When I first glimpsed the photos of MVRDV's Glass Farm, I misapprehended it. I assumed I was looking at an ordinary brick building which, in an act of willful capriciousness (you know how architects can be), had been entirely encased in a glass outer shell. The truth, it turns out, is simultaneously more logical and more imaginative. Completed January 17, Glass Farm is a spectral monument to traditional local architecture, and without a brick in sight (not a real one, at least).
Glass Farm is MVRDV's seventh proposal for a new building at the market square in Schijndel in the Netherlands. During World War II the square was badly damaged in the unsuccessful Allied counter-offensive, Operation Market Garden. Since that time the square has undergone redevelopment and refurbished, though the idea of a centerpiece to the square's rejuvenation – a new building between the church and town hall – proved controversial.
Schijndel happens to the home town of MVRDV co-founder Winy Maas. He first proposed a new building at the location in 1980. Twenty years later, the town council bought into the idea, and the conversation could move onto the issue of what should be built: no less prickly an issue, it turned out, and one which invigorated local residents.
Having had six of its ideas rejected, including one for a theater, MVRDV conceived the Glass Farm. Looking at the maximum "envelope" (the shell formed by its outer walls) allowed by the planning authority, MVRDV noticed that, though bigger, it matched the shape of the traditional farm buildings of the region.
MVRDV reasoned that if the building was to adopt the shape of a farm house, it should adopts their look too. Unfortunately, an actual farmhouse wouldn't best serve what had become the purpose of the building: a multifunctional public facility housing restaurants, shops and the like. Instead, MVRDV decided that the building should be a glass shell which somehow took on the appearance of a farm.
The answer MVRDV came up with was fritted glass. Artist Frank van der Salm photographed the surviving traditional farm buildings in the region, and from his photographs a theoretical representation of the average or ideal farm building was composed. By fritting the glass, the image of the farm building was effectively printed onto it.
Being glass, the building lets in and out a certain amount of light. Cleverly, the translucence of the glass can be altered where desired so that certain parts of the building's facade can behave more like conventional windows where extra light or a clear view out are beneficial. And because the building is glass, when lit up at night, the whole farm building appears to glow. Whether viewing from inside during the day or from outside at night, the effect is conceived to be reminiscent of stained glass.
The whole effect is heightened by the building's scale. The Glass Farm is 14 meters (46 feet) tall, making it about 1.6 times the size of the typical farm buildings it represents. MVRDV hopes this will evoke child-like nostalgia in locals as they're reminded of the farm buildings of Schijndel.
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