MVRDV were commissioned to design CHANEL’s flagship store in Amsterdam, which saw the architects replace the original brick facade of a former townhouse with glass blocks, utilising cutting-edge glass technology. Located on the PC Hooftstraat, Amsterdam’s only luxury-brand street, the aptly titled ‘Crystal Houses’ project combines both Dutch heritage and international architecture.
MVRDV sought to make a representation of the original buildings and found a solution through an extensive use of glass. The near full-glass façade mimics the original design, down to the layering of the bricks and the details of the window frames, stretched vertically to comply with updated zoning laws and to allow for an increase in interior space. Glass bricks stretch up the façade of Crystal Houses, eventually dissolving into a traditional terracotta brick façade for the apartments (as stipulated in the City’s aesthetics rules), which appears to be floating above the shop floor.
The design aims to provide a solution to the loss of local character in shopping areas around the world. The increased globalisation of retail has led to the homogenisation of high-end shopping streets. Crystal Houses offer a window surface that contemporary stores need, whilst maintaining architectural character and individuality, resulting in a flagship store that hopes to stand out amongst the rest.
After conceiving the initial idea, MVRDV worked closely with a number of partners to develop the technologies to make it possible. Solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by Poesia in Resana, near Venice. Research undertaken by the Delft University of Technology, in partnership with engineering firm ABT and contractor Wessels Zeist, led to the development of structural solutions and fabrication techniques, with the use of a high-strength, UV bonded, transparent adhesive from Delo Industrial Adhesives in Germany to cement the bricks together without the need for a more traditional mortar.