Ben van Berkel is the co-founder and principal architect at UN Studio, an international network of specialists in architecture, urban development, and infrastructure based in the Netherlands. The office, which was founded in 1988, has completed projects around the world ranging from Rotterdam’s Erasmus Bridge to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. With over 81 built projects, and 54 currently in progress (including Raffles City in Hangzhou and Scotts Tower in Singapore), London’s Canaletto Tower (which is due to be completed in 2015) marks the practice’s first major project in the UK.
Architecture is just background. The beauty of architecture is that it brings people together and can create public constructs. Once you know how to make this work you can also make it attractive, not only in its image but also in it’s after image. It becomes something that people can come back to and reanalyze.
Mentioned below are 15 examples of the work of Ben Van Berkel, UN studio which displays his holistic thinking and best defines his unique style and ideology.
1. Scotts Tower, Singapore | Ben Van Berkel
The 18,500 m², 31-storey, 231-unit tower consists of 1 to 3-bedroom apartments and 4-bedroom penthouses; expansive landscaped gardens, and diverse recreational facilities. The concept of The Scotts Tower is that of a vertical city incorporating a variety of residence types and scales. In addition, outdoor green areas in the form of the sky terraces, penthouse roof gardens and individual terraces form an important element of the design. The vertical city concept is interpreted in the tower in three scales; the “city”, the “neighborhood” and the “home”. The three elements of the vertical city concept along with the green areas are bound together by two gestures: the “vertical frame” and the “sky frames”. The vertical frame organizes the tower architecturally in an urban manner. The frame affords the tower the vertical city effect by dividing the four residential clusters into different neighborhoods. The sky frames – at the lobby (level 1 and level 2) and sky terrace (level 25) – organize the amenity spaces and green areas of the tower.
2. World Horticultural Expo, China
UNStudio’s design for the World Horticultural Expo 2014 Theme Pavilion consists of the Main Expo Hall, a Performance Hall, Conference Centre, and a Media Centre. The design focuses on the relationship between Science and Nature. Whilst scientific achievement serves as an inspiration, the design communicates the essential generative and structural principles of nature through architectural gesture. The buildings become gently absorbed in the landscape, whilst maintaining their individual identities. The architecture of the Theme Pavilion further responds to the dominant skyline of the mountains surrounding the Masterplan by means of carefully composed roofscapes on the individual buildings. These roofs are envisioned as elevated landscaped plateaus, each addressing a different portion of the Masterplan with its inclination and terracing, providing panoramic views that extend far into the surrounding landscape.
3. UN Studio’s Standtable
Working off the principle that movement inspires productivity and focus, the StandTable reimagines the traditional round table as three surfaces of varying heights to encourage several work stances. At 90cm, 100cm, and 110cm, the user is free to move among the surfaces throughout the day, encouraging activity and stimulation. The curved form of the station also maximizes its flexibility and usable area, as the user enjoys the spatial freedom of not only working at the desk but also around it. Treated with wood, Formica, and fabric, the three work surfaces offer further stimulation, while each station is embedded with USB ports for centralized work across digital platforms. A compact storage space allows personal belongings to be stored at arm’s length for easy access.
4. The Coolest White, Switzerland
The dark-colored, heat-retaining materials that are used to construct the buildings in our cities are one of the main causes of the urban heat island effect. Buildings absorb solar radiation and store heat from the sun, which means they not only require large amounts of energy to achieve adequate interior cooling but that the absorbed heat is also released into the surrounding urban environment. As global warming threatens to exacerbate this problem there is a pressing need for intelligent solar heating management solutions for our cities. That’s why UNSProducts and UNSknowledge have developed The Coolest White with Monopol Colors. The Coolest White is an ultra-durable paint that protects buildings and urban structures from excessive solar radiation – thus slowing down the Urban Heat Island Effect. The paint is based on fluoropolymer technology. It has long-lasting and ultra-durable properties that prolong the lifecycle of the coating up to 30 years. The multi-layered coating system was developed for high-quality metallic facade elements and aluminum, steel or fiberglass structures.
