MVRDV transformed a former residential building into a luxury retail store while maintaining the character and vernacular of the area.

When architects from MVRDV were commissioned to design a flagship store on PC Hoofstraat, an upmarket street in Amsterdam that houses luxury retail brands, the goal was to retain the Dutch heritage of the former primarily residential area and combine it with modern, international architecture.

In a first-of-its-kind construction, MVRDV designed a transparent facade that mimics the original design from the layering of the bricks to the details of the window frames.

Glass bricks stretch up the front of Crystal Houses, which is taller than before, in accordance with updated zoning laws to increase the interior space. Nearing the top, the glass blends into the traditional terracotta brick facade, which is floating above the store.

Global brand, individual character
While offering the window surface that contemporary stores need, the design maintains original character and individuality, resulting in one that stands out from the rest.

“Crystal Houses makes space for a remarkable flagship store, respects the structure of the surroundings and brings a poetic innovation in glass construction. It enables global brands to combine the overwhelming desire of transparency with a ‘couleur locale’ and modernity with heritage. It can thus be applied everywhere in our historic centres,” explains Winy Maas, architect and co-founder of MVRDV.

The making of the glass facade
Solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by Poesia in Resana, near Venice. To cement the bricks together without traditional mortar, a high-strength, ultraviolet (UV) bonded, transparent adhesive from Delo Industrial Adhesives in Germany was used.

Research was conducted by the Delft University of Technology in partnership with the engineering firm ABT and contractor Wessels Zeist, to develop this fabrication technique and ensure structural integrity. Strength tests proved that the full-glass architrave could withstand a force of up to 42 Newton, the equivalent of two full-sized SUVs.
 
New construction methods and tools such as high-tech lasers and laboratory grade UV-lamps were utilised and due to the sensitivity of the materials, an extremely high level of accuracy and craftsmanship was required.

Adding some milk
Interestingly, Dutch full-fat milk, 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.

Minimising waste     
Since all of the glass components are completely recyclable, waste materials from the project, such as imperfect bricks, were simply melted down and remoulded or entirely repurposed. Once the building has reached the end of its lifespan, the whole facade can also be melted down and given a new life.

The only exceptions are added features which ensure the security of the building, such as a concrete ram-raid defence plinth, hidden in a blend of reflective and translucent materials and built to withstand the force of a car crashing into the building. Repair protocols were developed in the event of any damage, allowing for the replacement of individual bricks.
 
Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to MVRDV for the information given to write this article.

Project: Crystal Houses
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Year: 2016
Size and programme: 620m² retail and 220m² residential

The transformation process:
1.    Houses replaced with larger volumes.
2.    Old Pleiter facade rebuilt in glass.
3.    Facade stretched to fit new volume.
4.    Glass to terracotta brick gradient created.


*Caption: The Crystal Houses glass brick facade retains the Dutch heritage of the former residential building and combines it with modern, international architecture.
© Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee