The Building

Nice-looking, strokable and made entirely from wood

Utrecht is dotted with special buildings, some of which are well-concealed. Like the new building on the leafy Monicahof: nice-looking, strokable and made entirely from wood.

text: Martine Bakker
photography: Jeroen Musch

‘Wood’ is the new buzzword in the world of architecture, although there’s still some debate about where to source it. Does good-quality wood grow quickly enough, and would it be responsible to switch to wood en masse? So for now, most new buildings are made from a combination of wood, concrete and steel, with a few exceptions. On Monicahof for example, between Oudenoord, Herenweg, Singelstraat and Weerdsingel, a building constructed entirely from wood was nominated for the Rietveld prize in 2022. It is three stories high, which is unusual for a wooden building. The upper floors are apartments and the ground floor provides office space.

The tall trees around the square create an oasis of tranquillity. The new building is tucked into a corner at the back. This land used to belong to the parish; the St Monica Church dating from 1886 stood on the corner of Herenweg and Oudenoord. It was closed in 1971 and demolished in 1977. The vicarage was the only parish building that remained, thanks to the squatters who’d taken up temporary residence there. Their community, the Harmonica Collective, still exists and they now rent the vicarage from the Bo-Ex.

In 2021, the community and other local ‘hof’ residents watched as a new building made from prefabricated elements was constructed behind them in just under three weeks. Spectacular, although not everyone was overjoyed. Legal wranglings about the plans had been going on for 20 years, ending up in the Supreme Court. Architect Ramin Visch was involved from the start (his uncle Luuk Visch owns the land), and he used the time to perfect his design. He and his uncle wanted their new building to be modest and refined, but also eye-catching.

Ramin changed his design from concrete and steel to a warmer material: wood. He spent weeks sketching the details, such as the edges and rounded corners. The final result is beautiful, sleek and simple.  The two long, blind side walls feature elegant slats, and the shorter sides have windows across their full width. Each of the apartments on the two floors have one of these windows. The residents share three balconies, bordering on the stairwell. Multiplex has been widely used inside, and the sleeping area is separated from the living area by a curtain. The apartments are fairly rudimentary, but then again, you don’t need much more than a wonderful view and lots of strokable wood in this part of town.

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