Mei's 'Arts and Crafts' Facade in Utrecht

John Hill
1. September 2017
Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode (All images courtesy of Mei architects and planners)

To fit in with the brick facades of other developments on Churchilllaan in Kanaleneiland, Utrecht, Mei architects and planners finished their De Verkenner Residential Tower with brown concrete exterior walls embedded with 13,000 ceramic tiles.

Project: De Verkenner Residential Tower
Location: Al-Masoedilaan 2-142, Utrecht, Netherlands
Client: Mitros, Utrecht
Program: 12,500 m2, 71 apartments, 9 live-work units, 15 apartments for autistic adolescents
Architect: Mei architects and planners
Project Team: Robert Winkel, Menno van der Woude, Robert Platje, Michiel van Loon, Reinoud van der Zijde, Roy Wijte, Jelena Radonjic
Realization: Oct 2014 – Apr 2016
Construction: Era Contour, Zoetermeer, NL​
Facade: Artwork Rozen en beton (Roses and concrete) by Milou van Ham in association with Moniek Driessen; Poem Rozen en beton (Roses and concrete) by Tsead Bruinja in association with Milou van Ham
Concrete Elements: Decomo, Belgium
Ceramic Tiles: Royal Tichelaar Makkum, Netherlands

Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode

The 50-meter-tall corner building comprises a variety of housing types, including rental dwellings, live-work units, and special dwellings for autistic youths. Mei describes other residential buildings in the area as horizontal in nature, so they accentuated the height of their project through a vertical articulation of its facades. The narrow windows, which widen as the building ascends, is one manner in which this done. Additionally, the rectangular ceramic tiles between the windows are oriented vertically rather than horizontally.

Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode

Although the tower is the focus, the building mass is U-shaped at the base and L-shaped in the middle. This creates a courtyard facing away from Churchilllaan, where glazed balconies are found as well as ones whose thin slabs continue the expression of the brown concrete and ceramic tiles. According to Mei, "scant attention is usually paid in Kanaleneiland to the finishing of the undersides of balconies and galleries, elements that are clearly visible to passersby." In turn, they maintained the undersides as integral parts of the facade's expression.

Photo: Jeroen Musch
Photo: Jeroen Musch

The two-story tall concrete elements look fairly flat from afar, but up close they reveal intricate surface texture and relief details. Incorporated into the concrete are the 13,000 ceramic tiles manufactured by Royal Tichelaar Makkum, whose creative production we have featured previously. Here the custom tiles were designed by visual artist Milou van Ham in collaboration with poet Tsead Bruinja. Called Roses and Concrete, the tiles feature 16 lines of poetry that reflect on relationships. As described by Mei, the lines are "mini-stories [that] concern ordinary events and real people. They deal with living together in a house, a building, a neighborhood or a city in the past, present and future."

Facade detail, rotated 90 degrees (Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode)
Ceramic tile detail, rotated 90 degrees (Photo: Milou van Ham)

With such a small-scale detail, the ceramic tiles combine with the concrete to give the facade a distinct texture for passersby. But for those living inside De Verkenner, the tiles become an intimate experience, changing from texture and pattern to words and meaning. In a way, the titles entice residents to go outside on their balconies and be one with the architectural poetry.

Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode
Facade elements (Drawing: Mei)
16-line poem (Drawing: Mei)

Video showing the fabrication of the facade's 13,000 ceramic tiles:

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