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Recreating A Traditional Amsterdam Building With Solid Glass Bricks

To create the glimmering facade, MVRDV had to invent entirely new building techniques and materials.

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PC Hooftstraat street, Amsterdam’s shopping destination for swanky luxury brands, just got an glittering new addition: a retail store with a façade made almost entirely out of solid glass bricks. Dreamt up by the Dutch architects MVRDV, the flagship store is both an homage to the area's traditional architectural style—and a marvel of glass construction.

The Crystal Houses—owned by Warenar, an investor in luxury retail real estate, and currently occupied by Chanel (though the store will later move back to its previous location on the street)—are made of translucent bricks that stretch up the front of the store before eventually dissolving into the original terracotta brick façade.

The architects worked with Poesia, an Italian manufacturer that specializes in glass bricks, to cast each brick individually using a process that involved melting glass into a mold. The design mimics the building's original lines—everything from the layering of the bricks and the details of the window frames is exactly the same, just rendered in glass.

© Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

Using glass as the primary building material required the architects to develop new tools for construction, such as a high-strength, UV-bonded, transparent adhesive, created by the Delo Industrial Adhesives in Germany, that cements the bricks together just as a traditional mortar would.

Other tools ranged from the super high-tech—lasers and laboratory grade UV-lamps—to the extreme low-tech. For example, the team lined the top of the first layer of bricks they laid down with full-fat milk. Why? Since milk is more opaque than glass, the layer helped the brick layers see the edges and make sure they were level.

The result is a building that shimmers with perceived delicacy but is deceptively strong; according to a press statement from MVRDV, strength tests by researchers from Delft University of Technology proved the glass wall may be stronger than concrete overall.

For all its inventive construction and sleek modern look, the building doesn't abandon the street's traditional architecture. Putting an awe-inspiring twist on local heritage is a specialty of MVRDV (see also its planned cultural center in the Netherlands that riffs of the country's vibrant Zaan-style houses).

And with the globalization of fashion, a bit of cultural preservation seems especially necessary in shopping districts—streets lined with Chanel, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana often end up looking strikingly similar no matter where they are.

Slideshow Credits: 01 / © Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee; 02 / © Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee; 03 / © Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee; 05 / © Poesia; 06 / © MVRDV; 07 / © MVRDV;

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