Crafting Narratives

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Crafting Narratives

CIVIC Architects 



Who influences you graphically? 

We mostly look at movies, paintings and historical architectural visualizations. For instance, the colorful universes of Luc Besson (like the fifth Element) give us new openings. The unique way Wes Anderson captures different atmospheres in one dollhouse is an inspiration for telling multiple stories in one image.

Diego Velazquez creates ambiguous spaces, interiors that encompass several worlds, where endless layers of meaning are conveyed, as seen in Las Meninas. Saenredam paints interiors that are used in ways that were not planned. Stripped of all their ornaments, these spaces become real extensions of public space. And of course, Dennis Hopper with his sequences of atmospheric spaces and views.

On a theoretical level, Joseph Gandy’s drawing of the John Soane’s Bank of England is inspirational. The image is really ambiguous: Is it a ruin? Is it still under construction? This artistic approach to the concept of changing over time is really important to us.



What defines the aesthetic language for a project? 

Visualizations for us have a double significance. They are means of representation, and they are things that hold a value of their own (the image has to be interesting on itself). A representations is never neutral. A good visualization conveys not only the essence of the spatial experience of a project, but also communicates the most important thing the project aims for: call it ‘the concept’, but then without the connotation of a simplistic scheme. Because for us, the concept can also be a atmospherical experience. Maybe ‘the narrative’ is a better word.

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Little boxes along the Railway _Anti Graffiti Facade

Three representational themes always play a role: Time (the passing of time, aging, the relation to history and the future but also to day, night and the different seasons), Atmosphere (materialization, sensoric quality) and public quality (context, relation with public space, use etcetera).



You explore each project through different means, on what basis do you choose what tools are relevant to each project? 

This is influenced by two main factors:

Firstly, what we want to represent in each specific project: the narrative. Although we work with several themes invariably in every project, the narrative always varies and we choose to communicate this in different ways. Sometimes we make a very symbolical image, sometimes something more conceptual, sometimes logistic, sometimes purely in terms of atmosphere. Each narrative asks for different tools/methods, from digitalized watercolor painting to movement animations, weathered photorealistic rendering to physical models.

The second factor is our constant search for new inspiration. Everyone involved in CIVIC brings in new representational ideas, also from outside the direct realm of architecture. These references (which can also be theories) inspire our visualizations.


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Frankfurt Book Fair _Flamish-Dutch pavillion


How important is texture in establishing a certain materiality or is it more about atmosphere? 

Texture is atmosphere and vice versa, we use the one to convey the other and the other way around. We put a lot of effort in this. The current trend of creating ‘flat’ images, where all the elements of the design are more or less pushed into one plain is not always an effective method for us. Instead we try to add dimensions and turn our images into 4D: an additional dimension of time, meaning and enduring spatial atmosphere.

We use texture as a clear representation of the envisioned built result. Texture is never a placeholder in the image or something to just make the image look better. For us it represents a clear design choice and we use our imagines as a constant reminder of our ambition throughout the project, even in the building process.


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Centre for Children _Hazelaar Competition


What are the main difficulties you fase when translating the two dimensional drawing into a three dimensional space? How does the outcome relate to the initial image? 

We face these problems the other way around. We think and design in 3d. The problem we face is translating a three-dimensional space in a two dimensional, abstracted representation. We tend to find this extremely difficult and we are still trying to find the perfect technique for this. We guess this will remain an ongoing research project until the day we stop designing.


 Cycling through the Trees 

Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge Competition

Biking is no longer just a way to move from A to Z, it has become a lifestyle with many faces. And the way we use the bike keep on changing, take for example the cyclocross race that is immensely popular, or the impressive emergence of the electric bicycle, making it possible to cycle further and easier.

Cycling in and around Bosland in Belgium is unusually popular. There is a reason a widely used cycling node of different routes that connects the Church, Lommel, Overpelt and other destinations. The fact that cycling is also economically interesting shows the investments that are made, with the program ´Cycling through water, Cycling Underground and Cycling through the trees´ as a impressive result. Thus, cycling is not just moving, it’s also an experience.

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Our proposal for ´Cycling through the Trees´ offers cyclists an unrivaled experience. From the ground cyclists choose to enter the bridge. It’s a path that leaves the ground and brings the cyclists up further and further. At first cyclists are still among the tree trunks, after that they enter the canopies with the head between the leaves. A totally new experience.

Higher and higher. The challenge is to continue cycling, even though the road is getting steeper. How far is the path actually going up? one might ask. From the perspective of the cyclist, the path points to heaven and the end is not visible. At 10 meters altitude, the path is so steep that cyclists are doing that thing which is an inseparable part of the biking: getting off and park the bicycle.

