Weekend Travel: Utrecht | NL

Canal in downtown area.

Canal in downtown area.

For my first weekend in Amsterdam, I visited Utrecht, a small city just 20 minutes east of Amsterdam. Noticed that the city is based out of canal system similar to Amsterdam. 

Canal houses with direct access to the water.

Canal houses with direct access to the water.

... but much smaller in scale and rather established in parallel to the river.

 
Utrecht’s ancient city centre features many buildings and structures several dating as far back as the High Middle Ages. It has been the religious centre of the Netherlands since the 8th century. It lost the status of prince-bishopric but remains the main religious center in the country. Utrecht was the most important city in the Netherlands until the Dutch Golden Age, when it was succeeded by Amsterdam as the country’s cultural centre and most populous city.

Utrecht is host to Utrecht University, the largest university in the Netherlands, as well as several other institutes for higher education. Due to its central position within the country, it is an important transport hub for both rail and road transport. It has the second highest number of cultural events in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam.
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utrecht
Typology of downtown area, commercial at ground floor and residential at the upper floor.

Typology of downtown area, commercial at ground floor and residential at the upper floor.

According to wikipedia, the city consists of two major elements, the downtown historical area and the university complex.  

Dom toren, church tower as prominent landmark and structure of the city (also known as the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

Dom toren, church tower as prominent landmark and structure of the city (also known as the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

 

Utrecht University Complex

Even though Utrecht University is known for one of the oldest university in the country, the whole complex is proliferated with newly built structures. Walking through the main avenue feels like in the middle of a life-sized architect's playground.

Facade #1: Utrecht Hogeschool by Mecanoo Architects.

Facade #1: Utrecht Hogeschool by Mecanoo Architects.

Steven Holl perception shifts of scale through window grids.

Steven Holl perception shifts of scale through window grids.

The high school building greets the visitor with very colorful and very graphic horizontal facade. The design is rather to be considered as 2 dimensional surface treatment, as a strategy to animate boring utilitarian modernist building massing. Some horizontal elements also running through the windows, breaking the boundary of floor slabs and giving different perception on how many floors the building has. Similar intent as such reminds me of Simmons Hall in Massachusetts by Steven Holl.

Facade #2: University Library Ubu by Wiel Arets Architects

Facade #2: University Library Ubu by Wiel Arets Architects

Utilizing graphic image rasterized onto the glass frit pattern. The whole building mass is wrapped with this typical curtain wall module. This gesture gives the impression of emphasizing the volumetric presence of the building. Pretty interesting experiment on glass facade. However, I was not quite sure with the intention on using image of bamboo (I assume it is) and also obvious repetitive image. I am assuming there is an effort to create etherial facade surface in a simple and affordable way. If so, that is quite smart! :)

Facade #3: Dorm of Utrecht Highschool

Facade #3: Dorm of Utrecht Highschool

Again, patterning on facade. Achieved in a very simple way. Altering between 2 types of facade pattern. In each floor there are up to 3-4 typical wall panel and being played out quite beautifully. Furthermore, the use of different color of curtains on each floor create gradient that adds another layer of complexity, allowing the eyes to stray away from recognizing the repetitive wall pattern. 

Facade #4: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility by UNStudio

Facade #4: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility by UNStudio

Facade #4: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility by UNStudio

Facade #4: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility by UNStudio

A little bit tucked away from the main avenue is this small structure by UNStudio done in early 2000. I personally quite fancy the materiality of this project. Interesting clash between glass with printed digital frit pattern and rough cast in-situ exposed concrete. The play of massive and light in the facade is the expression of the building program. Pretty modernist approach. 

 

Facade #5: Johanna Studenthousing by Onix Architects

Facade #5: Johanna Studenthousing by Onix Architects

Very expressive facade, again, similar strategy by super-imposing an image of cloud onto the facade. In order to create excitement on the boring repetitive facade of the modular unit; graphical imagery is introduced by pixel mapping it through porcelain tiles. Variation is achieved through subtle gesture on laying out the tiles in horizontal and vertical fashion, 

Facade #6: Cantilever series #1, dorm of Utrecht Highschool.

Facade #6: Cantilever series #1, dorm of Utrecht Highschool.

I didn't expect to see this protrusion object cantilevered out from a rather straightforward building. This surprise moment adds up with the odd geometry of the object that gets bigger as it protrudes out, giving the impression of defying the law of gravity.

Facade #7: Exposition Pavilion by Stanley Brouwn and Bertus Mulder

Facade #7: Exposition Pavilion by Stanley Brouwn and Bertus Mulder

This project is actually outside the campus complex. However, I am so staggered by the extreme cantilever. The building massing is basically two long identical boxes sitting on top of each other. The top massing is actually cantilevered on both side with only 1/7th of the length touching the podium. Stunning!

 

Street

Biking is common as public transportation in Utrecht as it is throughout the country.

Biking is common as public transportation in Utrecht as it is throughout the country.

I really like the fact of having bicycle as the typical public transportation mode. Apart from being green and environmental friendly, biking in the city is really enjoyable especially in the beautiful setting of downtown Utrecht. There is a certain intimacy of biking where you are always directly interact with your surrounding, experience as such is impossible in driving a car. 

Citroen H Van in downtown plaza

Citroen H Van in downtown plaza

I stumble upon this old Citroen in the downtown plaza and it turns out the car is quite an important artifact in car manufacturing industry. The aesthetic of the exterior is indeed very utilitarian. However, this is one of the aspect that I miss in current car design. Car manufacturing technology has developed to an extent that material and fabrication method is conceived under all the cosmetic aero body panels. Somehow it's relieving to see honesty of material and fabrication was expressed in car design back then.

 
The Citroën H Van, Type H, H-Type or HY is a light truck (or delivery van) produced by the French car maker Citroën between 1947 and 1981. It was developed as a simple front wheel driven van after World War II. Most of them were sold in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In France, this van is known as “Nez de Cochon”, “Pig Nose”. When used by the police, it was called “panier à salade”, “salad basket”. The distinctive corrugated body work used throughout the period of production was inspired by German Junkers (Aircraft) starting from the First World War until the 1930s. The ribs added strength without adding weight, and required only simple, low cost press tools.
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_H_Van
Domtoren, freestanding bell tower in downtown Utrecht 

Domtoren, freestanding bell tower in downtown Utrecht 

Dom Tower with the nave still standing, 1660.

Dom Tower with the nave still standing, 1660.

The tower was part of the Cathedral of Saint Martin, Utrecht, also known as Dom Church, and was built between 1321 and 1382,[1] to a design by John of Hainaut.[3] The cathedral was never fully completed due to lack of money. Since the unfinished nave collapsed in 1674 the Dom tower became a free standing tower.
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_Tower_of_Utrecht

Dom tower currently becomes a tourist attraction and landmark for the city. Its presence for the downtown urban area is however, insignificant. The unfortunate event in 1674 causing the perception of Dom tower is sort of misplaced. The plaza besides it is where the nave was supposedly there, it is rather undefined. There is though, an underground museum, DOMunder underneath, apart from the collapsible entry, the rest of the space is blank. Maybe there is an opportunity to consider redefining the historic plaza.. Very tricky and sensitive though.

Alleyway in downtown with herring bone pattern brick.

Alleyway in downtown with herring bone pattern brick.