MVRDV - Crystal Houses

Crystal Houses

The entirely transparent façade of a high-end flagship store on Amsterdam’s upmarket shopping street, PC Hooftstraat, uses glass bricks, glass windows frames and glass architraves in a way to evoke the vernacular of the area with the goal to maintain the character of the site. The 620m2 of retail and 220m2 of housing unites the ambition of Amsterdam to have large distinctive flagship stores without compromising the historical ensemble.

Six to ten experts worked every day for a whole year in a place that bore more resemblance to a laboratory than a construction site. Due to the sensitivity of the materials, an extremely high level of accuracy and craftsmanship was required and a technical development team was onsite throughout the process. Since this construction is the first of its kind, new construction methods and tools had to be utilised: from high-tech lasers and laboratory grade UV-lamps, to slightly lower-tech Dutch full-fat milk, which, with its low transparency, proved to be an ideal liquid to function as a reflective surface for the levelling of the first layer of bricks. Despite its delicate looks, strength tests by the Delft University of Technology team proved that the glass-construction was in many ways stronger than concrete. The full-glass architrave, for instance, could withstand a force of up to 42,000 Newton; the equivalent to two full-sized SUVs.

The development of new construction methods unearthed additional possibilities for future building, such as the minimisation of waste materials. In essence, all of the glass components are completely recyclable. Waste materials from the project, such as imperfect bricks, could simply be (and were) melted down and re-moulded or entirely repurposed. Such is also true for the entire façade itself, once the building has reached the end of its life span, the whole facade can be melted down and given a new life.

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