The Formwork

Contemporary architects

Dick van Gameren, Mecanoo Architecten – Concrete Detail

In architecture, the connection of the skin and the structure is the primary detail.
Coming from a long tradition in which skin and structure are one, the development of both building technologies and regulations in the last 100 years has resulted in what seems an inevitable split between the inner structure of a building and the outer skin.
How to reconcile this split with an architecture that aims to express the building’s structure as the main articulation of material and of space has been researched in four projects. Each project has a typical concrete structure, all different from one another; respectively the solid, the column-grid, the tunnel and the slab.
In increasing complexity, details and sections have been developed for each structure. To comply with rules and demands, but in the end to articulate the architectural essence of each project.

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A Concrete Monolith
Dutch Embassy and Residence,
Addis Ababa (ETHIOPIA) 2005

Monolith concrete structure

This embassy and ambassadorial residence is from and of the Ethiopian earth. The low-lying construction gently pushes to the ground, set deep into a rolling, sloping landscape surrounded by eucalyptus trees. Deep reveals puncture the cast in situ concrete fabric of the building, stepping up and down in line with the topography of the site. Caught in a spatial dialogue between the articulation of transparent and solid elements as part of one mass, the depth of shadow and levity of light melodically plays out across the rhythmic surfaces which wrap through openings and express themselves internally, as if hewn from an existing groundscape. Glass panels extend from the openings and tilt allowing air to flow into the interior spaces and exhaust from within without compromising the security of the embassy. The thickness of the walls, which consist of one poured concrete mass lined with insulation, emphasises the building’s monolithic character – the clarity of which is expressed in the cantilevered canopy at the south-east of the building, beneath which an intaglio of The Netherlands signifies arrival.

AMOLF, FOM insitute, laboratory
Amsterdam (NETHERLANDS) 2008

Table structure of concrete columns and beams

Comprising of three parallel and extendable volumes, arranged in a strictly functional way, this institute for research into physics crouches to the ground, firmly planted to its site. The façade is a literal translation of the structural concrete shell: a largely self-supporting grid which forms a separate layer that is a construction in itself. Encasing the inhabitable spaces, the dyed concrete columns, lintels and panels combine to create recessed cavities in the grid which vary in depth, responding to the solar orientation of the building. External drainage systems and interior pipework are concealed in cavities creating a continuous surface that permeates through the façade. The rigidity of the stratified grid, proportionally layered in three strands, is mediated by gradated concrete finishes. Differences in colour and texture, achieved by varied polished surfaces, are interspersed with glazed piers emphasising the horizontality of the façade.

An Embedded Patchwork
Noordstrook, Housing
Amsterdam (NETHERLANDS) 2009

Typical dutch concrete tunnel formwork

This high density residential scheme in Slotervaart, featuring small studio apartments to large six-room maisonettes, is characterised by internal load bearing walls and a non-load bearing façade. Using standard tunnel construction (casting concrete floor slabs and walls in one pour) to form the structure, large prefabricated concrete panels containing embedded patterned brickwork attempt to break with the monotony of traditional pre-fab façades. The overall impression is of a patchwork of hanging patterned woven carpets. The nearby ring road that encircles Amsterdam causes considerable noise pollution. In response, the façade that faces the highway is closed, the panels acting as a sound barrier. The opposite façade is more open: heavily glazed and pitted with spacious balconies. Spatial recesses allow glazing to be pushed deeper into the building, emphasising the contrast between material surfaces.

Solid Transparency
Office Building
Steenwijk (NETHERLANDS) 2000

Concrete structure as a house of cards

This office building is a house of cards of concrete wedges. Load bearing walls change direction on each successive floor, orchestrating complex interior spaces that are themselves with a unique spatial character as a result. With particular attention paid to the articulation of corners, where pre-cast concrete panels of varying thicknesses assemble to construct voids and solids that are bold material expressions. This building, above all, plays with the dichotomy of solidity and transparency in the façade, and the resulting translation into space. The classic tectonic sequence – socle, envelope, and eaves – reveals itself as a composition of surfaces that, together, confer a striking interplay between light and shadow on their planes and edges (both internally and externally). Timber cladding, bannisters and window frames negotiate the finer details, warming the building’s overall material response to its environment. A tightly knotted space within the wall construction incorporates a solar shading blind and ventilation mechanism, exhausting warm air through the base of the cavity and into the open air. It is a building of solid transparency.

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