As the final climb follows, this is on foot now, the end is now in sight. Step by step the cyclist gets higher, a lonely nightjar is flying from the bridge. With every step he takes, the cyclist climbs above the tree tops. From there, an unprecedented panorama opens over the woods of Bosland, an endless panorama. Unforgettable, challenging and unique, that’s it what the ‘Cycling through the Trees’ project is about.

Little boxes along the Railway 

Anti Graffiti Facade

For the Dutch Rail bound Buildings program we developed a design for all the generic technical objects next to the Dutch Railway System. The buildings are designed to counteract against graffiti, as they house very valuable electrical machines and because walking on high speed railroads at night is not recommended.

In our design we combine an uneven surface, with holes. We designed upon the horizontal orientation of graffiti on these railway buildings. Step by step, we gradually deformed the surface. We choose a brick wall for basic reasons, for the traditional use in the Dutch landscape.

The principles have been developed through literature research (graffiti culture and anti-graffiti measures), fieldwork (viewing successful and less successful anti-graffiti projects) and experimental: we have built mock-ups of different patterns, shapes and dimensions. We sprayed these mockups to find out what works in practice, and what only in theory.

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A pronounced but modest object made of intricated brick patterns with subtle color variations, pattern-rich. Trusted, robust and fitting in the Dutch railway landscape, but also refined, slightly different from every angle, from different distances and in the changing seasons and weather types. The pure material does the job. Functionality and aesthetics come together.

The design is based on the principle of creating a generic, modular facade in one material. However, subtle variations within this principle are possible. It should be as autonomous as possible, it should not be in any relationship with the changing landscape.

The generic technical buildings must always be familiar and recognizable, they are connected to the generic esthetics of the track itself. However, slight color differences make it possible to establish a relationship with the surrounding context within a confined bandwidth.

The chosen colors do not represent color copies of the environment, the buildings must be recognizable as an object. They are in relationship with the landscape. They refer, for example, to the brick colors of buildings or objects in the area.

Centre for Children 

Hazelaar Competition

Strong architecture is more than an image. Architecture is formed by doing, letting people do and from the spirit of a place. Our Design for the children centre in Rotterdam, IKC de Hazelaar, is about connection. Between building and green, between the different organizations, between vulnerable children and their supervisors and between the inside and outside world.

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A central covered reception area offers a warm welcome. It works like a place for distribution of people without them interfering with each other. It’s also the central place where the different users can meet each other. Moving through the building revolves around the concept of ‘space in movement’. The ramp in the centre works like the inner street, connecting the floors and offering views and places to rest.

We believe it is important to design a building that attends to primary qualities, primary experiences and primary desires. Places where space is made with a feeling for scale and experience. Take the example of a high space: here we feel different than in a low space and we become challenged to start other activities. These differences in spatial qualities have been the leading drive for the design of the children centre.

Our concept provides a robust spatial area. The architecture organizes, gives scale, size and depth. It is countable and related to the human size. Recognizable and sensory. Seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling is more important in this design than understanding and knowing.

Urban Biotope 

Residential Complex Competition


With the ‘Urban Biotope’ located in The Hague in the Netherlands, we propose a new type of housing, where landscape mimics the city and urbanity is treated like a natural phenomenon. Building and park act as a single hybrid landscape. A landscape that is intensively used and programmed: it purifies water, local inhabitants grow their own food, places to work, play and sport are abundant. The park is stratified by a set of linear islands that result in a natural zoning. Closer to the buildings, the wetlands rise to turn into grass to guide to transition from public to private.

The project houses a differentiated mix of typologies for urban dwellers, from social housing to spacious family houses. Located in the most urbanised country in the world, the architecture fits seamlessly in the surrounding landscape. Both the building and the landscape are designed as a closed water system with water retention on the roofs and helofytfilters in the landscape. The green living facades and roofs regulate light, air, heat and cold. The façade design merges interior with nature. Every single room has a spacious outdoor green space. The ground floor houses offer direct contact with the park, the houses on the second floor have access to generous roof-gardens, the apartments in between have green balconies and the penthouses on top are placed in a private suburban garden. The apartments above the canopies will make use of passive solar energy for heating an each apartment has a winter garden. These semi climatized spaces function as an extension to the main living space for use in spring and summer. The wooden structural frame creates a flexible, healthy and sustainable building and it grants the building its distinctive architectural quality.

The Urban Biotope combines the best of two worlds: in the middle of nature, it is as urban as an inner-city neighbourhood. Nowhere in the countryside you will find such an urbanity, nowhere in the city you’ll come across such a wild landscape.

