Photo © Ossip Van Duivenbode
Photo © Ossip Van Duivenbode
Photo © Jeroen Musch
Photo © Jeroen Musch
Photo © Ossip Van Duivenbode
Photo © Jeroen Musch
Photo © Jeroen Musch
Photo © Ossip Van Duivenbode
Photo © Ossip Van Duivenbode
Photo © Milou Van Ham

De Verkenner

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Churchilllaan, Utrecht, Holanda

12.500 m2
71 apartments, 9 live-work units, 15 care apartments for autistic adolescents
Robert Winkel, Robert Platje, Michiel van Loon, Roy Wijte, Menno van der Woude, Reinoud van der Zijde, Jelena Radonjić

A new residential tower completed on Churchilllaan in Kanaleneiland, Utrecht, will give a big impetus to the development of this typical post-war reconstruction district. The new 50-metre-tall building, designed by Mei architects and planners, acts as a gatekeeper to Kanaleneiland. The tower contains a mixed programme of housing: 71 private sector rental dwellings in the upper portion, 15 dwellings for autistic youths, and 9 live-work units in the base of the building.


‘Slow made’ facade 

The design for the facade responds to the concrete gallery-access blocks of flats in Kanaleneiland. In contrast to the horizontal articulation of these facades, the exterior of De Verkenner is predominantly vertical in design. Due to the high noise levels on Churchilllaan, the facade here is quite closed in character. However, the number of openings increases towards the top.

The facade is ‘slow made’ with consideration of local materials and production techniques. The colour harmonizes with the brickwork facades of neighbouring new developments on Churchilllaan, but it is constructed of concrete. The brown concrete elements, each two floors tall, possess surface texture and relief details. This effect is enhanced by the incorporation of 13,000 ceramic tiles, made by Royal Tichelaar Makkum – the oldest company in the Netherlands and world-famous for its ceramics designs. Based on a design by visual artist Milou van Ham in collaboration with poet Tsead Bruinja, these tiles feature 16 different lines of poetry that lend the building an identity specific to the location.


In Kanaleneiland, little attention is usually paid to the finishing of undersides of balconies and galleries, elements that are actually quite visible to passers-by. Mei architects and planners therefore extended the facade finish beneath the balconies and galleries. The result is a very inviting building.  By contracting the facade separately, Mei succeeded in realizing this unique facade.


Sunny appearance

On the sunny and noise-free southern side, the building is ‘hollowed out’, so to speak. Here, as many dwellings as possible contain an outdoor space.


Furthermore, to allow for optimal daylight penetration, the balconies here are made of ultra-strong concrete just 7 cm thick. From the balconies, some of which cantilever three metres, residents enjoy a wonderful view of Utrecht and surroundings. A huge opening on the tenth floor frames this fantastic view.


The materials used for the inner facades contrast starkly with the outer facades, enhancing the plasticity of the building. Railings in yellow glass and champagne-coloured frames ensure that, even when the weather isn’t great, De Verkenner still has a sunny and sparkling appearance that radiates throughout the neighbourhood.


Roses & Concrete Artwork

As an architecture office, Mei supports the inclusion of art in buildings. Accordingly, 13,000 ceramic tiles with lines of poetry were designed exclusively for De Verkenner as part of the art project ‘Roses & Concrete’. Mei commissioned visual artist Milou van Ham, who had  previously worked on the ‘4 Worlds’ residential building by Mei in Spijkenisse, to design these ceramic tiles. She collaborated with Tsead Bruinja, to incorporate hundreds of words that embody the identity of Kanaleneiland in 16 lines of poetry. These lines are now placed randomly over the facade and balcony elements. The poem as a whole forms a poetic reflection on friendships and relations. These mini-stories concern ordinary events and real people. They deal with living together in a house, a building, a neighbourhood or a city in the past, present and future. 


The ceramic tiles are inserted into the facade elements randomly. As a result, the way you read the lines and connect them to one another is different to a poem where the sequence is fixed. In passing, you can read the lines in isolation, separately from the other tiles. Together they form a varied and exciting composition.


Since Dutch politics has restricted project development by housing corporations, De Verkenner is for now the last construction project with private housing for corporation Mitros. Client Mitros is particularly pleased: itis a wonderful building and all dwellings were rented before completion.


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