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A Living Room For The Masses

The clever communal living room, by Dutch architects MVRDV, appears like a traditional cottage inside a larger building.

Rotterdam-based architects MVRDV have unveiled a winning design for a new culture center in downtown Zaanstad in the Netherlands. The 80,729-square-foot building has a giant cottage-shaped cutout in the middle that’s cleverly designed to function as an “urban living room” for the masses.

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The design is a nod to the vibrant Zaan-style houses the region is known for, and it’s conceived as a “lively public meeting space” that connects disparate programs within the building, including a film house, a library, a performing and visual arts center, a pop music center, a music school, a design center, and a local radio station.

This is only the latest example of MVRDV’s quest to inject a little architectural extravagance into daily life. As architecture critic Karrie Jacobs wrote on Co.Design last year, praising MVRDV’s design for the elaborate public food hall MarketHall:

What’s great here is not the architectural audacity itself, but the fact that the audacity is in the service of daily life. …As was explained to me about 10 minutes into my first visit to the Netherlands, the notion of ‘gezelligheid,’ a hybrid of comfort and hominess, is central to Dutch culture. What makes the Dutch endlessly fascinating is their ability to translate this dull-sounding quality into startling art and design. See artist Johannes Vermeer or designer Hella Jongerius. The Dutch, after all, were the people whose best artists began painting scenes of everyday life while their contemporaries elsewhere in Europe were still stuck on the Annunciation and the Crucifixion. …The Dutch excel at using extraordinary design in the service of the ordinary.

MDRDV’s Cultural Cluster is part of a larger masterplan led by architect Sioerd Soeters that aims to revamp the city’s center while paying homage to its architectural past. The new building will neighbor the city’s main train station, city hall and the famous Inntel Hotel, designed by WAM Architecten as a stack of green Zaan houses.

Leave it to MVRDV–the firm behind the whimsical Seoul Skygarden and a Twizzler-shaped skyscraper in Vienna–to turn the unifying “new Zaan house” aesthetic on its head. Their design for the cultural center works in the Zaan house by leaving it out: in addition to the giant cut-out atrium in the middle, there are five smaller house-shaped voids on the facade that represent the various cultural institutions that will be housed inside. In MVRDV’s hands, daily life is anything but ordinary.

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About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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