7 Dec, 2021
The cycle of interviews conducted by Manni Group at the new edition of YACademy continues today with architect Fokke Moerel, partner of MVRDV, international architectural and design practice, known for its polyhedral approach and innovative research in the field of architecture and urban planning.
In addition to the interview, in this priceless content you will find:
A concept of innovative green architecture, but also realistic and social, abreast of a rapidly changing world.
This is what encouraged Fokke Moerel to have her professional path cross that of the MVRDV international architecture and urban planning practice. Fokke Moerel was in fact one of the first architects to join MVRDV, in 1998.
What persuaded her was and still is the spirit and mission of the practice “to not exclude anything or anyone” and to face a “wide diversity of challenges which can lead to unconventional and innovative possibilities – always inspiring and fun”, as one reads on her online biography.
The portfolio of architect Moerel, who is currently in the role of partner architect at the practice, includes highly prestigious projects in Holland, Eastern Europe, America and the rest of the world.
These are projects that focus mostly on public and cultural works, urban transformations and interior design. Some of the projects worth mentioning include:
The creative force of Fokke Moerel also inspires and guides the interior design and planning team involved in designing the first art storage facility accessible to the public of the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, which will open in 2021.
The philosophy of the MVRDV practice revolves around the idea of designing greener, more inclusive and social cities and urban landscapes.
A school of thought that has guided the design choices of the practice founded in Rotterdam by Winy Maas, Jacob Van Rijs and Nathalie De Vries since 1993.
These choices concretely led to innovative urban and architectural projects around the world, some of which are considered iconic.
From the ‘90s to date MVRDV has designed and completed numerous works that range from every type and size of building to urban masterplans and renovations, and various publications, installations and exhibitions.
The major projects completed by the practice include:
These projects are the prime examples of a unique approach to design.
Non-uniform volumes, overlapping layers, articulated structures developing vertically, unusual shapes, innovative materials and three-dimensional facades These are only some of the elements that characterise the practice’s design.
A design that is as visionary as it is tangible, that almost anticipates time. MVRDV projects go beyond architectural confines, creating what may appear to many to be an impossible dream: more innovative, sustainable and liveable cities.
The MVRDV practice currently holds many and prestigious international awards. The most recent include:
The practice’s underlying belief is based on a conception of urban architecture that allows cities and landscapes to develop towards a better future.
In this view, sustainability is closely connected to the concept of urban densification, i.e. the use that is made of the earth’s surface to prevent the uncontrolled expansion of cities from compromising the quality of the environment.
These concepts translate into the construction or renovation of buildings with a strong impact and connection with the surrounding environment, as well as with the inhabitants and users of the space.
What we can take away from the interview with Fokke Moerel, as we will see, is the desire to create extraordinary architecture that experiments and explores all of the new possibilities for the future.
While at the same time, an architecture that is firmly anchored in the real needs, that are understandable to everyone and able to clearly communicate what it wants to represent.
Manni Group: MVRDV has a visionary approach that follows continuous research guided by both architecture and technology. What are your thoughts on the role of off-site technology in the future?
Fokke Moerel: I believe that it is obviously becoming increasingly more specific and real. The tools that we use are improving remarkably. And naturally we try to benefit from this aspect. It obviously began with the digital world. Now it is something that is there and cannot be avoided. And it is positive, even if there is still much more to debate on.
For example, as an architecture firm, if you deliver your model to the builder, you will always end up arguing. Which is truly odd, because obviously, everyone should benefit from the fact that there is a model.
Yet it often ends up with arguments on the work method, on what needs to be done, what layers are okay and which ones are not. It is a sort of journey that advances by trial and error. But obviously this is something we need to overcome.
We aim to incorporate various workflows into the way we work and the way we face our design.
Designers often see something for what it is not. Because of its symmetrical shape, the Boijmans Depot seems to be an easy project. However, in actual fact, as soon as you get into the details of the facade and the plants, you find great complexity, and we aim to avoid artisan work.
So, how can it be done in the best possible way?
By always trying to increasingly process these workflows that also help us keep track of what is being done.
I don’t know if you are familiar with the Valley project in Amsterdam. There are these three towers that resemble rocks, with a very irregular structure, with many balconies that are all different.
The people who see the render always think they are seeing a great project, but hard to build. Many developers, in particular, do not believe such a large project could be feasible, within the limits of the available budget.
But with design tools such as Rhino and Revit, and our scripting team, we developed the facade and its balconies, as a sort of facade in 3D so that it could have repetitive elements.
Therefore it is true that it might appear very irregular. But ultimately there is an entire set of identical elements that change and are used in different ways. And this is what makes it feasible.
And, in any case, also all of the stone slabs that compose the facade are different. Through these types of software and the scripting that we did, we succeeded in using BIM to distinguish all of these elements. So as to know the sizes exactly and how they were positioned. And if something needs to be replaced, it is all much easier.
Therefore I would say that, yes, it is truly becoming a part of our daily routine, but there is much more yet to explore. This is why we have a special team at our office specialised in scripting that tries to combine it with the concepts of efficiency and sustainability.
Manni Group: You also mentioned the budget-related aspect. Therefore, for you dry construction can also be a tool for staying within a safe zone and observe the budget?
Fokke Moerel: No architect actually wants to talk about budget. Obviously, however, it exists and it needs to be considered. It is frequently necessary to cut certain costs, but I must say that every time we have done so, although reluctantly, it has always made an improvement to the project.
In the beginning it is always a bit of a blow, but then one realises that it actually makes much more sense because it eliminates any excess and those things that are added on just because they look good, and we concentrate on the purest aspects, that convey the message that one really wants to express with a project.
