Architecture underscoring itself
The bold presence of the striped elevations of this office cum restaurant along the Wibautstraat in Amsterdam evidently betrays the background of the creator of this project, Thomas Widdershoven, co-founder of graphic design studio Thonik together with Nikki Gonnissen. 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 that is mostly known in the Netherlands under its brand name Trespa. The coming years it will be an office building, but it has a built-in flexibility and can easily be converted into an apartment building.
The super graphic 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 underline the actual form and composition, with vertical lines for the walls, horizontal lines for the balconies and diagonal lines for the exterior stairs that run in front of the building. This pattern makes the architecture a self-referential act, underscoring itself.
Equally rational is the façade of the building, nothing more than a thin cladding in front of the concrete walls, forming exactly 50 percent of the elevations; the other 50 percent consist of floor-to-ceiling glass, with on each floor one generous corner window overlooking Wibautstraat.
Like the exterior stairs and balconies, the corner windows offer ‘eyes on the street’, underlining the building’s connection with its environment. The restaurant downstairs, which will activate the plinth of Wibautstraat, adds to the urbanity of the project – and the street for that matter.
For decades Wibautstraat was a car-oriented urban highway that followed the contours of the former railroad which was demolished in the 1940s. Although a few buildings along the street predate its postwar creation, the majority was constructed from the 1950s onward 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 Wibautstraat was first and foremost a traffic artery, its architecture often seemed no more than an inconspicuous backdrop for the passing motorists. The widening of the sidewalks at the expense of parking spaces and the redesign of the road itself have shifted the street’s emphasis to pedestrians and bikers, in other words to city life. It has also given the buildings along 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.
Wibautstraat has become a more normal urban environment now it no longer predominantly serves 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 have usurped large parts of the center of Amsterdam.
Wibautstraat has certainly not been immune to these changes. After all, its recent transformation is a 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 Wibautstraat.
Text: Hans Ibelings
Photos: Ossip van Duivenbode