Sleeves, by Holl
“The existing round building is the ‘collar’, and our new buildings are the ‘sleeves’”, Steven Holl simply stated at his lecture last year at the NAi in Rotterdam. With the public I was left stunned by this simplicity. You take the Google Maps view and just start drawing T-shirts. That’s it? Where was the phenomenology?
For this blog I have been considering the subtitle ‘The use and abuse of iconography’, and I was tempted to write that this statement by Holl falls under the ‘abuse’ part. However, when looking at the project more closely for this blogpost, it struck me that the project has some fine and interesting features that are worth looking into.
It is not so much the logo the building makes to the sky and satellites, but the perspective from 1 meter 80 of the roof that makes this project what it is. The roof is curved downwards in very long bands. And these bands follow a completely different logic than the walls. One could say this is like lying and not being pragmatic, but I really like the conflict.
When looking at the drawing-rendering-kind-of-thing it is quite hard to imagine. But a look at the floor plan says it all. The architecture starts to live when you start walking. Follow the bands and the walls change around you, follow the walls and the bands above change. Pretty cool.
The folding down of the roof is like… the folds of the ‘sleeves’ of the ‘t-shirt’? Maybe. There is certainly a ‘draping’ thing going on there. For me it has also something of low clouds, mostly because there is light coming from óver these bands. This not hanging but hovering.
The fragmentation of the building into flying bands and walls underneath makes the building stand out in its surroundings. The landscape around is not littered with freestanding buildings, but is structured (!) by what Kenneth Frampton calls ‘megaform’; large ensembles of volumnic, stereometric architectures. There is a row of rectangular buildings opposite the street. At the end of the street this row makes a turn with an height-accent, while across the street – at an angle of 45 degrees - a dome rises from the ground. The building opposite that of Holl’s museum, the ‘collar’-shaped t-shirt factory building, has a round shape that is repeated behind that building in the landscaping of two fields, and is also echoed in a smaller building to the north. I can go on like this. The point is: this is structured landscape, an architectural landscape.
Steven Holl continues and disrupts this local tradition of ensembles. He continues it by relating his ‘sleeves’ to the ‘collar’ opposite the street, but he disrupts the tradition first by using iconography instead of basic form, and second by breaking the volume of his museum into shifting roofs and walls. The static architecture around, at Holl’s building starts to move, sideways. Walls and roofs loose that static, logic connection and move separate from each other in a different direction.
There are times I blame the architects for making a mess of our cities by always and always proposing the contrast instead of the blending. Holl does not favor the contrast as a standard rule of the office, and it does make sense here. The museum building is a public building – in contrast to the industrial buildings around.
The only thing that puzzles me is the connection Holl has designed between his building and the landscape behind the building. To continue the bands of the roof, Holl has designed sort of dike structures on the landscape. Not so pretty.
About the site plan: There are different versions of it around. One features an long (office) building to the left, the other a big pool to the right. I like the pool version as it reminds me of the wonderful pool in the German Pavilion in Barcelona by Mies van der Rohe. It would surprise me if Holl didn’t have that pool in mind when painting this one. And the shifting of roof and wall… that is also the theme of the Barcelona Pavilion. Coincidence? But besides, the curved roof was also already done by for instance UN Studio in Nijmegen. It is all not that new, but fresh enough to be cool.
There is more to this iconographic building than it seems at first. The conflicts between the belly’s of the ‘sleeves’ and the walls are brilliant. Not dramatic new features, but –yeah- this is architecture.
Postscript: Steven Holl has renewed his website with large images of most of his projects. About the project discribed above the website has smaller and different images.
Check them out: Steven Holl