Visual research, spatial quality and technological experimentation combine in the first project in three dimensions by the Dutch graphic design firm.
Alessandro Benetti, domusweb.it
Architecture underscoring itself
The bold presence of the striped elevations of the offices-cum-restaurant along the Wibautstraat in Amsterdam evidently betrays the background of the maker of this project, Thomas Widdershoven, who together with Nikki Gonnissen founded graphic design studio Thonik. The building, which will contain Thonik’s own offices, is his first foray into architecture.
Designed in collaboration with MMX Architects, it is a stack of loft-like spaces wrapped in white and dark grey stripes. These stripes are made of slats of high-pressure laminate, a material which in the Netherlands is best known under its brand name Trespa. For the coming years it will be an office building, but it has a built-in flexibility, and can easily be converted into apartments.
The supergraphic pattern on three façades of the building is the opposite of the deliberately confusing dazzle painting, first applied on warships during World War I. Instead of obscuring the shape, the stripes on the exterior exactly underline the actual form and composition, with vertical lines in front of the walls, horizontal lines for the balconies and diagonals for the exterior stair that runs in front of the building. This pattern makes this architecture a self-referential act of underscoring itself.
Equally rational as the pattern is that the facade of the building is nothing more than a thin cladding in front of the concrete walls, which form exactly 50 percent of the total elevations; the other 50 percent consists of floor-to-ceiling glass, with on each floor one generous corner window, overlooking the Wibautstraat.
Just as the exterior stair and balconies, the corner windows offer ‘eyes on the street’ which underline the building’s connection with its environment. The restaurant downstairs, which will activate the plinth of Wibautstraat, adds to the urbanity of this project, and the street for that matter.
For decades the Wibaustraat had been a car-oriented urban highway following the contours of the former railroad, which was demolished in the 1940s. Whereas a few buildings along the street predate its postwar creation, the majority is constructed since the 1950s and comprises a unique collection of individual, and individualistic buildings. It ranges from Friedhoff’s majestic brick traditionalism and a Corbusian tribute by Ingwersen and De Geus, to a brutalist complex by Van den Broek and Bakema and a diversity of urban renewal housing from the 1970s onward.
When the Wibautstraat was first and foremost a traffic artery, its architecture often seemed an inconspicuous backdrop for the passing motorists. The widening of the sidewalks, at the expense of car parking, and the redesign of the road itself, has shifted the street’s emphasis to pedestrians and bikers, in other words to city life. It also has given the buildings along the Wibautstraat more prominence, revealing their previously unheralded personalities. In this respect Thonik’s characteristic building is very contextual in a setting where architectural diversity prevails.
The Wibautstraat has become a more normal urban environment now it is no longer predominantly serving motorized traffic, but it is still not your typical Amsterdam street, even if it is difficult to say what that would constitute nowadays, given how gentrification and touristification has usurped larger parts of the centre of Amsterdam. The Wibautstraat is certainly not immune to these changes. After all, its recent transformation is the product and expression of gentrification, and even a bit of touristification as well. But the street is, and will remain, one of a kind: unmistakably part of Amsterdam, yet absolutely exceptional in comparison to the rest of the city. The same is true for this extraordinary building, which is therefore totally in its element in the Wibautstraat.