5. Youturn Pavilion, Brazil | Ben Van Berkel
Youturn Pavilion is one of six ‘terreiros’ created for the 29th Art Biennale in Sao Paulo, Brazil 2010. Located at the heart of the biennale, the pavilion operates primarily as a venue. Programmatically the pavilion invites the public to meet, orientate and observe. It provokes interaction between both participants and visitors to the biennale, creating a place for display, discussion, and debate. The UNStudio Pavilion places itself between artwork, installation, and architecture. The Youturn Pavilion forms the ‘I am the street’ terreiro, one of six conceptual groupings of integrated curatorial spaces at the biennale. Events that occur within the space can range from intimate discussions to large group presentations.
6. Theatre of Immanence, Germany
The group exhibition, Ben van Berkel & the Theatre of Immanence, consists of an advanced installation designed by Ben van Berkel, together with Prof. Johan Bettum and Luis Etchegorry. The installation, named The Thing, consists of an upper and a lower level. The upper level serves as a form of theatre and the lower level as a more traditional exhibition space. The installation houses a series of works by artists and architects who have participated in the one-year long experimental project, entitled The Space of Communication, a project by the Städelschule Architecture Class, which consisted of a group of international artists and architects investigating various aspects of the contemporary conditions for social interaction and communication. The exhibition presents an advanced shape projection design on architecture.
7. Mercedes Benz Museum, Germany
The exhibition areas are structured around a central triangular atrium that rises as an open core through the building. This impressive void frames the inner workings of the building and offers to change perspectives of the interior as visitors weave their way through the exhibitions. Alternating between open and enclosed the exhibition spaces are linked by the intersecting, spiral routes. This routing enables visitors to view the exhibits from near and far, as well as from above when descending into the gallery spaces. In case of fire, smoke is extracted from the building through a novel ‘tornado’ smoke elimination system developed especially for the museum. Smoke is sucked from the open gallery spaces into the void and then released via 144 air nozzles at the top of the atrium.
8. New Budapest Bridge, Hungary
The design proposal for New Budapest Bridge, by Ben Van Berkel’s UNStudio with Buro Happold Engineering, is conceived as a gateway between Ujbuda and Csepel. It is a new landmark for Budapest that is both contemporary in design and innovative in structural form. A much-needed bridge over the Danube in the post-industrial southern area of Budapest, the design directly connects the bridge to the Urban DNA of its location and acts as a catalyst for the future development of this up and coming area.
Ben van Berkel: “It was essential that the bridge would be in harmony with Budapest – which owes much of its configuration to the surrounding landscape – and its future vision. It was also important that the bridge enables unobstructed views below and above the bridge deck. We wanted it to operate as a clear gateway to the city, like an inviting gesture of hands.”
9. Hardt Hyperloop, Netherlands | Ben Van Berkel
This is the Hardt Hyperloop Hub: a vision for the future of European Hyperloop stations, and a study of how the Hyperloop can incorporate itself into cities and towns of different sizes and contexts. Existing cities have existing parameters, and we envisage a symbiotic, modular approach to integrating into the local environment.
Modularity is what makes this system scalable, resilient and adaptable to existing conditions. Within the Hub’s design, a series of tessellating components allow it to adapt to a range of contexts: city-center, city periphery or joint to an existing infrastructural hub, such as an airport. It blends into the built fabric whether above or overground, in dense inner-city neighborhoods or in low-rise settings. From platforms, functional spaces and a roof that extends out over the transfer hubs, a modular design framework organizes and connects all parts.
10. The Challenge Museum, South Korea
Ben Van Berkel’s design proposal for the Challenge Museum, a unique museum in South Korea, creates an immersive and participatory experience for visitors, where exhibition and architecture blend with each other and with surrounding nature.
The building’s massing and general site approach contrasts with urban conditions and provides restful, flexible outdoor spaces that encourage community engagement. With a compulsory two-minute walk through farmland, the approach to the museum creates a grounded, organic experience for visitors, allowing them to feel connected with the earth.
11. Limassol Hotel & Residences | Ben Van Berkel
Ben Van Berkel’s design proposal for the Limassol Hotel and Residential building is a future-proof, user-centric approach to living. Unlike typical high-rise developments that place the tower behind the plinth, our proposal places the tower at the front – making the most of its sea, mountain and historic city views. Kinks are introduced into the massing to accentuate exposure, while a shaded passageway connects the two sides of the site. The living spaces feature a hybrid living room-balcony, with vertical sliding windows that fully open up the interior room to join the balcony. This window feature makes full use of the balcony area, creating an efficient and inclusive space. Communal amenities beyond the living spaces encourage communal experiences, with a Mindfulness zone, rooftop sky-lounge, swimming pool and club lounge. Flexibility lies at the core of the hexagonal design. The floor plan hosts mainly single rooms along the long sides of the hexagon, while junior suites sit at corner positions. Different units can be connected as combined apartments in order to host larger units. In addition, the shafts and MEP positioning, the stacking of services, the ample ceiling heights, together with the provision for light interior walls facilitate future layout changes.
