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Introduction

Ben van Berkel is a Dutch architect, working with the architectural practice UNStudio. With his studio he designed many outstanding and important buildings in many different places of the globe. His interdisciplinary design team develops urban projects, builds bridges and public buildings all over the world, as well as working on the design of products and media.

Ben van Berkel succeeds in transforming architecture to sculpture. His design is innovative. His artistic language makes use of the possibilities of computer-aided animation. His designs are eye-catching but at the same time respect historical structures as illustrated by the Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam, the new Mercedes- Benz Museum in Stuttgart and the urban concept for Genoa harbour.

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Biography

Born in 1957, Ben van Berkel studied architecture at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, and at the Architectural Association in London, receiving the AA Diploma with Honours in 1987.

In 1988, together with his wife Caroline Bos, he set up an architectural practice in Amsterdam named Van Berkel & Bos Architectuurbureau, which realized, amongst others projects, the Karbouw office building, the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam. In 1998 van Berkel and Bos relaunched their practice as UNStudio, where UN stands for “United Net”.

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Ben van Berkel has lectured and taught at many architectural schools around the world. He has led Diploma Units at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam (1992-1993) and the Architectural Association in London (1999). Before he became Professor Conceptual Design at the Städelschule in Frankfurt in 2001, he was Visiting Professor at Columbia University, Princeton University and Harvard University. In 2011 Ben van Berkel was appointed the Kenzo Tange Chair at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Central to his teaching is the inclusive approach of architectural works integrating virtual and material organisation and engineering constructions.

Ben van Berkel received many personal awards and affiliations, such as the Eileen Gray Award (1983); the British Council Fellowship (1986); the Charlotte Köhler Award (1991); Member of Honor of the Bund Deutscher Architekten (1997); the 1822-Kunstpreis 2003 (Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart) (2003); the Charles Jencks Award (2007); and the Honorary Fellowship AIA (2013).
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Books

Delinquent Visionaries (1993)

In Delinquent Visionaries Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos investigate the changing perspective of architecture. This collection of fifteen essays on subjects ranging from the language and notation of architecture to contemporary architects such as Santiago Calatrava, Daniel Libeskind, Nigel Coates and Bernard Tschumi, is a tribute to the architectural imagination. ‘This book should be viewed not so much as a ‘visionary’ collection of writings, but as a well presented accumulation of thoughts, ideas and observations. As a publication it’s formatting and design earnestly corroborates its contents.’, according to Deborah Hauptmann in De Architect.

Mobile Forces (1994)

For this book the authors have chosen to employ the very format of the book to elucidate their architectural approach, differentiating four themes that together constitute a modest repertoire of new architectural definitions: Mobile Forces, Crossing Points, Storing the Detail and Corporate Compactness. All projects are headed under one of these categories. In our electronic age the old architectural definitions have lost much relevance; even the building processes themselves are changing, making it necessary to look afresh at the potential meanings of architecture. Presenting such views in conjunction with the projects in this pioneering way, accompanied by two external essays and four essays by the authors, makes this book less a conventional architectural monograph, than a profoundly theoretical statement.

Museum het Valkhof (1999);

The contemporary museum is a mixture of supermarket, temple and tourist attraction. This heterogeneous collection of functions imposes a great diversity of technical and structural requirements. The wide variety of the objects and works of art belonging to the different museological collections reflect the potential heterogeneity of the building. The central question with respect to the architectural design therefore concerns the insertion of a layer of coherence and continuity by way of protective netting and background to the diversity and differentiation. How to fit the extensive programme with the collections, circulation and climatic and lighting installations? And how to tie together these aspects so as to achieve an integrated whole?

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See also: Top Interior Designers | Gensler California

Move (1999)

Architects are going to be the fashion designers of the future, dressing events to come and holding up a mirror to the world. The re-thinking of public imagination, public space and public forces transforms architects into public scientists. Their imagination is informed as much by the semi-conscious preoccupations of collective vision, such as glamour, mediation, advertising and celebrity, as by the specifics of the discipline. Architecture must engage with the banal dreams of the contemporary world, and stop presenting its products as uncontaminated objects that say only: ‘architecture… Time is on the architect’s side […]’. MOVE examines the architect’s new role in an environment of technological, public and economic change. The redefinition of organizational structures was the common thread running through the original three books.

