If there is one firm in the world that encapsulates why so many people get excited about architecture, it is MVRDV. The dynamic Dutch studio has had a particularly notable year even by its own high standards, with a number of seminal projects being conceived or completed in the past 12 months. As the firm’s star has continued to rise, its founders have not lost their nerve when it comes to design experimentation. MVRDV represents architecture at its unexpected, inventive best in 2018, making the practice a deserved winner of Architizer’s coveted Firm of the Year Award.
MVRDV’s three founding partners — Nathalie de Vries, Jacob Van Rijs and Winy Maas — graciously accepted the award and chatted about the firm’s past, present and future in this short film, produced by innovative communications agency PLANE—SITE:
“Firm of the Year is a great appreciation [of our work], because Architizer is such an international, global thing,” smiled Jacob Van Rijs, sitting in the bright, airy studio in Rotterdam that forms MVRDV’s creative hub. “It’s good timing too, because it’s our 25th year in existence.” Over the past quarter century, MVRDV has built up a reputation for breaking with tradition and injecting a sense of mischievous fun into a profession that tends to take itself so seriously.
“I think our projects started pretty modest,” reflected de Vries, looking back at the past two decades of the firm’s exploration of form and program. “We wanted to change typical living, typical offices, typical suburban life. What we are trying to do now is actually to see our buildings as something which can be constantly transformed. How can we start to produce buildings that are much more useable and, at the same time, still have meaning, identity and a sense of place.”
The Tianjin Binhai Library, recently completed in eastern China, is perhaps the grandest manifestation yet of MVRDV’s mission. The building scooped a double A+Award in the Libraries category, securing the juror’s award and — significantly — coming out on top in the public vote as well. Ever since it opened, the building has been among the world’s most “Instagrammed”, and its overwhelming success appears two-fold.
First and foremost, it is a valuable asset to the burgeoning local population, forming a cultural hub with a highly accessible public atrium at its heart. Simultaneously, it is an instant icon, a distinctive architectural motif that draws people from much further afield. They come for the building, they stay for the books. The building has single-handedly turned Tianjin into a cultural destination — a common outcome whenever MVRDV contributes its creative flourish to an emerging town or city.
Elsewhere, the firm has spearheaded a resurgence in mainstream appreciation for well-designed public spaces. The radical transformation of an elevated highway in Seoul has provided a vital new pedestrian route through one of the globe’s busiest metropolises. Over the next 10 years, Seoullo 7017 Skygarden will literally bring new life to the city as thousands of trees and plants along its route mature and bloom.
On a smaller scale, MVRDV has made an equally bold impact. The firm channeled its love of vibrant colors and convention-busting concepts for a series of exhibits at the at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, the result of collaborations with the Why Factory (the firm’s in-house research lab), Delft University of Technology, the JUT Foundation for Arts and Architecture, Taipei, and Beijing Center For the Arts. Of these, the whimsical (W)ego House — built in Eindhoven for Dutch Design Week — was a standout creation. The installation, a Tetris-like stack of multicolored living spaces, is designed to teach us that, “when confronted with the dreams of others, users must learn to negotiate with each other to optimize use of limited urban space.”
In the commercial arena, the firm has had a similarly successful year. Following last year’s A+Award-winning Crystal Houses, the firm took home a further trophy in 2018 for Bałtyk, a highly distinctive new office block constructed in the heart of Poznań, Poland. The building, designed in partnership with co-architects Natkaniec/Olechnicki Architekci, features a striking cascade of pixelated volumes that create a series of stepped patios for office workers.
What’s next for MVRDV? With a glint in his eye, Winy Maas hinted at bigger things to come. “The mission is becoming more intense, and bigger,” said the architect. “There’s always the intention to think about the planet, to think about the bigger issues, and to work on the level of the public.” Whatever the firm chooses to explore next, it promises to be an architectural adventure for everyone involved. It may be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but MVRDV — creator of bold, brave buildings around the world — has only just begun.
In addition to the Firm of the Year award, Special Honoree Awards for achievement in architecture have been given to four buildings named Projects of the Year; they are:
Foro Boca Concert Hall by Rojkind Arquitectos
Institute for Contemporary Art VCU by Steven Holl Architects
Waterside Buddhist Shrine by ARCHSTUDIO
The Silo by COBE
These Honorees demonstrate extraordinary contributions to the profession across the globe, highlighting projects that champion architecture’s potential to positively impact everyday life. Stay tuned for videos and articles on all of these in the coming weeks!
Explore all the winners and finalists from the sixth annual A+Awards, featuring incredible projects by firms from all over the world: