Interview with Jos-Willem van Oorschot
1) Briefly introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about your practice. What do you work on? What are the issues you aim to address in your profession?
VenhoevenCS is an innovative bureau for sustainable architecture, urban development, and infrastructure, attuned to meeting the challenges of our time. Founded by Ton Venhoeven in Amsterdam in 1995, VenhoevenCS has since grown into a renowned design and consultancy practice, with five partners and an international team of architects, urban planners, and technical engineers. VenhoevenCS believes that our planet provides ample space for all living things to co-exist peacefully and sustainably. But as the world population and global prosperity increase rapidly, we need to fundamentally adjust the way we shape and structure our use of the planet.
I joined VenhoevenCS architecture+urbanism in 1998 as an architect and since 2016 I am one of the partners of VenhoevenCS. As creative director, I am responsible for the design quality of all projects. I work on internationally acclaimed projects – many of those in China – but am also involved in more local projects, such as swimming pools in Zoetermeer and Zaanstad, and the design of a mixed-use housing complex opposite Amstel train station in Amsterdam: AMST.
Next to this, I taught architecture at Delft University of Technology and have been a visiting critic and jury member of graduate projects at Artez Academy in Arnhem, and the Academies of Architecture in Groningen and Amsterdam.
In my spare time, I like to travel the world with the aim to get to know as many cultures as possible. This helps me understand and find solutions for current and future developments. So far, I have traveled to more than 175 countries – with hopefully many more to come!
2) What are your thoughts over the issues raised by the Amsterdam Cycling Bridge competition? What aspects are central when we talk about designing such a connection over the Ij?
When thinking about creating a physical connection, the design should cover more than just the creation of a connection for solely practical reasons or transport. I would suggest that, in this case, it is important to question how the bridge could add something to Amsterdam as a city. Could a new connection mean that the city gets the opportunity to become more biodiverse, for example? Or does the connection create a social connection between neighbourhoods that need more interaction with other parts of the city? Architecture is way more than a construction, but should be about social and cultural aspects too. It should become a place where people feel safe and assisted – while naturally making use of a connection that gets them from place A to B in a fast and comfortable way.
3) Are there any reference projects you could suggest to inspire our community for this design challenge? Why did you choose this specific example?
One of the projects I have worked on in the past is the Jan Schaefer Bridge – which is also a connection over the IJ river in Amsterdam. The bridge is an example of a connection doing more than just connecting two parts of the city: it also created a pedestrian area along the water and a public space. The bridge consists of two sections that can open up – also accommodating Sail Amsterdam: an event with tall ships held in Amsterdam every five years. Besides, the custom-designed bridge cuts straight through the heart of the municipal heritage Pakhuis de Zwijger warehouse, which is converted into a conference center for urban issues. These are examples of how a bridge can be more than a physical connection. Furthermore, the bridge offers multiple public promenades and bicycle lanes for the local community, which makes this bridge greater than a monofunctional traffic bridge for cars.
Another example from outside of our office is the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. I am amazed by the way in which this medieval bridge encourages more than passing over. It allows for Florence’s city functions and public space to continue in a natural and nearly elegant way – on a bridge. It is as if this place is not a bridge but just another one of the magnificent streets with shops etc. It blends into the city and at the same time adds social and cultural functions to the city. When a bridge becomes a place that fits in naturally with the environment or adds to a city’s functions, cohesion and society – that’s when you know architecture was done right.
4) In your experience, what does it take to win an architecture competition?
In short: tick all the boxes. When it comes to architecture competitions, a first selection is done based on one question: does the design meet all expectations or requirements asked for? After that is covered, it all comes down to becoming the exception – or maybe it is even about becoming exceptional. Be innovative, surprise the jurors, think about how to include aspects of sustainability, be creative when it comes to technical aspects, take into account how to cover the economical sides to a design and basically go crazy within the boundaries of a realistic solution. Dare to think different and bend the rules while following them. I very much look forward to seeing all of the great designs within this competition!