in amsterdam, MVRDV has completed a boutique store with a replica façade made entirely out of glass. now open for business, the ‘crystal houses’ scheme has been conceived as an exploration into the possible uses of glass in construction. located on PC hooftstraat, an upmarket shopping street, the entirely transparent façade uses glass bricks, window frames and architraves in a way that evokes the area’s vernacular character. designed for investor warenar, the 620 square meters of retail and 220 square meters of housing respond to the city’s ambition of having distinctive flagship stores without compromising the amsterdam’s historical ensemble.


the brief called for a design which combined dutch heritage with an international sensibility. consequently, MVRDV sought to represent the street’s original buildings through a glass elevation that mimicked the site’s original design — even down to the layering of the bricks, and the details of the window frames. the façade has been stretched vertically to comply with updated zoning laws and to allow for an increase in interior space.

the store features a replica façade made entirely out of glass
image © daria scagliola & stijn brakkee (also main image)




the glazed bricks dissolve into a traditional brick façade for the apartments above, as stipulated in the city’s aesthetics rules.
 the design hopes to provide a solution to the loss of local character in shopping areas around the world. ‘the increased globalization of retail has led to the homogenization of high-end shopping streets,’ says MVRDV. ‘crystal houses offers the store a window surface that contemporary stores need, whilst maintaining architectural character and individuality, resulting in a flagship store that hopes to stand out amongst the rest.’

a boutique chanel store currently occupies the ground floor
image © daria scagliola & stijn brakkee




after conceiving the initial idea, MVRDV worked closely with a number of partners to develop the technologies to make it possible. solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by poesia in resana, near venice, while research undertaken by the delft university of technology, in partnership with engineering firm ABT and contractor wessels zeist, led to the development of structural solutions and fabrication techniques. a high-strength, UV-bonded, transparent adhesive from delo industrial adhesives in germany was used to cement the bricks together, without the need for a more traditional mortar.

the entirely transparent façade uses glass bricks, window frames and architraves
image © daria scagliola & stijn brakkee




we said to the client, ‘let’s bring back what will be demolished but develop it further’, explains winy maas, architect and co-founder of MVRDV. ‘crystal houses make space for a remarkable flagship store, respect the structure of the surroundings and bring a poetic innovation in glass construction. it enables global brands to combine the overwhelming desire of transparency with a couleur locale and modernity with heritage. it can thus be applied everywhere in our historic centers.’

the brief called for a design which combined dutch heritage with an international flavor
image © daria scagliola & stijn brakkee




due to the sensitivity of the materials, an extremely high level of accuracy and craftsmanship was required, and a technical development team was onsite throughout the process. as this project is the first of its kind, new construction methods and tools had to be utilized: from high-tech lasers and laboratory grade UV-lamps, to slightly lower-tech dutch full-fat milk, which, with its low transparency, proved to be an ideal liquid to function as a reflective surface for leveling the first layer of bricks. strength tests proved that the glass-construction was in many ways stronger than a concrete alternative, with the full-glass architrave capable of withstanding a force equivalent to two full-sized SUVs.

solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by poesia
image © poesia




according to the architects, the development of new construction methods unearthed additional possibilities for future building — such as the minimization of waste materials. ‘in essence, all of the glass components are completely recyclable,’ says MVRDV. ‘waste materials from the project, such as imperfect bricks, could simply be (and were) melted down and remoulded or entirely repurposed. such is also true for the entire façade itself, once the building has reached the end of its life span, the whole facade can be melted down and given a new life.’ the only exceptions are features which ensure the security of the building, such as a concrete ram-raid defense plinth, hidden in a blend of reflective and translucent materials and built to withstand the force of a car crashing into the building. in addition, repair-protocols have been developed in the event of any damage, allowing for the replacement of individual bricks.

research was undertaken by the delft university of technology
image © MVRDV




with a glazed façade, it was important to ensure that renewable sources were used to meet energy requirements. as a result, the building is designed around a ground source heat pump, allowing for an optimal indoor climate throughout the year. the store is currently operated by french fashion house chanel, which will later return to its previous location on the PC hooftstraat.

transparent adhesive was used to cement the bricks together
image © MVRDV



the making of crystal houses in amsterdam
video courtesy of warenar | real estate amsterdam




project info:


name: crystal houses
location: amsterdam, netherlands
completed: april, 2016
lead architect: MVRDV
client: warenar real estate amsterdam, the netherlands
program: 620 sqm of retail, and 220 sqm of housing


MVRDV: winy maas, gijs rikken, mick van gemert, (renske v/d stoep)
gietermans & van dijk: wim gietermans, arjan bakker, tuğrul avuçlu


glass bricks manufacturer: poesia (brand of vetreria resanese) — ivano massarotto
importer of delo glue:
 siko — rob janssen
contractor: wessels zeist — robert van der hoef, richard van het ende, marco en ronald van de poppe
constructor: brouwer&kok — paul brouwer, ABT: rob nijsse
research: delft university of technology — frederic a. veer, faidra oikonomopoulou, telesilla bristogianni
municipality aesthetics commission:
welstand: charlotte ten dijke, ellis van den hoek, natasja hogen, patrick koschuch, alexander pols, gus tielens, marcel van winsen, pepijn diepenveen