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Richard Koek

Yesterday afternoon, we had the pleasure of attending the opening day of  Ben van Berkel’s New Amsterdam Pavilion in Peter Minuit Plaza, just outside Battery Park in Manhattan.  After walking around the pavilion and watching New Yorkers’ first encounters with the new sculptural piece, we had the opportunity to study the project with Mr. van Berkel as he explained his ideas and process. The pavilion is a gift from the Netherlands to New York in honour of 400 years of friendship; yet the pavilion does not attempt to physically manifest a representation of that relationship.  Rather, the pavilion can be interpreted in different ways and speaks to both the history and the future of the city.

More about our talk with van Berkel and more images after the break.


Situated in a prime location, the pavilion is just feet away from the hectic subway station, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and Battery Park.   “It is the ideal site…it is steeped in a sense of a shared past and looks directly toward the harbour where Henry Hudson sailed.  It is also focused on the future by virtue of its role as a modern transportation hub within the constantly changing scene of Lower Manhattan. This is a site where history meets the future,” explained van Berkel. The form’s wings point toward historical places, such as the Hudson, and also point toward the future of the skyline, as a way to connect the two.

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With an estimated 75,000 people passing by, the pavilion will act as the heart of a busy intersection with people crossing over and meeting, coming together and interacting. “Not only tourists, but also locals, people commuting from the train station, from the terminal, from the city, can come here and grab a coffee, can get information from side of pavilion, ask where to go, where to see, where to take a boat,” explained van Berkel.

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The undulating form creates several facades; one facade provides digital information acquainting visitors with the surrounding neighborhood, another provides information about events in The Netherlands, another acts as an information desk, while still another façade will become a food and beverage outlet, with seating provided on the surrounding Plein.

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Constructed from simple materials, namely wood, steel, and glass, the pavilion’s form experiments with how surfaces can morph into a continuous series of walls, ceilings and floors.  “By keeping it simple, the idea of the pavilion is how it all comes together,” explained van Berkel.  Working with the idea of blending, the diagonal fritted glass pattern helps the opaque white exterior surface transition to transparent glass. “It serves as a relationship to blend between different materials,” noted van Berkel.

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With only nine months to complete the pavilion (and working through more than half a dozen design iterations), the project was constructed in Virginia to save time.   Huge trucks transported the pieces of the pavilion to New York in the middle of the night.  Yet, although rushed, van Berkel did not seem hindered by the time limit.  In shorter projects, he explained, it is more about the form and making that form work; in longer projects, “with more time, the initial form may be compromised.”

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There are a few imperfections in the skin as it is not as smooth as van Berkel would have liked. Although another 3 or 4 layers will be added to make the exterior smooth, van Berkel added, “I don’t need the form to be so super shiny. I like the effect of the unevenness…you can see that people have worked on it. You can see layer after layer, and it shows some of the life in the materials.”

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The white exterior constantly reflects the surroundings, and as one stays there throughout the course of the afternoon, the finish slowly changes from a lighter blue to a warmer red.  The pavilion will be equipped with LED lighting so that during the night, it will seem to glow.

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Noting his earlier design of the Villa NM, where the volumes seamlessly transition to allow a “fluid continuity between interior and landscape”, van Berkel explained that the design of the Amsterdam pavilion allowed him to revisit previous ideas and rethink certain aspects.

Since the pavilion is brand new, those viewing it stare at its minimalistic form and gleaming white surfaces.  It will be interesting to see, in the passing months, how New Yorkers will react to the piece.  Once the plaza and seating area are complete, (the surrounding area will also be designed by van Berkel) there is little doubt that this pavilion will surpass the success of van Berkel’s latest Chicago pavilion.

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