UNStudio UNFold (2002)

This book documents a number of UNStudio projects and takes critical stock of a welter of previously unpublished designs: the restructuring of the station area in Arnhem, the generating station in Innsbrück, the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) laboratory in Utrecht and the competition-winning design for the Ponte Parodi in Genoa. In this new book UN Studio have draped a personal layer over the analytical project documentation. With texts by Caroline Bos, experiments in associations and out-of-the-rut architectural photography, UNStudio UNFold immerses the reader in the firm’s design process. The book appeared simultaneously with the large retrospective exhibition on the work of UNStudio from May 26 to September 29, 2002 in the Netherlands Architecture Institute.

UNStudio, Design Models (2006)

Design Models is the complete monograph of UNStudio’s output. The book begins with an essay that sets out the principles of their ‘design models’, five conceptual methods that serve as the point of departure for their broad array of project types. Divided by design model, the book’s main section presents 00 concepts and buildings, presented in detail: from the initial, generative diagram through the digital-modelling process, to construction and final outcome. Bookending the projects is a second essay, ‘After Image’, which contemplates the role and representation of contemporary architecture in today’s visual and information culture.

Buy me a Mercedes-Benz (2006);

This book about the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany shows how various forms of expert knowledge have been combined and interwoven to finally result in the Mercedes-Benz Museum. It gives an insight into the various ideas, experiences and ambitions behind the project. At its basis was a unique design model: the digitally programmed, three-dimensional, cross-connected trefoil. Implementing this model has resulted in a building that radically breaks with many of today’s architectural conventions. The aim of the book is to allow the visitor of the Mercedes-Benz Museum to take the building home; it recreates the experience of visiting the complex, yet strongly directional structure which provides many surprising perceptual experiences.

Reflections – Small Stuff by UNStudio (2010)

Reflections, Small Stuff by UNStudio presents a selection of interiors, installations, pavilions and products from the last 20 years. The 30 projects are organised in pairs which form each other’s mirror image, illustrating the idea of reflection and its manifold meanings at literal and symbolic levels. Scattered throughout the book are statements by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos expressing the thoughts behind each design. These texts bear witness to the theoretical richness and versatility at the basis of UNStudio’s highly particular approach to architecture and design.

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Architecture

PONTE PARODI in Genoa, Italy

The Ponte Parodi project establishes a new city attractor based on the proliferation of experience. A three dimensional piazza located on the waterfront combines a variety of programs including a cruise terminal, wellness, cultural and leisure program, all of which bring liveliness to the old harbour. With its low-slung, undulating outlines the piazza provides a park with sport fields, beaches and other public functions while emphasizing the view of Genoa and its Alpine setting.

top-architects-ben-van-berkel-genoa-harbor  Top Architects | Ben van Berkel top architects ben van berkel genoa harbor

URBAN OASIS in Beach Road, Singapore

The Urban Oasis is a unique mixed-use development comprising of office, hotel, retail and residential components within a garden setting. The integral design implementation of sustainable technologies constitutes the driving force behind the design. The two high rise structures – an office tower and a mixed-use residential and hotel tower – are designed as slender volumes. Sky gardens, sun and rain shelters, balconies, terraces and bay-windows are incorporated into the design in a transformative manner. The office tower offers large floor plates, while the lower section of the second tower allows for two luxurious hotels. The residential component is situated on the 22 levels above the hotels, offering high-end apartments with spectacular views. Allocation is made for activity-generating commercial uses in and around the public spaces.

top-architects-ben-van-berkel-urban-oasis  Top Architects | Ben van Berkel top architects ben van berkel urban oasis

CANALETTO in London, England

UNStudio’s design for the Canaletto tower incorporates the remodelling of the facade, a streamlining of the building’s mass and a contrasting of scale and detail untypical of a residential tower. Near and distant townscape views are enhanced through scale, detail and material variation. The building facade creates a modelled elevation in which clusters of adjacent floors are grouped together. Using both textured and smooth materials contrasts with the expected contemporariness of a typical high-rise metal construction and lends the facade a residential ‘twist’. Sustainability benefits are achieved by the surface modelling that creates opportunities for shading, balancing good internal daylight and views with reduced heat gains.

