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Paul Laster

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2 August 2013

UNStudio: Building for the Future

New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion, New York, USA, 2008-2011 © James D’Addio

Award-winning architect Ben van Berkel of the Dutch design firm UNStudio recently received another honour in Denver, when he was named an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. No stranger to America, van Berkel has completed several significant projects in the States and taught at Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard, where he’s currently the Kenzo Tange Design Critic in Architecture.

Theatre Agora in Lelystad, HollandTheatre Agora, Lelystad, Holland, 2002-2007 © Iwan Baan

Studying architecture at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and the Architectural Association in London, van Berkel received an AA Diploma with honours in 1987. Following his graduation, he worked with both Zaha Hadid and Santiago Calatrava before co-founding Van Berkel & Bos Architectuurbureau, with Caroline Bos, in Amsterdam in 1988.

VilLA NM, Upstate New York, USAVilLA NM, Upstate New York, USA, 2000-2007 © Christian Richters

Van Berkel and Bos relaunched their practice as UNStudio—with the UN standing for United Network—in 1998. Presenting itself as a network of specialists in architecture, urban design and infrastructure, UNStudio has built some 70 projects over the past 25 years. It employs a staff of 153 professionals from 23 different countries and has more than 100 projects in progress.

Burnham Pavilion in Chicago, USABurnham Pavilion, Chicago, USA, 2008 © Christian Richters

UN Studio’s most notable structures are the Erasmus Bridge, a landmark design that reflects the industrial nature of the city of Rotterdam; Möbius House, a private house whose construction is based on a Mobius loop, in Het Gooi, Holland; the Mercedes-Benz Museum, a spiralling building that displays the company’s historical cars and trucks in Stuttgart, Germany; Galleria Centercity, a dynamically designed department store with multifunctional facilities, in Cheonan, South Korea; VilLA NM, a single family house in Upstate New York that cleverly utilizes a sloping site to define its space; Theatre Agora, multifunctional space for theatre arts and new media with a restaurant and bar, in Lelystad, Holland; and the Mumuth Music Theatre, a glittery mesh-covered building with an adaptable stage, music rooms and offices, in Graz, Austria.

Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, HollandErasmus Bridge, Rotterdam, Holland, 1990-1996 – © Christian Richters 

Besides VilLA NM, UNStudio has designed numerous competition projects in the United States. It received second prize in the competition for the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University in 2009 and was nominated as finalists in the Los Angeles Union Station Vision 2050 competition last year.

Collector’s Loft in New York, USACollector’s Loft, New York, USA, 2007-2010 © Iwan Baan

Other accomplished American projects include the Burnham Pavilion, a highly sculptural structure that was sited in Chicago’s Millennium Park in the summer of 2009; the Collector’s Loft, a luminous Manhattan space for living and exhibiting art together, which was completed in 2010; and the prestigious New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion, a multifunctional information hub that was realized in 2011 at the lower area of Manhattan, where the Dutch first settled New York, or as it was known back then, New Amsterdam.

Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, GermanyMercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany, 2001-2006 © Daimler AG

The strikingly designed New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion was presented as a gift from the Dutch government to the people of New York during 2009’s NY400 Holland on the Hudson festivities, a celebration to commemorate the strong cultural and commercial ties between New York City and Holland—then, now and into the future.

Galleria Centercity in Cheonan, KoreaGalleria Centercity, Cheonan, Korea, 2008-2010 © Christian Richters

All images courtesy of UNStudio, Amsterdam and Shanghai