the openness and integration of spaces and functions — the gymnasium has been conceived as a big, central hole. Rather than being a cumbersome spatial problem in the overall composition, the sports hall has become the central reference for all the functions and programs, that, on their turn have been combined in a compact yet complex way. The different types of spaces and program: from paramedic and physiotherapy spaces to the area dedicated to children, from sport facilities to spaces dedicated to the community have been developed around the "sporthal", which eventually results as an absence of space. The different parts are in fact designed in order for the overall space to be compacted and the resulting main shape to be simple and sharp.
Rather than being a cumbersome spatial problem in the overall composition, the sports hall has become the central reference for all the functions and programs, that, on their turn have been combined in a compact yet complex way
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands
Once the main volumetric question has been resolved, the second step in the design process has been dedicated to the materialisation. Since the entire building has been developed around the "empty" sports hall and as a direct formal consequence of the larger community idea of the master plan, it is understandable that the Huis has not a simple external façade wrapping the interior spaces. Instead the intention to establish visual and physical connections between the separate parts of the building and the surroundings is noticeable, as are the "internal" connections amongst the spaces. This has been achieved through the openings overlooking both the outside (landscape) and the inside (the inner court). "The all-round oriented Huis van Droo is a transparent building, the true façade is the inner-façade of the sports hall. The wooden façade wraps the central hall and all the closed programme elements and is consequently sometimes an outside, sometimes an inside façade" explain the architects. The spatial perception of the building becomes thus continuous from the core (sports hall) to the outside, making the Huis permeable, reflecting the seminal idea of making the building part of a larger common plan of Droo-Zuid. The building is — in fact — "always recognizable, though different from all sides", while the "public interacts with an otherwise closed space", explain the architects.
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands
Beside practical reasons related to the "real need to efficiently target and assign the available space", what is perceived from the outside becomes thus crucial for the consistency of the project in regards to the master plan. This space is intended as a shared component between building users and the rest of the inhabitants: "it was necessary to share both indoor and outdoor spaces. This way the plan could retain sufficient light and air and only then would the public space really remain available to play, meet and relax" described the architects.
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands
Next to being the successful result of an interactive design process (JDWA worked together with the current residents of the neighbourhood, the new users and the future users of Huis van Droo to outline both the Droo-Zuid master plan and the project of the Huis van Droo ) and active part of a sustainable neighbourhood ("The three architects responsible for the architecture in Droo-Zuid have continually tuned their design, programme and building typology paying full attention to sustainability in all its aspects and scales.") The Huis van Droo is the translation into shapes, program organization and space of a simple yet courageous intention: to question architectural anchors in order to meet specific requirements and bring architecture beyond the expected. Silvio Carta
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands
Notes:
[1] The reference is to the 1991 Hans Ibelings' publication Modernism without dogma - architects of a younger generation in the Netherlands appeared for the occasion of the Dutch entry in the fifth International Exhibition of Architecture of the Venice Biennale in Autumn 1991.

[2] While the principal and founder of the office Johan de Wachter is originally from Belgium, he considers his practice being Dutch, due to his educational and work background, and for the fact that JDWA has been established in Rotterdam.
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, <em>Huis van Droo</em>,  Duiven, The Netherlands
Johan De Wachter Architects, Huis van Droo , Duiven, The Netherlands

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