Wozoco Apartments by MVRDV Architecture – an original, inventive and colorful development in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Cantilevered colors

The pure and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most. – John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, 1853, Volume II, Chapter V, Section 30.

The first time I heard about the Wozoco Apartments was during my University studies. I remember thinking that the splash of color in the façade was a refreshing and creative approach towards architecture. The various window sizes and the façade elements arranged in a seemingly disorder play along with this young experimentalist methodology.

MVRDV’s choice regarding the materials also caught my attention; horizontal wooden boards wrapping most of the building - a material that ages with time - and coming out of the building, these colorful blocks made out of acrylic panels - a material well known for its aging resistance, a clash that results in a rich and interesting balance between old and new.

Wozoco Apartments, Amsterdam. The colorful Façade.

Wozoco Apartments, Amsterdam. The colorful Façade.

Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

Same footprint, more apartments

Soon I realized the project was more than just an interesting colored façade. It started with the program that sought for 100 apartment units in a plot where only 87 met the required daylight zoning regulations – the higher the building, the less sun for the surrounding buildings; the bigger the footprint, the less green and public space – so where to build? With no place to grow up nor sides, MVRDV came up with the idea of cantilevering the remaining 13 units.

The best place to hang the units was in the north façade, avoiding direct sunlight therefore avoiding shadowing the other apartments. These units burst from a gallery made of glass [a corridor that allows the residents to access their apartments]. The big scale of the blocks suspended in such a fragile material makes us wonder how the architects managed to cantilever them. They look lightweight, levitating in thin air; immediately our common knowledge of weight and gravity is putting this into perspective. The massive hidden structure in the core building is what keeps them from falling, a decision that brought up additional costs in the project, leading to some budget amendments.

Wozoco Apartments, Amsterdam. Units defying gravity.

Wozoco Apartments, Amsterdam. Units defying gravity.

Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

After solving the program, these adjustments were crucial to the building’s design. The flats are organized in a very resourceful way. For sound insulation purposes, the partition walls were thickened up to 80mm, which enabled extra width to expand and reinforce the structure
supporting the cantilevered blocks allowing the weight of the structural walls to remain the same. The costs of the materials were also adjusted; the facades and blocks were made of wood, acrylic and glass within a curtain wall system. The finishes were made roughly; the joints and some other details were exposed, offering an unfinished industrial look.

Denoting the entrance

The entrance was placed at the west side of the building; a block sticking out from the façade continues the core building’s pattern with two rows of five columns sustaining it, creating a double-height covered area. These elements of exception are commonly associated as main entrance features, a transition between exterior and interior. A glazed antechamber gives the inhabitants access to the building and their apartments. A steel gridded frame assembles the see-through wall contouring and blending with the North façade, encouraging the building to become a unity, a whole.

The ingenious approach gave MVRDV some awards including the Best Integrated Structure in a Building, being also pointed as one of the buildings constructed with the lowest costs in Amsterdam. An original and creative project that will always be known for its young and playful form, for bringing color and some joy into the real world of architecture.

Here we look at every kind of architecture, often including steel and other metals of course, current and historical usually by famous and influential architects but sometimes by names that are surprisingly lesser known.

The Castelar Building, Madrid, Spain – a glass lantern floating above the Paseo de la Castellana - Double Stone Steel

The Castelar Building, Madrid, Spain – a glass lantern floating above the Paseo de la Castellana

The conviction of Rafael de La-Hoz Arderius and Gerardo Olivares to build a minimalist sculpture of steel, glass and travertine on an urban scale.

The story of how the Petersen Automotive Museum leapt into the 21st century with a futuristic steel exoskeleton design strongly influenced by car culture - Double Stone Steel

The story of how the Petersen Automotive Museum leapt into the 21st century with a futuristic steel exoskeleton design strongly influenced by car culture

Robin Fisher explores this building, located at the gateway of Los Angeles' famous Museum Row, extensively renovated through the work of Kohn Pedersen Fox and A.Zahner.

The US Steel Tower, a lasting beacon on the Pittsburgh skyline and legacy of Andrew Carnegie - Double Stone Steel

The US Steel Tower, a lasting beacon on the Pittsburgh skyline and legacy of Andrew Carnegie

Richard Storer-Adam reviews the design and construction of this 64-story skyscraper, built in the 1970’s with Cor-Ten steel, symbolising the triumph of the US Steel industry.

The design story of the Seagram Building, 375 Park Avenue, New York City, built in 1957 - Double Stone Steel

The design story of the Seagram Building, 375 Park Avenue, New York City, built in 1957

Richard Storer-Adam reviews the background and architecture of this iconic modernist glass and bronze tower by German-American architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and American associate architect Philip Cortelyou Johnson.

An examination of the design theory behind Seattle Central Library by OMA - Double Stone Steel

An examination of the design theory behind Seattle Central Library by OMA

Antonio Moll reviews the first work by the Dutch Office in the USA, 16 years after its opening, considering what is probably the most disrupting piece of architecture of the 21st Century.

The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller Building), designed by Daniel H. Burnham and built in 1902 - Double Stone Steel

The Flatiron Building (originally the Fuller Building), designed by Daniel H. Burnham and built in 1902

Richard Storer-Adam dwells on the genesis of NYC’s most iconic skyscraper and ‘quintessential symbol’ of Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA named after the Flatiron district.

How our use of metals and finishing processes features in design today and since prehistoric times.

The Mini - an iconic car with a design that is recognised around the world. - Double Stone Steel

The Mini - an iconic car with a design that is recognised around the world.

Considered the second most influential car of the 20th Century just after the Ford Model T the Mini is a British Pop-culture icon.

The story of Kem Weber (1889 – 1963), one of the proponents of Art Deco design and architecture in 1930s America - Double Stone Steel

The story of Kem Weber (1889 – 1963), one of the proponents of Art Deco design and architecture in 1930s America

Richard Storer-Adam recounts the work of this influential industrial designer, famous for his work with Walt Disney Studios, through two of his favourite products created in the style of Streamline Moderne.

How the simple industrial process of tube drawing allows for the production of precision quality pipe and tube - Double Stone Steel

How the simple industrial process of tube drawing allows for the production of precision quality pipe and tube

Richard Storer-Adam gives a brief history of two essential modern-day products - hypodermic needles and steel pipes - and the manufacturing technique that connects them.

A brief tutorial on the most luxurious stainless steel watches in the world - Double Stone Steel

A brief tutorial on the most luxurious stainless steel watches in the world

Richard Storer-Adam gives a brief tutorial on Rose and Rose Gold watches, watch straps, lugs and integrated wrist bands including the Rolex Glidelock system in 904L stainless steel.

A virtual tour of Oscar Niemeyer’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, Brazil - Double Stone Steel

A virtual tour of Oscar Niemeyer’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, Brazil

An appreciative and honest critique of this dramatic architectural work - Lola Adeokun shares her experiences and feelings whilst visiting Niemeyer’s museum of art in Rio de Janeiro.

A study of the major design influencer Jean Prouvé - Double Stone Steel

A study of the major design influencer Jean Prouvé

Richard Storer-Adam gives an overview of the life of an iconic mid-century designer whose background as a blacksmith and empathy with metal fabrication played out in his work ranging from furniture, such as the famous Standard SP chair, to pre-fabricated buildings.