"The desire, if not the obsession, if not the necessity, is to make cities more suburbanized," Winy Maas, principal architect (the M in MVRDV) tells Fast Company while perusing his local supermarket one Saturday morning. "How do we get people back into the downtown areas, and how do we make that attractive? The middle class should not be leaving cities." In the past 18 months, the 50-architect firm has been winning design competitions, getting projects green-lighted, and breaking ground on its urban climbing utopias, meaning the rest of the world is finally catching up to its way of thinking.
Maas's theory of "vertical suburbias" is perfectly attuned to a world where population is expected to grow to more than 8 billion in the next 20 years, an estimated 5 billion of those people living in urban environments. "We want to synthesize and speculate on new directions, and hopefully open up a world of dreams to developers, economists, and politicians—dreams that can somehow change our fixed and fearful society," he says. MVRDV currently has projects in 15 nations, from China and Japan to Denmark and its native Netherlands. Here is a look at four of the firm's biggest undertakings and the ideas they're spreading.
DnB NOR Headquarters
LOCATION: Oslo, Norway
STATUS: Under construction for 2012 completion
BIG IDEA: The space was designed as specific small-scale working clusters, like mini-offices, with an emphasis on communal spaces and sheltered public passages.
COOL FEATURE: The niches in the building allow for roof gardens and outside areas on every floor, where vegetation can be grown.
Logroñ Montecorvo Eco City
LOCATION: LogroÌÎÌ_Ì´å±o, Spain
TYPE: Mixed residential/retail/public facilities
STATUS: Under construction for 2013 completion
COST: 388 million euros (about $565 million, of which $58 million is invested in renewable-energy technology)
BIG IDEA: Only 10% of the allotted 140 acres will be used for housing and retail. What remains is for an eco-park—part public space, part energy-production facility, including solar cells and wind turbines.
COOL FEATURE: The site will have 3,000 affordable housing units, as well as retail, restaurants, sports facilities, and a museum—all of them 100% carbon neutral.
Rotterdam Market Hall
LOCATION: Rotterdam, the Netherlands
TYPE: Combined residential and retail
STATUS: Under construction for 2014 completion
COST: 175 million euros (about $255 million)
BIG IDEA: Creating a market "tunnel" surrounded by housing uses space typically meant for residential or retail as both, on the same plot of land.
COOL FEATURE: Each of the 228 apartments will include a balcony on the outside and a window into the market on the inside.
Gwanggyo Power Center
LOCATION: South of Seoul, South Korea
TYPE: Mixed residential/retail/office/culture
STATUS: Under further budget and concept development
BIG IDEA: By building upward, Gwanggyo will support 77,000 people in 1.2 million square feet and be completely self-sufficient.
COOL FEATURE: Each story is a ring, creating an abundance of terraces and balconies.