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It’s general consensus that the best panel brick buildings never reveal their true identity. The more boldly brickish they appear, the better. But it is possible to use the product in such a way that it commands attention, doesn’t look overdone and explicitly unveils its non-brick, prefabricated bare structure.
Dick van Gameren Architecten’s Block A Nordstrook, which features an eye-catching embedded patchwork of panels on the façade, is a clear example of this kind of imaginative construction. Cleverly made from a series of elongated, prefab concrete panels and windows, the building both surprises and calls into question the architect’s design intent with such surprising materiality.
Block A Noordstrook was part of a three-building development in Amsterdam’s Slotervaart district
Van Gameren, now the design director at Mecanoo, wanted to reference the widespread use of brickwork and concrete found in the modernist dutch architecture built in the postwar neighborhoods of Amsterdam’s Slotervaart district. The project itself, which was constructed in 2009, is situated in one such area named Delflandplein and helped regenerate and triple the density of the community. The design for the high-density residential building not only brought forth an architectural revival, it changed the concept of what repetitive prefabricated panels were known to be.
“Using standard tunnel construction,” said van Gameren, “by casting concrete floor slabs and walls in one pour to form the structure, the large prefabricated concrete panels of patterned brickwork attempt to break with the monotony of traditional prefab façades.”
Detail showing horizontal panel construction of the prefabricated façade
Each panel on the building is two stories high and is staggered in diagonal junctions to accentuate the vertical seams along the façade. The textures and colors of the various bricks cause the panels to resemble individually hanging woven carpets. Unlike most brick panels, these highlight their uniqueness and dictate the vibrancy of the exterior wrapping.
Detail showing vertical panel construction
Left: detail of recessed glazing; right: row of pushed-back windows shown sunken into the façade
But the brick panels aren’t just visually impressive; they also serve as sound barriers. Along the façade facing one of Amsterdam’s busiest ring-shaped highways, they help block noise pollution from getting inside the apartments. On the opposite western-facing façade, van Gameren created a much more open design that’s heavily glazed and punctuated by spacious balconies. These recesses allow the glazing to be pushed deeper into the building, further stressing the difference between all the material surfaces, according to the architects.
Brick is a long-loved and rich material found in the Netherlands. Today, architects like van Gameren and Mecanoo are using it in unexpected and experimental ways around the world. Block A Noordstrook, a colorful and sculptural manipulation of the material, showcases a method in which the banality of basic, prefabricated brick panels can be turned into something unconventional and delightful. While still respecting the beautiful tradition of brick-clad buildings throughout older European cities, projects like this bring brick into a new age of design thinking, material exploration and cost-effectiveness.
Images courtesy Mecanoo
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