The Canaletto residential tower is located half-way between Old Street and Angel Stations in Islington and comprises of a 31-storey tower with a variety of one, two and three bedroom apartments. Offering waterside living, the tower will also include secure underground parking, swimming pool, gymnasium, resident’s cinema, restaurant, entertainment centre and a sky terrace on the 24th floor.

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Interior Design

GALLERIA DEPARTMENT STORE

The Galleria Department Store project had two main goals. The first was a new façade that projects a lively, ever changing surface and the second was the renovation of the interior into a luxurious integrated design. Inspired by the catwalk the customer finds himself immersed in the world of fashion while moving through the generous corridors. The interior design focuses on the elimination of superfluous details and introduces two new integrated Big Details; the escalator which becomes a moving event space, and the ceiling lighting which becomes a device providing a fluent directionality and dynamics to the shop floors. For the main circulation corridors (catwalks) the lighting is integrated within the dropped ceiling. The illumination of the corridor is designed as a continuous lighting element in the form of linear rails which follow the directions of the pathways below.

top-architects-ben-van-berkel-gallery-interior  Top Architects | Ben van Berkel top architects ben van berkel gallery interior

THE W.I.N.D. HOUSE in North-Holland, Netherlands

The W.I.N.D. House in the north of Holland incorporates both integrated sustainable solutions and home automation, whilst enabling a flexible use of space.

Located on the outskirts of a Dutch village and close to the sea, the house is backed by a wooded area and fronted by an open expanse of polder landscape. The design of the house responds to both its setting and to the seasons. The more intimate working and sleeping areas are located towards the back, where the enclosure of the woods provides an intimate setting, while the living areas enjoy panoramic views of the polder landscape to the front.

The elevated position of the open plan living areas enhances the views to the exterior. Each of the four facades, curve towards the inside to create four distinct petal-like wings. These curving recesses are visually connected to each other through their view lines, which cross at the heart of the building. The vertical organisation of the building follows a centrifugal split-level principle. An open staircase at the centre of the house connects the front and back wings.

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FIVE FRANKLIN PLACE in New York, USA

A 20 story residential building  in TriBeCa, New York City. Five Franklin place pays homage to TriBeCa’s iconic cast-iron aesthetic, with a facade constructed from reflective black metal bands of varying widths. This facade treatment offers privacy with maximum light and views within each residence. The metal bands twist like ribbons, wrapping Five Franklin Place with terraces and balconies, employing this decorative element as a functional tool.

The interiors of the 55 residences are designed in three distinct apartment types: Loft Residences, City Residences and Sky Penthouses, each with their own distinct architectural features, colour palate and choice of materials.

top-architects-ben-van-berkel-five-franklin  Top Architects | Ben van Berkel top architects ben van berkel five franklin

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The Most Iconic Projects

MERCEDES-BENZ MUSEUM in Stuttgart, Germany

The Museum’s sophisticated geometry synthesizes structural and programmatic organizations resulting in a new landmark building celebrating a legendary car. The geometric model employed is based on the trefoil organization. The building’s program is distributed over the surfaces which ascend incrementally from ground level, spiraling around a central atrium. The Museum experience begins with visitors traveling up through the atrium to the top floor from where they follow the two main paths that unfold chronologically as they descend through the building. The two main trajectories, one being the car and truck collection and the other consisting of historical displays called the Legend rooms, spiral downwards on the perimeter of the display platforms, intersecting with each other at several points allowing the visitor to change routes.

top-architects-ben-van-berkel-mercedes-museum-2  Top Architects | Ben van Berkel top architects ben van berkel mercedes museum 2top-architects-ben-van-berkel-mercedes-museum  Top Architects | Ben van Berkel top architects ben van berkel mercedes museum

ERASMUS BRIDGE in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Constructed to facilitate the orchestration of traffic flows, the bridge design is inspired by, and in turn reflects, the industrial character of Rotterdam, adding to the narrative of the city. The bridge operates as the last crossing point between the Northern and Southern areas of the city, whilst its structural scale and design articulation has become a distinctive landmark within the surrounding skyline.

top-architects-ben-van-berkel-erasmus-bridge  Top Architects | Ben van Berkel top architects ben van berkel erasmus bridge

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The Studio

UNStudio was founded in 1988 by Ben van Berkel and his wife Caroline Bos, initially under name “Van Berkel & Bos Architectuurbureau”. In 1998 van Berkel and Bos relaunched their practice as UNStudio, which stands for United Network Studio, referring to the collaborative nature of the practice. Dutch architectural design studio specializes in architecture, urban development and infrastructural projects.

