Since its founding in 1993, Dutch architecture firm MVRDV has become famous for its diverse and outspoken designs. Responsible for landmark projects around the world, including both individual buildings and entire neighbourhoods, the Rotterdam-based company has won several international design awards. As part of a series of lectures being hosted by Bruce Mau Design, one of MVRDV's founding partners, Nathalie de Vries, spoke Wednesday about some of the unique projects that have made the firm a success. 

President and CEO of Bruce Mau Design Hunter Tura and Founding Director of MVRDV Nathalie de Vries, image by Marcus Mitanis

MVRDV's design philosophy emphasizes sustainability and urbanism, also acknowledging the impact that architecture has not only on its surroundings, but on the people who use the building. Taking into account the physical realities of each site thus results in a building highly unique to that space. Constraints related to the location often lead to unorthodox solutions that result in quirky designs and spaces. MVRDV's design philosophy becomes more evident when looking at each of their projects. 

Nathalie de Vries speaks to a full house, image by Craig White

Jutting out into Amsterdam's waterfront is the Silodam, which as its name suggests, was a former dam and silo that has since been converted into 165 units of housing. The ten-storey building also boasts office, commercial and public space, but its residential space is split up into a series of blocks, each with their own unique personality. Local and national affordable housing regulations  ensure a healthy mix of social and private units that vary wildly in size and design. The mix of uses within the building liken it to a complete self-contained neighbourhood that seemingly floats on the water. Starting work in 1995, Silodam was one of MVDRV's earliest and most notable designs. 

Silodam in the western section of Amsterdam harbour, image courtesy of MVRDV

A similar project was built in Copenhagen, also repurposing a former silo structure. Gemini Residence, also known as the Frøsilo, is composed of 84 apartments overlooking the harbour. Rather than placing the units inside the silo, the apartments are wrapped around the circumference of the structure, allowing the emptiness of the silo interior to become a bright, airy and modern atrium. The design takes advantage of the silo's shape while hiding the incomplete appearance of the concrete. 

Gemini Residence (Frøsilo) in Copenhagen, Denmark, image courtesy of MVRDV

Toronto may be able to learn from these two projects. The Victory Soya Mills Silos in the east end of the harbourfront and the Canada Malting Silos at the foot of Bathurst Street have sat in their derelict positions for years. Ideas for the properties have been thrown around, with a museum being the most popular, yet no vision has yet come to fruition. It may take a firm like MVRDV to plan something ambitious for these prominent waterfront sites before they slip further into decay. 

Interior atrium of the former silo at Gemini Residence, image courtesy of MVRDV

The City of Rotterdam, Netherlands was devastated by bombings during the Second World War, with much of its historic centre left completely destroyed. As a result, the city's skyline is largely composed of modern high-rises and mid-rises. A new project called the Collection Building launched just last year will store Rotterdam's large art collection in a structure resembling a flowerpot, complete with a rooftop garden. The roof will also house a restaurant and exhibition space. The design philosophies of MVRDV become evident here through the use of the garden, evoking sustainability, as well as the multi-purpose public spaces reflecting people's use of the building. Urbanism is an obvious theme also, with the rooftop garden providing panoramic views of Rotterdam. 

The Collection Building in Rotterdam, Netherlands, image courtesy of MVRDV

MVRDV's work is not limited only to Europe. One of their recent developments involved renovating the facade of the dated Chungha Building in Seoul, South Korea. The building houses a collection of luxury shops all under one roof with large, protruding, billboard-like windows displaying the interiors of each space. The building now complements the modern designs found within Seoul's trendy Gangnam district. 

The Chungha Building in Seoul, South Korea before and after its transformation, image courtesy of MVRDV

Toronto is well-known for its extensive network of libraries, many of which have undergone transformations in recent years to bring them into the 21st century. In Spijkenisse, Netherlands, the massive 'Book Mountain' was completed in 2012. Housing a library, office and retail space, the barn-like building is completely covered in glass, acting as an "advertisement for reading." Much of the brick, wood and glass is recycled, including the shelves on which the books stand. It serves not only as a beacon of sustainability, but a sign of hope for a community that has a ten percent illiteracy rate. Book Mountain's unique design could provide an example for Toronto's libraries as they continually update their spaces. 

The new 'Book Mountain' library in Spijkenisse, Netherlands, image courtesy of MVRDV

The Bjørvika Barcode complex in Oslo, Norway is currently under construction and consists of 11 multi-purpose buildings on a site between the city's waterfront and a major transport hub. Each tower is different from its neighbour but together, they resemble a barcode when viewed from the water. Though many architects were involved in the master plan, the MVRDV-designed building (second from right) stands out from its glassy neighbours with its use of brick and setbacks. Norwegian bank DNB now occupies the building which opened in 2012, four years before the complex is due to be completed. The project is somewhat reminiscent of the developments along Toronto's waterfront. It demonstrates that by involving several architects, unorthodox designs can be created that still come together as a cohesive unit. 

The Bjørvika Barcode development in Oslo, Norway, image courtesy of MVRDV

Finally, one of MVRDV's most significant and recent developments was the creation of a building to house a permanent market in Rotterdam. Laws in the Netherlands now require traditional open-air markets to be held indoors for hygienic purposes. To accommodate this requirement and increase density in the city core, MVRDV designed a large arch containing housing with the hall below being occupied by the new market. Officially opening this month, Market Hall has already attracted over one million visitors and has quickly become one of Rotterdam's must-see attractions.

The new Market Hall in Rotterdam, Netherlands, image courtesy of MVRDV

Similarities can be drawn between Market Hall and the redevelopment of St. Lawrence Market North in Toronto. St. Lawrence Market is already a hot destination in the city, but Market Hall demonstrates that unconventional architecture can attract visitors from all over the world. 

Interior of the new Market Hall in Rotterdam, image courtesy of MVRDV

Despite only existing for 20 years, MVRDV has created a name for itself by designing appealing, distinctive and functional buildings. The firm has been rewarded for its creative and imaginative designs, demonstrating that sometimes architects should take risks and think outside the box. Perhaps MVRDV will one day create something for Toronto, but until then, the firm provides ideas on how to create exciting new buildings and reinvent old ones. 

The ongoing Lecture Series at Bruce Mau Design welcomes influential architects, planners, designers, writers, developers and other esteemed individuals from around the world to speak about their work. The lectures provide the team at Bruce Mau Design and design students from Toronto schools, including the Institute Without Boundaries at George Brown College, insight into the lives and work of the speakers. Past lectures have been hosted by international book cover designer Peter Mendelsund and Executive Director of New York's Van Alen Institute David van der Leer. 

What do you think of MVRDV's work? Do you think their projects provide any lessons for Toronto? Leave a comment in the space below to have your say.