This week Rotterdam-based architectural firm MVRDV completed the Glass Farm, a mixed-use community center in Schijndel, a small town in the Netherlands. Principal Winy Maas first proposed a building here when he was just 20 (!), inciting public debate and controversy that has lasted for nearly his entire career. But after 33 years and six unsuccessful designs, Maas and the residents of Schijndel finally found some common ground. Seventh time’s a charm, right?
The Glass Farm is situated on Schijndel’s commons, a market square badly damaged in the failed Operation Market Garden, an enormous Allied airborne operation intended to end World War II by Christmas of 1944. After cycling through options, including a theater, the town accepted a design for a gabled glass structure that contains offices, shops, and a wellness center.
Tectonically speaking, the Glass Farm is decidedly contemporary: Clad in hundreds of flush glass panels, it cuts a sleek figure next to the adjacent medieval church. The compromise is in the details. Each glass panel is screen-printed with photographs of traditional Dutch farmhouses located nearby. MVRDV’s designers measured and analyzed local farms around the town and came up with an “ideal average” based on the data.
After settling on a “platonic ideal” of proportions, colors, and construction details, the firm commissioned photographer Frank van der Salm to document the best pieces of each farmhouse. Using the photographs, van der Salm cobbled together a digital collage of a single, perfect farmhouse. This fictional structure was printed onto the structure’s simple glass facade, making it into a kind of architectural chameleon. “This image was fritted onto the glass facade, resulting in an effect such as a stained glass window in a cathedral,” MVRDV writes in a press release. “The print is more or less translucent, depending on the need for light and views.”
It’s a hilariously pragmatic solution. Schijndel gets a building that appears to blend in with the rest of the town, while Maas and company get a suitable punchline to a joke about authentic vernacular architecture.