Contorted Bottle, by Kollhoff

Hans Kollhoff and Christian Rapp - Pireaus Dwellings at the KNSM Island, Amsterdam

Contorted Plastic Bottle (Photographer: Mink)

Last night the German architect Hans Kollhoff lectured at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam. He started his lecture with the Piraeus Building he designed with Christian Rapp in Amsterdam that opened in 1994. The sculptural brick building started out a fashion in Dutch architecture to use dark brick and make sculptural forms with it.

In his lecture Hans Kollhoff stated that the building was misunderstood as expressionistic, but that its form could be better described as ‘elastic morphology’. It was definitely not deconstructionist since it doesn’t break apart, but connects. The design started off as a rectangular block that was slowly transformed by external influences such as an existing building, sight lines, the sun, a park, and a fire-truck route. At the office the architects compared the concept of the building to a contorted Coca-Cola bottle. That’s inverted iconography: a bottle represents the building.

About the design Kollhoff told us that he was at the time interested in making a brick volume. In Berlin then one could see through the ruins of the city-blocks the closed brick volumes in the courtyards. He couldn’t however make a sculpture without windows, since the building should house dwellings, but he accentuated the mass of the building with the single dark brick material, the sloping roofline, and the windows that were put in the line of the façade. Kollhoff noticed that when one opens a window, it looks like a ‘crack’ in the building mass.

Plan KNSM Island

His argument that the building is not expressionistic was not underlined by his further arguments. The building was inspired by the (expressionistic) Amsterdam School architecture from the twenties of the 20th century with their expressive forms made of brick. And talking about the Piraeus building, Kollhoff used the word ‘sculpture’ that often that one wonders how this is not expressionism. When he was later asked about the perception of the public, he responded cynically “I am rather egoistic” – Kollhoff just makes things he finds beautiful. Isn’t that what expressionists say?

This is form. The object is described by more parameters than the rectangular block they started the design-process with. Extra parameters that are, in this case, derived from the context of the object. Just like the plastic bottle that is contorted by nature when thrown away. And just like the pre-worn look jeans everybody wears today. You could say that the Piraeus Building is a ‘dirty’ object. Wasn’t the Villa Savoye as a ruin not more beautiful than the original? The ‘natural’ pattern of ‘rotting’ is beautiful. Sublime even. Romantic.

The inverted iconography of the contorted bottle can in practice been turn around. A building as a representation of a contorted object (such as a bottle).

The project is added to the Themes and Representation pages.

Piraeus 3 Piraeus 2


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