12. Raffles City Hangzhou
As the Capital of the Zhejiang province, Hangzhou is steeped in tradition with a view to the future. While the city’s heritage focuses on the picturesque UNESCO heritage-listed West Lake, its future points to a new economic, political and cultural center orientated towards the river. With strong future ambitions especially concerning sustainability, economy, and liveability, Hangzhou is a city on the move. In the design of the two towers, the urban face of the project twists towards the landscape, while the landscape aspect, in turn, acknowledges the urban context. Through this, the urban context and the landscape of the city are consolidated in one gesture. The main entrance to the south of the corner site appears as a prominent gateway from the city park and civic center, as it borders both the urban built-up context and green axis/city park that connects West Lake to the Qiantang River. Reflecting on the movement in the river, the tower design features a wave-like motion. These concentric waves increase in their dynamism, starting calmly at the base and building
13. Southbank by Beulah
The design proposal by Ben Van Berkel’s UNStudio with Cox Architecture for Southbank by Beulah aims to establish a new destination for the Southbank area and Melbourne. The project is integrally organized by one Big Detail: a ‘Green Spine’ of vertically networked platforms, terraces, and verandas. This multifaceted spine is created by the splitting open of the potential single mass at its core, thereby forming two separate high rise structures and causing them to reveal the almost geological strata of their core layers as they rise above a light-filled canyon. As a result of this design intervention, the towers that result on either side can enjoy porous city views and vastly improved contextual links. The orientation of the Green Spine enables an extension of the public realm on the podium, the continuation of green onto the towers and facilitates orientation to the CBD and the Botanical Garden at the top of the towers. In addition to being fully integrated within the existing Melbourne network of cultural, entertainment, leisure and commercial venues on offer, with its variety of programs and connectivity, the design further proposes a mixed-use building that is a city in itself. A host of programs, including recreation, retail, offices, residential, hotel and exhibition spaces are integrated into the vertically stepped public infrastructure – an infrastructure that is formed by indoor-outdoor spatial frames that embed nature, public space, and culture. On a local level, the aim of the design is to provide porousness at street level, whilst simultaneously connecting the upper floors with the streetscape by expanding the public realm.
14. Future Farms
Where will our food grow in the future?
Which technological developments will change the way food is produced?
How will these innovations change the landscape of both the countryside and the city?
The Future Farms project proposes flagship locations for farming developments in Amsterdam’s regional food system. The study, carried out in cooperation with Rabobank, presents a vision for our agricultural future. It explores the possibilities and potential impacts that future farming methods may have on our physical environment.
The vision consists of a proposal for an urban and a rural farm, as well as public functions within these farms in which farmers, food experts, and the public can gather to explore, develop and experience food production in the metropolitan area of Amsterdam. These new Future Farms can set a global example, going beyond food production to house public programs in the form of a food campus: research facilities, food startup incubators, food debate centers, food markets, and many more items can create thriving locations to be visited by people from all ages and backgrounds.
15. Future City, Hague | Ben Van Berkel
Ben Van Berkel’s UNStudio has created a new urban vision for the City of the Future, a Central Innovation District (CID) test site in The Hague. Dubbed the “Socio-Technical City”, the design covers a 1 square km area in the center of the city. The proposal aims to transform the site into a green, self-sufficient district of housing, offices, urban mobility and public spaces over the existing train track infrastructure. UN Studio’s vision for The Hague is one of the studies made for ‘The City of the Future’, a joint initiative by BNA Research (the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects), the Delft University of Technology, the Delta Metropolis Association, the municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Eindhoven, the Directorates-General for Mobility and Transport, the Environment and Water, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Interior. The project started in January 2018, when 10 multidisciplinary design teams were tasked with investigating new ways of city-making using five test locations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and Eindhoven.