And naturally, this is also very gratifying. Especially if it works and continues to remain loyal to the concept and remain as convincing as the original plan, or possibly even more so. Yes, it is gratifying. Therefore it is certainly something that we have to deal with.
Manni Group: Many of MVRDV projects are icons, for example the library in China that holds the record for most shared project on social networks.
I believe that this result is the ability to protect the initial concepts. And on this aspect, how important is it to control the construction site stage?
Fokke Moerel: It is certainly very important.
Alongside the many iconic buildings we also have many that are not representative per se, but that actually still offer a different aspect to the location they are in.
Whether it is more or less iconic, I believe that it is truly important to see that what you have in mind is represented in the same way in its execution.
And this is why the design does not end with the first rendering, but continues through the engineering part and in the choice of materials and details, etc...Therefore controlling the construction site is fundamental.
Nowadays, we architects are being given increasingly shorter commissions. Sometimes we are only given the design stage of the idea, which is immediately handed over to the contractors, which is actually quite crazy. But they do so to save money.
That is why we always try to insist on staying on site until the building is delivered or going on site as frequently as possible.
Otherwise how can one ensure that what one had in mind is what is actually being built?
Obviously there are many ways. Often this is done by closely planning the initial stages, which is what happens when working with a model in BIM, workflows, scripting, etc...
But I believe that maintaining a dialogue with the labour, or even upstream of that, with the local architects, is important. Therefore it is necessary to be on site, instead of using virtual reality.
For the Concordia Design project I was effectively on site. In fact that is the only way to be truly precise in selecting the colour, the finish of the materials or how detailed a structure needs to be.
In my opinion, I believe it is very important to personally keep track of the project. And it is also the most enjoyable part of it.
Manni Group: Also regarding this type of issue, we believe that off-site technology can also help keep this aspect under control and reduce any errors in the construction site.
Fokke Moerel: Yes of course.
As long as we are referring quite early to what type of shape or anything you wish to have, then you can also refer to this. And it is obviously something that can be used to monitor the building during construction.
Take the example of the Depot, as I mentioned, it is very symmetrical. Therefore, in that sense it is simple. Nevertheless, each layer represents a different curvature.
And again, in BIM we have marked each element so as to know exactly how the facade was built, how the elements of the facade are secured, what type of adhesive is used, what type of layers, what cladding. And also what the shape should be.
Therefore in a 3D model it is all marked precisely, this allows you to easily check that what is built on site is in line with the project.
Therefore yes, I believe that especially now, while it is not possible to travel so much, it could be very useful to have this type of tool to effectively control, instead of looking at an image from a smartphone, and I believe that this is a truly positive aspect to develop.
Manni Group: It is known that MVRDV has a sort of unconventional approach to sustainability. Almost visionary, in some cases. Look at Pig City, for example. How would you describe precisely the practice’s concept of environmental sustainability?
Fokke Moerel: Our motto is: to be 100% sustainable. Then, naturally one must ask oneself: “What is sustainable and how can one achieve sustainability? And, also, are all projects suitable?”
There are many levels that we believe we need to tackle, from the beginning of the project to dialogue with the customer, and naturally the relative certifications. And there are further levels to this as well.
For some there is still and foremost the need to be capable of selling one’s apartments or finding the right tenant at the right price. But basically I would say that they are almost outdated. And is it a good thing that they are. It is a good starting point, but it does not tell the full story.
For us sustainability is truly real. As you will probably know, we have been developing the concept of densification for years, which represents our way of being sustainable. And how to create and keep these comfortable, inclusive and social places alive.
For us the social aspect is very important, as is the use of the area, to maximise the space that we have.
I believe that these concepts have been there since the beginning of the practice which has always tried to build the most compact buildings possible, while still keeping them open to the public. It is not about installing photovoltaic panels on the facades, yet nevertheless about being very sustainable, if you think of cities and how to keep the rest of the planet a bit more open.
Respecting the environment, in accordance with the context, is an important aspect of our business, which we try to address with all of the tools that we currently have to produce or conserve energy, through different materials or recycling.
In our business, we need to consider several aspects to keep up with a constantly evolving world. We can only change a little bit at a time, and that is what we are trying to do.
Some of these changes, however, happen very fast and are also very technical, and we try to deal with them by looking at them from several points of view.
Manni Group: In many of your projects we have seen how environmental sustainability is, on the one hand linked to materials and design, and on the other to the aspects of the social identity that must be developed through that project.
We also think this is one of the most powerful aspects of your practice, the one we admire the most MVRDV's projects seem to push architectural boundaries forward, constantly changing.
Here, you have the opportunity to address the architects of the future, to the new generation of designers. What advice would you give them?
Fokke Moerel: I could get more philosophical now, but actually the most important thing is to have fun. One should always have fun.
You should know where you want to go, have ambitions and, of course, have a very open mind. Otherwise you won’t get anywhere.
Look around you. I think it is what we try to prove with the project that really makes it possible to understand the problem and not start from this. Try to really understand, to dig a little deeper, to connect things and help your customers.
Because, fundamentally, in the end, it is through this that you can create a better world for many more people than just the customer who wants to build square meters to sell.
Therefore, have fun. I think this is the greatest message I could give young architects. Make the work quite fun, not just profitable. If you want to make money, then you should look for another job.
Raffaele, Digital Marketing Expert of Manni Group, works in synergy with Isopan, gaining insight into the technical world of sandwich panels and keeping pace with the latest trends in the building industry. Thanks to his training in Architecture, he has a keen eye for online topics and activities involving designers and architects.Visit the author's page
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