Architect Jacob van Rijs: ‘In Nieuw Bergen, you’re not an anonymous city dweller, but an involved neighbour.’
The neighbourhood surrounding the Deken van Somerenstraat in Eindhoven is being redeveloped into an enticing residential area with about 220 residences for rent and sale. MVRDV designed the remarkable masterplan, and is also the architect of the seven city icons to be. An interview with Jacob Rijs, co-founder of MVRDV, about the sources of inspiration for this exceptional project.
How did the Nieuw Bergen masterplan come to be?
‘The area is currently more of a thoroughfare, and we were asked to turn this neighbourhood into a proper place to live and stay. I envisioned a neighbourhood where anyone would feel at home, one that caters to a variety of target audiences. How do you tackle a job like this as a designer? By consistently adhering to a solid urban design principle. For us, those were the existing city structures, which we used as creatively as we could. By taking the street plan as a base, we ended up with a grid of erratically-shaped fields. We then raised these fields and cut them at a slope. This resulted in an irregular volume consisting of seven buildings, a three-dimensional reflection of this part of Eindhoven.
Nieuw Bergen called for urban density, but we did want buildings with character rather than simple residential blocks.
Quite a lot of residences had to be realised. How did you manage this?
‘The city centre of Eindhoven is a popular place to live. This called for urban density, but we did want buildings with character rather than simple residential blocks. That was one of the reasons behind our choice for the cut-offs. We did this by imagining a 45-degree plane based on the surrounding buildings. As a result, all 7 buildings have a different height and shape. These cut-offs also offer maximum daylight to each apartment and at street level, which is, of course, a great benefit to prospective residents. The result of these design choices is a series of architecturally remarkable buildings with an exciting silhouette that is somewhat reminiscent of a mountainous range. Hence the name Nieuw Bergen (Literally: New Mountains), which simultaneously refers to the current (nick)names of the neighbourhood; Grote Berg, Kleine Berg, Bergkwartier (Literally: Big Mountain, Small Mountain, Mountain Quarter).’
Isn’t a mountain range a rather bold design for Eindhoven?
‘I think people enjoy living in a truly distinct building. Eindhoven has many faces; Brabant cheer and atmosphere, carnival and PSV are among the first things people think of. It also has that other side, contemporary, innovative, design-focussed. We created an urban mosaic that unifies these faces; if you pass by car, the modern part features more prominently, but if you walk into the neighbourhood from the city, it seamlessly fits the existing low-rise buildings and the brick post-war architecture.’
Why will living in Nieuw Bergen be such a joy?
‘Each residence is surprising in its own way; some have a rugged finish, others have high ceilings and a penthouse feel. The sloped partitions created a wide variety of exceptional top-floor residences. There is little repetition in the project, which means it suits the historic city centre. It has that same, irregular structure. The rental residences in the new buildings have beautiful communal spaces, from large lobbies to roof terraces. Here, people meet in various ways, which benefits social cohesion. ‘In Nieuw Bergen, you’re not an anonymous city dweller, but an involved neighbour’
The project aspires to be sustainable. Where does this show?
‘Sustainability has a range of meanings; buildings such as these fit their surroundings and have longer lifespans, making them more sustainable than buildings that could simply be situated anywhere. Moreover, Nieuw Bergen is green in a variety of ways; we are adding 3,200 m2 of green area to the city. Rainwater is collected, and the roofs are either green or equipped with solar panels. A number of buildings were transformed, and the structure and doors of those were reused. The Indigo building will have a greenhouse for the cultivation of vegetables. These vegetables will be served in the urban farming restaurant on the ground floor. Students from the Montessori school opposite can visit the greenhouse, so it has an educational function as well.’
To what degree does this project change the city?
‘It is a small piece of the puzzle, though an important one. Nieuw Bergen connects the city centre of Eindhoven to the other neighbourhoods. This city district will communicate with the rest of the city in various ways: it represents that authentic “small-town” feel that suits the atmosphere of the city and contrasts with the high-rise buildings on the Edenstraat. The choice of materials also refers to the two different personalities of Eindhoven: from traditional red brick to light-grey, concrete-like materials. If you were to line up the buildings, you’d see a shift from traditional to contemporary.’
What makes New Bergen a typical MVRDV project?
‘The mix of residences: this masterplan does not target a single audience, but is aimed at many. This results in a mix of people, an inclusive design based on variation. This is a concept we often apply in our designs. The suncuts, the sloped roofs, are also a recurring element in MVRDV designs. The residences that we design often have an open and democratic character, with the people at the centre. Finally, the masterplan and architecture of area developments like these are often handled by multiple parties; in Nieuw Bergen, MVRDV is responsible for both the masterplan and the architecture and the detailed implementation. You can really tell it’s a total design.’