The Architecture of New Media: OMA’s Massive RAI Amsterdam Hotel

The Angry Architect The Angry Architect

OMA’s brand of provocative, program-driven design made a bold mark on their home territory last year as the enormous De Rotterdam complex rose to mixed reviews on the waterfront of Europe’s largest port. The building polarized opinions across the board but has achieved critical acclaim from some of the most influential quarters, garnering nominations for a plethora of accolades including the CTBUH award for best tall building in Europe, a World Architecture Festival award, and the 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award.

De Rotterdam by OMA

Now, Rem Koolhaas and his avant-garde office are set to stamp their architectural authority upon another Dutch city: the firm has secured another commission of epic proportions with their design for the Nhow Amsterdam RAI hotel, due to begin construction in 2016. The building is set to incorporate a mixture of uses that epitomizes OMA’s penchant for cross-programming: as well as hundreds of four-star hotel rooms, the broad-shouldered building will include a television studio, gallery, sculpture garden, restaurant, and sky bar, as well as retail outlets.

The structure reads as a super-sized, overtly futuristic totem with three triangular wedges of steel and glass skewered upon a cylindrical core. This metaphor gains resonance when it is revealed that Koolhaas took direct inspiration from Amsterdam RAI’s distinctive advertising tower, Signaal, a stack of cubes and prisms that has displayed a number of iconic brand names since the opening of the convention center in 1961. Each wedge of the new hotel will hold a variety of functions, while the breaks between them host elevated terraces with expansive views across Amsterdam.

The 300-foot-tall building is designed to reflect our increasing integration with digital technology in keeping with the mission of the RAI to “bring people together in the physical and virtual worlds” at one of the continent’s premier convention centers. To this end, a multimedia presentation space is included alongside a “3D holographic meeting space” bringing to mind the classic holoprojectors of Star Wars.



As with De Rotterdam, the densely gridded façades of the Amsterdam RAI are a no-nonsense exhibition of brutalism minus the concrete — this is architecture defined purely by volume, with no concern for a skin-deep attractiveness that OMA would likely consider both superficial and superfluous. The resulting aesthetic echoes the uncompromising solidity of Minoru Yamazaki’s original World Trade Center — especially in the renders showing the building at night, when light sources from the interior define the building’s presence against the twilight sky.

While the building appears firmly lodged in the realms of modernism, even futurism, a strong thread of classical influence underlines much of the firm’s recent work, primarily pertaining to balance and composition. The placement and orientation of the three stacked forms have been carefully considered with respect to their appearance from ground level, rotated around the central axis to provide varied glimpses of the luminous soffits of each triangular cantilever.

Furthermore, each of the three steel-and-glass prisms varies in thickness: the base segment contains the most floors, adding visual weight to the lowest part of the structure. On the other hand, the crowning section is made taller by the extrusion of the uppermost floors — containing the Nhow On Air television studio, restaurant, and sky bar — to form a cage of light at the building’s summit, a contemporary piano nobile that affords the public a panoramic view across the city.

The Nhow Amsterdam Hotel is bound to give rise to strong opinions on both sides once again — which will likely fill Koolhaas with a sense of mischievous delight. The combination of programmatically driven design with a formal conception (in the shape of that inspirational advertising totem) will give rise to accusations of theoretical contradiction, only to be drowned out by cheers of critical adulation: this is a courageous, uncompromising structure that will form a flexible container for the myriad of emerging functions adopted by this forward-thinking organization.

OMA Partner Reinier de Graaf spoke of the need for the RAI to gain a “new urban look” in keeping with Amsterdam’s rapidly developing Zuidas business hub — the Nhow Amsterdam Hotel should form the catalyst for that evolution. Move over, De Rotterdam: Rem’s second pin upon the Netherlands’ urban fabric looks likely to be the most prominent yet.

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