Amsterdam’s floating ‘masterpiece’ of 160 houses pushes the boundaries. Could something this daring be built in Toronto?
Have you ever seen a neat project in another city and wondered: could we do it here? Should we? We also have, and as part of an ongoing series, we’re going to take ideas from around the world and put them through the Toronto lens. This week: Amsterdam’s Silodam, a colorful, floating building.
It looks like a massive block of multicolored shipping containers floating on the water.
But “containers” don’t hold goods like wheat, electronics, or furniture – they hold people.
The Silodam, located in the port of Amsterdam, is, according to some experts, daring and innovative. The 160-unit complex is designed by Rotterdam-based company MVRDV, one of the lead architects also involved in the Request for Proposals (RFP) to redevelop Quayside, a vacant lot on Toronto’s east waterfront.
The Silodam, built from approximately 1995 to 2002 for 16 million euros (23 million Canadian dollars), is a former silo and dam, hence the name, and measures 10 stories and is 25 meters deep in the water, attached to a layer of sand. It contains a variety of units – studios, lofts, three bedrooms, as well as senior and low income family units.
There are common areas, a gym, a library and water access via a marina.
Although Silodam is a uniformly shaped block, the units housed inside come in different sizes.
Parts of the building were brought to the site, preformed, on board a large freighter.
Described by some observers as a “mini-city in the water,” the nearly 210,000 square foot building is an architectural marvel, according to a Toronto expert.
âThere are courtyards, terraces, duplexes, townhouses, all masterfully arranged. It is a masterpiece, a unique work of architecture that is extremely influential, âsays Assistant Professor Petros Babasikas, director of the Honors Bachelor of Arts in Architecture program at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Architecture. University of Toronto design John H. Daniels, and who worked as an architect in Europe.
âAt first glance, we react. We have an immediate intuitive reaction that it looks like a container ship in the port of Amsterdam. To me it looks like a city, different parts of a city, all brought together in a single block in a very concrete and powerful way, âexplains Babasikas.
In a video on Silodam, the architect Nathalie de Vries, founding partner of MVRDV, declares that the building âhas become a representative sample of Amsterdam society, so you will find families, the elderly, people with low income. many different hobbies, attitudes and lifestyles. , and they are all united in one building.
MVRDV won the contract to design Silodam after an open competition. The building was designed for a private developer who worked with a social housing provider. About 80 percent of residential houses are private and there are about 15 social housing units.
MVRDV, along with Copenhagen architectural firm Cobe, partnered with development firms Kilmer, Mattamy and Tricon to form KMT Quayside Developments Inc., one of three competing developer / architect collaborations in the call for Toronto deals to develop 12-acre waterfront property Google Sister company Sidewalk Labs had wanted to turn into a smart city.
Sidewalk Labs abandoned these plans last year.
A new process has therefore been initiated and Waterfront Toronto, the tri-government corporation responsible for waterfront development, will announce the winning bidder among the four teams next year.
Waterfront Toronto executives have indicated they are looking for something âiconicâ to develop at Quayside.
So, could such an innovative and unique project as a Silodam be in sight and possibly be built on Toronto’s waterfront?
One thing that the winning pitch in Toronto will have in common with Silodam is the fact that the latter is a planned mixed-use community.
âOur customers have asked us to build a building for many different types of housing,â de Vries explains in the video on Silodam.
âBy bringing all these different houses together, we created interior streets and gave each housing group its own type of facade,â she continues.
In an interview, local Amsterdam architect Bo van Niekerk described Silodam as “a source of inspiration for many architects and architecture students” and proof that “beauty doesn’t always have to be the goal. principal âin architecture.
âThis is definitely a quintessentially Dutch designâ¦ in the sense that it responds to its context in an iconic way,â he continued.
Babasikas, of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture in Toronto, argues that the unique quality of the Silodam “is likely due to an institutional framework of public architectural competitions” in Amsterdam that encourages innovation, assesses the cultural and civic presence of the buildings. as well as their market value. , which gives a “real role to architects in the construction of the city”.
âSo it’s not a bidding process. It is a competition open to many architects where many young architects and others … make proposals. Much of this happened in the Netherlands in the 1990s and beyond – and many amazing buildings have appeared as a result, âsays Babasikas.
He goes on to say that the winning proposal for Quayside, regardless of which team receives it, is likely to be something very interesting, but the question is whether it will become, in his words, “bioengineered into something. generic “.
âThis is usually the problem. What I mean is that projects that are a little more adventurous in terms of concept, structure or format go through a process of design development and construction documents and sometimes crucial aspects of their architecture are removed in the process. because of the costs – because of the optimization.
âIt’s value engineering – buildings tend to become more standardized, more generic as a result. This is the danger, especially with more adventurous proposals, âargues Babasikas.
He says there needs to be a process for commissioning large-scale projects in the city that is based on an approach other than the traditional development model.
âI firmly believe that you need institutions – you need public support and public competition. It is not a solid process in North America. The contests usually held here are intended for very small projects with small budgets.
Competitions for public buildings or public spaces are usually tenders where the focus is not necessarily the most innovative or interesting idea, but more viable and economical proposals, says Babasikas.
âSometimes that’s not what produces the best architecture,â he says.
But when asked whether a building as innovative as Silodam could be built on our waterfront, Babasikas remains optimistic.
âWe all need to push the boundaries and promote more interesting architecture here,â he says.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION