She did it again. Shortly after Bloempot, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen depot in Rotterdam, which opened in 2021, the architects from MVRDV delivered a new spectacle: The Valley on the Zuidas in Amsterdam. With three bizarre, rock towers on a five-story substructure, The Valley is an oddly dressed intruder in the best-known and most expensive office district in the Netherlands. The curious, angular appendages to the towers (with a height of 66, 76 and 100 meters) serve not only as bay windows and roof terraces, but also as flower boxes, in which, according to the design of landscape architect Piet Oudolf, there are more than 13,000 plants and 270 trees and shrubs has been planted.
Shortly after the presentation of The Valley in 2015, there was criticism that the computer images of lushly overgrown rock walls did violence to the reality of the future. Too much wind and a lack of soil meant the trees and shrubs would never grow as large as the designers had suggested, critics predicted. But now that the plants have been in the ground for at least six months, the criticism seems premature. Thanks to irrigation, most plants survived the unusually dry summer of 2022, and there is a good chance that The Valley will be an oasis in the stone desert of Zuidas in about ten years, despite climate change.
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Not only because of the vertical forest and the cantilevered building elements, eleven of which are so large that they seem to float away, The Valley differs from all the towers built during the last quarter of a century between Amsterdam’s ring road A10 and Buitenveldert district. With catering businesses and shops on the ground floor, offices on the lower seven floors and above 198 expensive rental apartments of many shapes and sizes, The Valley is the first building on Zuidas where work, living and entertainment mix.
In this way, The Valley does justice to the original plans for Zuidas. When architect Pi de Bruijn created the urban design for Zuidas, he wanted the new district to be ‘nice’. In the late 1990s, this was a counterintuitive pursuit. These were the heydays of the super-Dutch architecture of agencies such as MVRDV and OMA. Buildings were allowed to be anything – conceptual, nomadic, deconstructivist or if necessary parametric – but not cosy.
To make Zuidas cozy, De Bruijn decided that at least half of Amsterdam’s future second city center should consist of housing. In addition, he wanted residences and offices to be located in the same blocks and towers.
Little emerged from De Bruijn’s master plan for Zuidas, which includes squares and canals. Not only have far fewer houses been built than originally planned, but almost all of them have also been put together in a strip, so that living and working are separated. For example, Zuidas is now primarily a business district, where it is empty and quiet between the towers at night.
The Valley wants to change that with a mix of offices, catering and housing. In their own words, MVRDV’s architects designed the building as a village. Therefore, the colossus with a plot area of 75,000 square meters has been given large public spaces, certainly in comparison with the other closed buildings on Zuidas.
A small roof park on the substructure, reached by a waterfall of steps, serves as the village green. The paths, lined with the same yellow-beige Spanish natural stone, lead up and down past large planters and two glass-bottomed ponds that act as skylights for the lobby below.
The lobby, where several shops and the new Sapiens Lab (a think tank on ‘a better living environment’) will soon be located, is also a public space. With its facades consisting of slightly crooked shapes, the interior space covered with natural stone from top to bottom is reminiscent of a cave.
The beautiful stone cladding, in which numerous crystals and fossils can be seen, stands in stark contrast to the flat, dead plate glass facades that The Valley also has. The east facade of the colossus, which borders a moat that separates the building from the AFC football pitches, is almost completely clad in dark mirrored glass, the gloomy facade material that was unfortunately fashionable in office buildings thirty years ago.
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The fronts of the shops and catering establishments on the street side also consist of poor glass panels. As a result, despite the public spaces and the large number of plants, The Valley has not really become a cozy village – MVRDV is and remains a ‘conceptual’ Superdutch agency. But the horribly monotonous glass facades make The Valley look like a giant, old-fashioned office behemoth into which a Cyclops has carved three strange pixel towers, seen from the football pitches. Zuidas, for example, has had its first terribly beautiful, sublime building with The Valley.