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New Orleans

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This weekend ‘New Orleans’ in Rotterdam will be officially opened. The building has been designed by the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. Michiel van Raaij, editor-in-chief of and AWM, interviewed the architect via telephone on his design.

After the tower you designed at the at the Céramique terrain in Maastricht this is the second apartment tower you have designed in the Netherlands. What are some of the challenges you have encountered when designing apartment towers here?
Siza: “Before you start designing there is a lot predetermined. The building volume, the program, local regulations, and so on. That is the challenge.”

At ‘New Orleans’ the housing program is combined with jazz-/filmtheatre LantarenVenster. Housing can be considered to be the ‘background’ of the city, while a theatre as public building can stand out in the cityscape. How did you deal with the differences in the program?
“I don’t recognize that dilemma. It is very good that the building also contains public program. That makes the building more varied than it would have been with only dwellings. The jazz-/film-theater makes the building
more interesting.”

Why did you design an all-sided tower? The high-rises in the neighborhood, like the ones of Mecanoo, Foster+Partners and Renzo Piano have designed, have more of a direction.
“The square tower was requested. The economy balanced with the program forces you, almost automatically, to design a square tower. The location of the tower on the Wilhelminapier in Rotterdam is also important. While the tower of Foster is located at the front of the peninsula, my tower stands in the centre.”

What is your reference for the top of the tower. Did you look at New York?
“Yes, of course. When designing skyscrapers one looks at America. That is where they were first designed, in Chicago and later in New York. The history is there. The name of the building also refers to America. I have especially looked at the period at the end of the nineteenth century, when the first skyscrapers were designed.”

The facade of ‘New Orleans’ is clad in natural stone. In the Netherlands natural stone as a building material is quite uncommon. Why did you chose this material? Did the client ask for it?
“I proposed it and the client agreed with it. At the tower that I designed for Vesteda at the Céramique terrain in Maastricht, the client asked for it.”

“It is not true that it is uncommon in the Netherlands. In the old inner cities one sees a lot of plinths and monumental buildings in natural stone. There are a lot, a lot of buildings in natural stone. The material has of course to be imported. To say that one can only use a local material really is something of the past. I have proposed marble from Italy, at which the client proposed to order it from China. In Italy, where they excavate the material themselves, they are also using natural stone from China. It is cheaper.”

“That I wanted natural stone, has to do with the image I had in mind. And that developed from the fascination for New York. I wanted a building that from the ground to the top would be made out of one material.”

“Originally the building by the way had two towers. The building was almost symmetrical. The program of the towers differed. That was good: it was symmetrical, but not symmetrical. I liked that design better. Right at Central Park in New York there is a symmetrical skyscraper. That building has a higher basis, but I used that concept. Probably because of economical reasons one tower was cancelled. Because the building permit had already been discussed and granted, I wasn’t allowed to change the design.”

What were your considerations at the design of the balconies?
“The balcony is applied all over the Netherlands. I have experience at designing social housing in the Netherlands, in The Hague. There the balconies were obliged, and they had large dimensions. In the Netherlands you just have to apply them in your design. The balconies in ‘New Orleans’ do provide some extra cover. Because of the wind there will be moments that you can’t sit there. On other moments it will be fantastic.”

Both in the low-rise as in the high-rise you apply symmetry in the design. Could you say something about this?
“In most of my designs I don’t apply symmetry, because it is not an appropriate solution. But it depends. Sometimes it is appropriate. Like here.”

What is your experience with working in the Netherlands. How do you see the building culture?
“As I said, I have earlier worked on social housing in the Netherlands. What struck me was how thorough the actual building is planned. There is a lot of experience with building and a lot of attention goes to the (future, ed.) maintenance. Everything, up to the detailing, is tuned to that. The building quality is very high. The interiors of the housing are not finished. The buyers of the apartments can do that themselves. Only some prefab elements are put in place. As an architect you can design the entrance hall of the tower. I didn’t design the interior of the cinema. I am glad. Another office did that.”
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