This building was the first large complex realized by MVRDV. Commissioned by the Het Oosten Housing Association, Wozoco - built between 1994 and 1997 - is a building of 100 homes for the population over 55 years. It is located in Ookmeerweg street in Amsterdam-Osdorp, a garden city west of Amsterdam built between 1950 and 1960, now threatened by the growth of dense construction and with the elimination of green areas and common spaces outdoors.
The challenge was to make a building capable of blocking the monotonous sounds of the construction done in those years ion the peripheries of large cities, and also design a building that respected the quality of life and urban growth.
The extravagant profile of Wozoco was born from one of the obstacles encountered during the project: the regulatory plan of Cornelis Van Eesteren limited the number of apartments per block to 87 units, and each tenant was promised good natural lighting. The client's request later changed to 100 units per block. It was clear that the creation 13 more units per block would have to occupy another floor, which would further limit the green common space, yet another attitude the client wanted to fight. So the 13 additional units were suspended from the side of the main structure.
This idea has turned Wozoco into one of the most original buildings in the panorama of contemporary architecture: the thirteen "surplus" units were literally hung from the facade north of the main body, like large projected boxes, and in this way avoided occupying even more land.
The client, a large housing corporation, had made general studies of the arrangement of 100 units for elderly people, as part of intensifying a 60's neighborhood. They wanted to have a gallery-type circulation but were not able to fit in the units in acceptable way. So MVRDV was invited to solve the problem.
At their first meeting, one model drew attention. It was a half jokingly attempt, where architects glued the houses that would not fit inside the gallery block to the other side of the volume.
The client immediately understood the potential, and MVRDV got 3 weeks to 'make it work', in terms of budget. Together with a creative quantity surveyor and a structural engineer, they were able to produce a budget analysis that did not exceed their limit, and they could continue with the project.
The official explanation is as follows:"To still provide adequate sunlight into the surrounding buildings only 87 of the 100 units could be realized within the slab. Where could the remaining 13 dwellings be positioned? If they were put elsewhere on the site, the open space would be further reduced. A deeper slab with narrower units did not seem possible. The North-South orientation of the block meant that the generator had to be a 7.20 meter module. By cantilevering the remaining 13 units from the north facade, they are literally suspended in the air. The hanging East-West orientated types complete the North-South dwellings in the block with a view over the adjacent polder. An economic layout for the main slab could lead to savings of 7 to 8% of the cost, enough to compensate for the 50% more expensive hanging units. The Spartan gallery flat becomes acceptable. Each gallery is given a different perspective. By changing window positions, balcony sizes and varying balcony materials, the different flats acquire their own character. With the party walls constructed 8 cm thicker than structurally necessary (for sound insulation) it became possible to use this extra thickness for the connection of the cantilever trusses without having to increase the weight of the load-bearing walls."
When the project was completed, it was clear, that MVRDV had realized the social housing project with the lowest building-costs in Amsterdam (applause). This was the result of inexperience. They think, that nowadays they would have told the client that he should increase his budget, but as a young architect they just did it for the budget they gave us.
Almost 10 years later, averagely 2-3 touring-cars and numerous taxi's and rent-a-bikes with architectural tourist now visit the outskirts of the so called western garden cities to see the hanging houses of Amsterdam.