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In 2009 UNStudio Asia was established, with its first office located in Shanghai, China. UNStudio Shanghai is a full daughter of UNStudio and is intricately connected to UNStudio Amsterdam. Initially serving to facilitate the design process for the Raffles City project in Hangzhou, UNStudio Shanghai has expanded into a full-service design office with a multinational team of all-round and specialist architects. In 2014 they opened our third office in Hong Kong.

By luck we had opened an office Shanghai three years ago for a project we did there. We expanded it to a fully organised studio and now we survive also thanks to that. So it’s that we wanted to expand; we are there also because we want to learn from Asia. Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and China are the places at the moment where we have an enormous amount of good work.

Throughout more than 20 years of international project experience, UNStudio has continually expanded its capabilities through prolonged collaboration with an extended network of international consultants, partners, and advisors across the globe. This network, combined with centrally located offices in Amsterdam, Shanghai and Hong Kong, enables them to work efficiently anywhere in the world. With already over seventy projects in Asia, Europe, and North America, the studio continues to expand its global presence with recent commissions in among others China, South-Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Germany and the USA.

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With UNStudio, van Berkel has built several projects, including the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, an LED media façade (designed with Rogier van der Heide) and interior renovation for the Galleria Department store in Seoul, Korea, and a private villa in up-state New York. Current projects are the restructuring of the station area of Arnhem, a masterplan for Basauri, Spain, the Dance Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia and the design and restructuring of the Harbor Ponte Parodi in Genoa.

In 2009 New Amsterdam Pavilion in Battery Park in Manhattan was revealed. The pavilion was presented to the city of New York by the Dutch government to celebrate 400 years of relations between New York and the Netherlands.

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See also: Top Interior Designers | Jean-Louis Deniot

Inspirational Quotes from Ben van Berkel

With UN Studio we have learnt to see projects as public constructions and we have organized ourselves as a flexible platform organization, in which a ‘public scientist’, an architect as the co-coordinating, networking expert of the public realm, has replaced the Baumeister. Ben van Berkel in: A + U: architecture and urbanism. Vol 404-405. 2004

Innovation exists! You just have to accept that today you can’t innovate on your own. Real, significant, innovation occurs mostly when several people simultaneously have the same idea and mysteriously move in the same direction, following subliminally emitted and received signals. The contemporary cultural inclination to see innovation as an inherently collaborative effort, a communal, discursive growing and groping towards the new, as consensual and shared, appears to find confirmation throughout history, going back to the Renaissance, looking at Picasso and Braque, the Surrrealists, and the radical architecture groups of the 1960’s and the early 70’s such as Superstudio and Archigram. So we seek the experiment of working with others, including other architects. What do we have to lose? Instead of being afraid of losing our ‘identity’, maybe we should be glad; let’s liberate ourselves from our brands. Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos in: UN Studio – Amsterdam Architect van het jaar, 2007.

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Maybe the beauty is related to a kind of refinement, an intentionality that we gave to the design. So the elegance is to be found in the texturing of the façade, giving it a more unusual scaling. Interview for Dezeen, 2013

(…) maybe as a Dutchman I like restrictions and I like to play with the puzzle of restrictions. The more difficult, the more I am pressed to innovate. So I like that. Interview for Dezeen, 2013

In a way when you design you are taking on a formal responsibility for the surroundings , so  architecture and urban planning are already political gestures. The fact that I am talking to you is also showing my interest in affirming politics. We have this drive as architects because we need to become immersed in culture. Architecture is a form of political culture, and it is not always your history or your background that matters , but how you look at another culture. We build with responsibility for how you can bring people together  and how people communicate and make  differently than they may have before, in those cases architecture is political. Arch2O Interviews

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