Crystal Houses

After casting glass bricks for over a year, studio MVRDV renovated an old building downtown Amsterdam, giving birth to a crystal facade.

MVRDV’s Crystal Houses combines both Dutch heritage and international architecture on the PC Hooftstraat, Amsterdam’s luxury brand street that was previously primarily residential: the Architectural firm decided to represent the original building through the use of glass.
MVRDV, Crystal Houses
MVRDV, Crystal Houses, Amsterdam. Photo Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee
The near full-glass façade mimics the original design, down to the layering of the bricks and the details of the window frames, but is stretched vertically to comply with updated zoning laws and to allow for an increase in interior space. Glass bricks stretch up the façade of Crystal Houses, eventually dissolving into a traditional terracotta brick façade for the apartments (as stipulated in the City’s aesthetics rules), which appears to be floating above the shop floor.
MVRDV, Crystal Houses
MVRDV, Crystal Houses, Amsterdam. Photo Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee
After conceiving the initial idea MVRDV worked closely with a number of partners to develop the technologies to make the structure possible. Solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by Poesia in Resana, near Venice. Research undertaken by the Delft University of Technology, in partnership with engineering firm ABT and contractor Wessels Zeist, led to the development of structural solutions and fabrication techniques, with the use of a high-strength, UV bonded, transparent adhesive from Delo Industrial Adhesives in Germany to cement the bricks together without the need for a more traditional mortar.
MVRDV, Crystal Houses
MVRDV, Crystal Houses, Amsterdam. Photo Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee
Six to ten experts worked every day for a whole year in a place that bore more resemblance to a laboratory than a construction site. Due to the sensitivity of the materials, an extremely high level of accuracy and craftsmanship was required and a technical development team was onsite throughout the process. The builders used high-tech lasers and laboratory grade UV-lamps, to slightly lower-tech Dutch full-fat milk, which, with its low transparency, proved to be an ideal liquid to function as a reflective surface for the levelling of the first layer of bricks. Despite its delicate looks, strength tests by the Delft University of Technology team proved that the glass-construction was in many ways stronger than concrete. The full-glass architrave, for instance, could withstand a force of up to 42.000 Newton; the equivalent to two full-sized SUVs.

Crystal Houses
Program: retail and housing intervention
Architects: MVRDV, Winy Maas, Gijs Rikken, Mick van Gemert; Gietermans & Van Dijk, Wim Gietermans, Arjan Bakker, Tuğrul Avuçlu
Client: Warenar Real Estate Amsterdam
Manufacturer: Poesia–Vetreria Resanese (Ivano Massarotto)
Contractor: Wessels Zeist, Robert van der Hoef, Richard van het Ende, Marco en Ronald van de Poppe
Constructor: Brouwer&Kok, Paul Brouwer; ABT: Rob Nijsse
Research: Delft University of Technology, Frederic A. Veer, Faidra Oikonomopoulou, Telesilla Bristogianni
Area: 620 sqm (retail) and 220 sqm (housing)
Completion: 2016

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