Dutch dreams: Top architects MVRDV reveal urban vision

When it comes to the Dutch radicals MVRDV, turning conventional architecture on its head takes on a whole new literal sense. Like a perimeter housing block tipped on its end, all with a giant hole in the middle as a courtyard, the famous Mirador, MVRDV’s architectural tour de force built in 2005 in Madrid, is one of the works featured at the Pireos Street annex of the Benaki Museum in Athens. The exhibition «The Hungry Box,» a display of 10 MVRDV projects designed between 1997 and 2007, highlights the characteristically Dutch theme that dominates the work of the experimental Rotterdam-based architecture group: density. Their unconventional, if not utopian, projects aim to maximize density by seemingly swallowing endless interiors. It’s no surprise that the buildings of MVRDV are often described as «hungry boxes» – stuffed with large chunks of complex data that translate into boxy shapes that can accommodate shifting interior possibilities. At the frontline of a more ecologically conscious generation, MVRDV seek to create a more fluid relationship between indoors and outdoors, inhabitants and nature. For that purpose, light and the surrounding landscape are incorporated in the design. Children of the golden age of Dutch architecture that peaked in the mid-1990s, Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries set up MVRDV (the name is an acronym of the founders) in Rotterdam after a career with OMA, the studio of Dutch master Rem Koolhaas. MVRDV have a utopian quality (even though critics would be tempted to slam some of their plans as Le Corbusier-inspired modernist dystopias). Their urban vision is best reflected in their KM3/3D city project. Presented in the late 1990s, KM3/3D is a proposal for a global urban grid with cities sitting in 5-kilometer-sided cubes, each 100 kilometers apart, leaving the natural surroundings untouched. Visitors to the Benaki exhibition, which is organized by the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), can examine a series of colored scale models of MVRDV projects, including the Villa VPRO in Hilversum, the Dutch Pavilion for the World Expo 2000 in Hanover and the Brabant Library in Eindhoven. Items too form a box-shaped room and visitors can take a tour of the exhibition making their way through large curtains covered with images of the building interiors intended to give an in-looking-out feel. But the trick does not always work. MVRDV is not just about the style. It’s about the future of architecture at large – hence the manifesto-mongering (with polemical exhibitions, films, software and books) against more conservative architectural trends like the new urbanism movement across the Atlantic. «New urbanism in the US is highly politicized and very successful, and there’s the retro architecture in Europe which is like an oil spill going over the European landscape,» Maas said in a recent interview with icon, the architecture and design magazine. «We have to compete with quite heavy opponents.» High ambitions from the flat Netherlands. The Exhibition «The Hungry Box – The Endless Interiors of MVRDV» runs through July 25.