We often think of glass as beautiful and breakable, but what if there were a way to make the delicate material stronger than concrete? That’s the latest achievement by MVRDV, who completed the Crystal Houses, a renovated boutique flagship store in Amsterdam with an entirely transparent glass facade that’s “stronger than concrete.” Crafted as a replica of the original terra-cotta brick facade, the near full-glass facade adds a contemporary touch to the city’s luxury brand street PC Hooftstraat, while maintaining architectural character.
Creating the Crystal Houses’ impressive glass facade was no easy task. MVRDV collaborated closely with six to ten experts—including those from Gietermans & Van Dijk Architects, Delft University of Technology, Brouwer & Kok engineers, ABT consulting engineers, and Wessels Zeist—who worked everyday for a whole year to research and develop the first-of-its-kind glass construction. The team explored a variety of methods and tools such as high-tech lasers, laboratory grade UV-lamps, and even Dutch full-fat milk, which was used as a reflective surface for the leveling of the first layer of bricks.
Poesia in Resana individually cast and crafted solid glass bricks that were cemented in place using a high-strength, UV-bonded transparent adhesive from Delo Industrial Adhesives. Strength tests by the Delft University of Technology showed that the glass construction was “stronger than concrete.” The full-glass architrave can withstand a force of up to 42,000 Newton, the equivalent of two full-sized SUVs.
Designed for investor Warener, the distinctive building combines both Dutch heritage and international architecture into a mixed-use building with 620 square meters of retail on the lower levels and 220 square meters of housing on the upper, red-brick clad section. The beautiful facade offers more than its looks and strength, however. “The development of new construction methods unearthed additional possibilities for future building, such as the minimisation of waste materials,” wrote the architects. “In essence, all of the glass components are completely recyclable. Waste materials from the project, such as imperfect bricks, could simply be (and were) melted down and re-moulded or entirely repurposed.” Thus, the whole facade could be melted down in the future at the end of the building’s lifespan, with the exception of the concrete ram-raid defense plinth that was added to ensure the building’s security. To mitigate the effects of a glass facade on indoor temperatures, the architects added a ground source heat pump to maintain an optimal indoor climate year-round.
Images via MVRDV, by Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee, Poesia, and MVRDV