BAU 2015 Team Building No. 2: A farmhouse made of glass
How do you create a mall that offers unique aesthetic experience both on the inside and the outside? You need a great team of visionary architects and outstanding craftsmen. A good example is the Glass Farm in Schijndel (NL). The extraordinary mall houses restaurants, shops and a wellness center – all in the shape and feel of a traditional farmhouse.
The whole exterior – walls, roofs, doors, chimneys, and vents – is made of glass, with images of a “typical farmhouse” wrapping the building. To realize the unique design of the façade, MVRDV worked with a team consisting of Remmers Bouwgroep, Brakel Atmos and AGC Westland/Mirodan.
In the second part of our BAU Team Building Series, we have interviewed MVRDV and Brakel Atmos to hear about the project from different perspectives and to learn about how they worked together to realize the amazing outcome.
Participants of the BAU Team Building No. 2:
Brakel Atmos, Uden
What did your working relationship before the Glass Farm project look like?
In 2011 MVRDV and Brakel Atmos realized another project: Library Boekenberg (Book Mountain) in Spijkenisse with a total glass surface of about 3,000 m².
We have also worked with Brakel Atmos on other projects. For instance, they made a beautiful roof that covers Book Mountain in Spijkenisse.
How would you rate the collaboration on the Glass Farm project?
Under the direction of MVRDV the team worked together very well. Brakel Atmos drew 3D details based on the design. Subsequently these details were fine-tuned which led to the building as it is today.
Our relationship was very respectful, but also very direct as well. We had a vision of what we wanted to create here and Brakel Atmos knew the limitations of the products we would be using to realize that vision. Together, we managed to bring the two together in a very satisfying way. Brakel Atmos were very professional in their approach. They are fast, meticulous and well organized.
How do you take your ideas to the fabricators?
We usually bring hints of ideas; sketches of something we would like to achieve; stimuli to take our design session to a more practical and physical level. We describe to them what we would like to do, why we would like to do it that way, and how it should look in the end. And then we find out how close to that image we can bring it with a certain product.
What does the ideal fabricator have to offer?
There are multiple important factors here. Innovation is very often on the top of the list. We strive for some form of innovation in all of our projects and sometimes this requires innovative products, things that have not been done before. For this, you need a partner who is not afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone and who believes in product advancement and enhancement. Furthermore, the location is becoming more and more important. Having a manufacturer close to the site allows for a better quality check and communication, which is important, considering the first point.
At what point in time do you involve the fabricators?
Once an idea takes root, we go in search of a partner to feed us the information we need to make it work. So it happens at a pretty early stage.
In which project phase are you usually approached?
Mostly we are brought in during the specification phase, when specifications are stipulated during designing.
How specific are the architects about their ideas when they approach you?
Concepts are usually given in broad outlines. At first, Brakel Atmos offers standard solutions that are subsequently made custom-made according to the customer’s wishes. The goal: reaching the desired result.
How do you describe the perfect architect?
We hope that they are very clear about the main lines of the design. You (hardly) may not diverge from them as the design is not to be affected. Architects always have an open mind to the solutions offered by Brakel Atmos.
What’s the context of the building?
The building is placed on the marketplace that used to be a car park. Together with the city hall and the church it forms the town center. The Glass Farm accommodates shops, a health center, a restaurant and an ice-cream parlor
The building volume is a direct result of a multi-session dialogue with a local committee. It resembled a scaled-up farm building, which we adopted and then strengthened by adding the farm print to it. The print is a collage, made from an intensive study of the local farm buildings. It is the “average” Schijndel farmhouse with the average amount of chimneys, doors, windows, hatches, etc. It pays tribute to what is slowly disappearing from the countryside. By making the building in glass, we intertwine past and present. We mix the historic with the current.
What was the biggest design challenge and how did you solve it?
New printing techniques were used on small- and large-sized glass panes, resulting in nuances. We were able to limit these nuances due to several tests.
The biggest challenge was to get the print on in an ultra-high and continuous quality. The complexity of the all-glass façade and the relative newness of the printing technique made this a very delicate operation. The DTP-work that needed to be done for this project was big – a few terabytes. There were a thousand different pieces of glass, varying from 8 m² panels to 0,05 m², and tolerances were very low. Everything needed to fit exactly.
Could you describe the design’s evolution from idea to execution?
There was much discussion about the transparent spots of the facades and roofs. People have to be able to do window-shopping and people in the restaurant have to be able to look outside. The team played with the level of transparency to achieve the final results.
Apart from the fact that this project started around 2000 and we worked on seven different designs before it became the Glass Farm, there was a time when we were applying a black and white print to the glass, simply because the technique to do it in color had not advanced that far yet. Looking back now, it was a great moment when AGC Mirodan, who did the printing, took a leap of faith and agreed to go for a full color print.
What makes this design so special?
As stated, the glass is unique because of the fact that all panes were printed uniquely. Together they form one image, the image of a glass farm. As for the required lining, Brakel Atmos installed the glass system directly on the underlying steel. Therefore, little tolerance could be absorbed. Furthermore, the seals in between the glass panes weren’t allowed to exceed 20 mm.
Next to the printed glass and the thin seams, there was the design decision to really have the whole thing in glass. So that meant that ventilation grates needed to be covered with printed glass strips. Even the chimney buildup is made from glass and all doors into the building are wrapped completely with glass. This last achievement is another great collaboration between Brakel Atmos and MVRDV.
Can you share little anecdote from the project?
After determining the details, it turned out to be that the lining of the seals had to blend together smoothly on the inside as well on the outside. Because of the glass thickness this was almost impossible to do. In order to grant this wish as much as possible, Brakel Atmos engineered a new profile that could be applied at every possible angle.
This little anecdote is something that seems irrelevant but made a big impact on the design. At a certain time, we discussed the minimum width of the silicon seams on the outside of the building. What width did they need to be? Why were they so wide now? They were a full 25 mm at that time, which is quite narrow already of course, but they broke up the overall image nonetheless and we needed to minimize them. Brakel Atmos replied that to be able to lock the glass plates into place, someone needed to be able to reach inside of the gap between two glass plates with his fingers, grab hold of a little steel plate and twist it 90 degrees. This manual procedure defined the 25 mm widths of the gaps and therefore the silicon seam that would be the finish of that gap. So we asked if there was someone around who had thinner fingers, maybe smaller hands? We wanted 20 mm and asked Brakel Atmos if that would be possible. They were hesitant at first, but then they found a way in which a worker with small hands could manage it. And now the seams are 20 mm and they look fantastic!
Project Name: Glass Farm
Location: Schijndel, the Netherlands
Client: RemBrand bv
Architect: MVRDV, Rotterdam
Design Principal: Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries
Project Architect: Frans de Witte, Gijs Rikken
Site Area: 1990 m2
Building Area: 1600 m2
Project Dates: 2008-2013, completed in January 2013
Structural Engineer: Hooijen Konstruktiebureau, Tilburg
MEP/FP Engineer: IOC Ridderkerk
Landscape Architect: MTD Landschapsarchitecten
Contractor: Bouwbedrijf Remmers b.v.
Façade: Brakel Atmos, Uden
Double Glass: AGC Westland
Glass Printing: AGC Mirodan