From a stadium to urban development
Feyenoord City in Rotterdam is no run-of-the-mill architecture project. Germinating from the commission to build a new soccer stadium, a masterplan has been submitted by the architects of OMA for the revitalization of an entire urban quarter. CORPUS talked to David Gianotten, the architect in charge.
How architecture can benefit everyday life is the focus of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) founded by Rem Koolhaas. Renowned for their innovative and intelligent approaches and forms, the architects regard their buildings above all as part of society. This approach often transcends traditional conceptions of architecture, as is demonstrated by the Feyennoord City project in Rotterdam. Although OMA was originally commissioned to replace the antiquated stadium of Feyenoord soccer club, the architects went a step further: Managing Partner David Gianotten and his colleagues have devised a proposal that encompasses, in addition to the stadium, a totally new residential quarter, shopping opportunities and public spaces. In this way they have met with the broad approval that earlier plans for an upgraded or rebuilt stadium couldn’t have obtained – because now it was a question of redeveloping an entire district. In addition to good traffic links and job prospects on site, the masterplan offers direct access to educational facilities, simplifies and shortens everyday routes, and reinforces the social fabric. A new 63,000-seat stadium will be the driving force of the urban development of the socially deprived Rotterdam Zuid quarter. Part of this is an extensive accompanying program to encourage sport across several urban quarters. But even the old stadium will be integrated, as it will be modernized and converted, thus creating space for housing, commercial space and an athletic sport center. In addition to a park and further housing units, the Urban Bridge is in preparation for the project, a traffic-restricted promenade that also connects to other quarters. Feyenoord City comprises 180,000 m² of residential space, and 64,000 m² of commercial space is available for a new movie theatre, restaurants, hotels and retail outlets – and 83,000 m² of public area provides plenty of space for sport activities.
The project is being advanced not only by the City of Rotterdam, but also by the commercial Feyenoord club organization– a combination not unusual internationally. In the USA, Australia and Asia, commercial and entrepreneurial initiatives have evolved as power houses of urban development. In the Netherlands this approach is still in its infancy. According to Gianotten, the current urban model will have to adapt quickly: “In Amsterdam, some 13 per cent of the population lives in the center and in Rotterdam about 8 or 9 per cent. Numbers that need to move in the direction of 40 per cent. People are no longer willing to commute great distances,” the architect explains. So it is all the more important that cities adapt to social trends – and that architecture and design studios consider the socioeconomic context in creating towns worth living in. “Taking account of a building’s impact on this context at the planning stage will allow them to embed the building in its surroundings in a sustainable way,” the Dutchman continues.
I think that architecture will not only be about beauty and esthetics, but about initiative and innovation – alongside esthetics.
OMA is internationally famed for including social themes in its architectural considerations. The celebrated office founded by Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate Rem Koolhaas often works with opposites which, with their internal structures and spatial layouts, have almost an autonomous influence on the surroundings and environment. While OMA operates within the bounds of architecture and urbanism, the affiliated OMA thinktank processes projects well beyond architectural and urban development topics. The research and design studio address issues facing society, e.g. sociological factors or renewables and technology. OMA is run today by Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten along with seven further partners and, in addition to its head office in Rotterdam, has locations in New York, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha, Dubai and Perth.
CORPUS met David Gianotten in Amsterdam during Frame Lab, the innovative forum devoted to design, architecture and future trends, and asked OMA’s Managing Partner about the development of new materials and the perfect project – which, even in a perfect world, could never be built without rules.
DAVID GIANOTTEN: Our main driver is society. We want to bring something into the built environment, which people can live in, work in and breathe in. In addition, we have to constantly innovate. This is not an easy task because we need to build for 50 or 100 years, and we want to create social cohesion, social systems that can actually innovate themselves within our buildings and within our planning.
DAVID GIANOTTEN: We use a lot of sustainable materials. With BASF we are running a program where we as architects say what we would like for a material – and BASF tests it, and new materials come from that. So we are constantly working with the latest technology – technology that is around but has not yet been used in architecture. For instance, we are currently developing a glass that can generate energy from the sun while at the same time shielding the inner environment from glare. Here we use a variety of technologies, ranging from technologies like windmill engineering to special chemicals used in paint. So we are interested in combining techniques that already exist. It’s not just a question of inventing the new material, but also of cleverly using what is already there, of using knowledge from other professions and trying to apply it in new ways.
DAVID GIANOTTEN: Initiative and speed are very different in Asia compared to Europe. But you as an architect are seen as a professional and are trusted in the decision-making process and therefore you can determine how fast things go and what techniques to use. Instead of continuing to participate in competitions, we have started to take the initiative ourselves – an approach based on models that come from the East.
DAVID GIANOTTEN: Yes.
DAVID GIANOTTEN: We do a lot of work in the US, for tech companies, and we’re also part of product development there. But when the initiative is taken from a technical perspective, anything is possible. So what we try to do is start off with the small and end up with the big building. That’s our strategy. In Europe on the other hand the procedures are so strict that that kind of approach would never work. Here you have to overwhelm the client with the innovative idea within a very big picture, and then things start moving because politicians see the benefits.
DAVID GIANOTTEN: That would be impossible because every project thrives on its restrictions, rules and circumstances. A project without a context is no project. The projects that we are currently doing are pretty ideal because they give us a lot of challenges, a lot of thinking, so the solutions become more interesting and are sustainable towards the future. So in an ideal world I would never have a project without restrictions.
DAVID GIANOTTEN: I think that architecture will not only be about beauty and esthetics, but about initiative and innovation – alongside esthetics. This is a change that’s already happening. It will not be personal any more. In the last 30 years it was big names that were doing everything. Now it will be big ideas that are all-important.
Biography in brief
David Gianotten studied architecture and structural engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology, where he is now a professor. He first worked at SeARCH in the Netherlands before moving on to OMA in 2008. There he founded the office in Hong Kong in 2009, becoming Managing Partner of OMA in 2010. He is also Director of OMA Asia, Managing Partner of the offices in Hong Kong and Beijing and one of the managers of the OMA branch in Australia. Aside from Feyenoord City, his varied projects extend, among other things, from the Taipei Performing Arts Center via the main CCTV building in Beijing and the KataOMA resort in Bali to the New Museum for Western Australia.