Felix Meritris 

Renovation of a Historical building Competition

The Society House of Felix Meritis has been an icon in Amsterdam. Founded in 1888, it was a place for the avant-garde in physics, trade, music and painting; a house for the exchange of ideas, business concepts, arts and ideals. Together with experienced entrepreneur Paul van Katwijk and young entrepreneur agency AimForTheMoon, we proposed to revalue this tradition for the 21st century and re-install Felix Meritis as the public house for multidisciplinary invention in Amsterdam.

The spatial concept of the refurbishment builds on, on the past: the building has been subject of continuous change, but always holding on to the concept of different dedicated chambers with their own technical qualities and atmosphere. The chambers will be transformed to house the contemporary disciplines: visual digital media, information library, business salon, open-lecture stage, co-working, start-up studios, arts…

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Key for the renovation investment is a smart renovation, chamber by chamber, connected with the technical improvement for ventilation, insulation, and sound. Elaborate study of the historic details enables us to prioritize in the renovation activities.

Being something in between a public library museum and a business club, felix meritis is an interesting new typology that fits the Dutch entrepreneurial tradition.

Frankfurt Book Fair 

Flamish-Dutch pavillion

This October Flanders & the Netherlands hosted the guest of honour pavilion for the world’s most important literary event; the Frankfurter Buchmesse. The studios CIVIC & MATTERS of The Cloud Collective where selected to design and execute the focal point of the event: a central literature salon.

The pavilion celebrates authors and literature foremost, but also cultural and context and cross-over arts are given a podium. Functions in the pavilion exceed the book alone, and are grouped around the narrative in a broader sense. There are theater and debate spaces, several expositions, a graphic studio, virtual reality spaces, a bookshop, café and salon coming together in the 2.300 m2 pavilion. All active program is clustered creating an interconnection.

Sensory space

However, made of temporary and low cost material, different routes through the pavilion offer a powerful sensory experience. The semitransparent walls are made by stacking simple plastic sheets in an inventive way, creating a kaleidoscopic effect while you move. The clever engineering made sure that after the event the walls are completely demountable and reusable.

The floor is made off clay stone to increase the sensory experience of quietness in the middle of the Buchmesse violence. The open space is fringed by a slow-dynamic projection of the horizon. This way, like in the Dutch landscapes, the horizon plays an omnipresent role.

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Contextual exhibition typology

The contextual approach that we chose for the programmatic scheme, is also present in the spacial design. The dense zone and the spacious salon relate like the metropolitan landscape of the Low Lands. Separated by semi transparent walls, the different programmatic elements are aloud to influence each other. The visitor is invited to understand the relationship. The largest space of the pavilion is a spacious room used to contemplate, sit, walk, and read. This combination of the open vistas and calmness on the one hand and the density, interference and proximity on the other hand creates a specific Flemish-Dutch exposition typology.

De Frankfurter Buchmesse took place from 18 until 23 October 2016.

Studio Building 


Amsterdam’s historic timber port is in transformation. Situated on the bank of the dynamic river IJ, the Danzigerkade Studio Building is one of the new developments. It takes full advantage of this area’s unique qualities. The industrial, windswept and slightly unkempt atmosphere inspired a sturdy building, a landmark that stands out in a neighborhood of mundane office blocks. A robust house for production and invention.

This character is also found within the office and studio spaces. The interior and materials used can stand a good deal, addressing companies that focus on the creation of products, fashion and media. Smart floor plan layouts enable different types of use and rental options, ranging from small individual entrepreneur spaces to wide open floors for fashion studios and workshops. A central courtyard provides the building with an abundance of daylight. This light shaft also visually connects the work floors with the roof terrace. Here, a rooftop bar and dance school will be the most alluring after-work and lunch break space in the area, offering spectacular views over the river IJ.

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The prefabricated facade has been cleverly engineered to create a comfortable and healthy working environment. Varying window sizes create different panoramic views and different basic light conditions for several types of use. Lamellae prevent direct sunlight from disturbing the work on computer screens, while integrated reflecting and diffusing panels guarantee homogeneous, natural light on all work floors. Hand-operated sunscreens add a high degree of flexibility for each window.

Small grooves in the facade surface guide rainwater downwards, making sure the concrete weathers smoothly. A concrete mixture with metal fibres is used for the facade elements which will quickly develop a patina, adding character to the building over time. This building will continue to be an arousing working environment, firmly settled in the characteristic harbor of Amsterdam.

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Decor Summer Guests 

TV set Competition

The Dutch television show ‘‘Zomergasten’’, has a strong and unchangeable formula: two chairs, one host and a guest. The guest show their favorite video fragments and discuss their relevance: an ideal television evening of the guest. The setting of the recording studio has – over time – changed a lot. The focus changed from ‘scale-of-the-seat’ to ‘scale-of-the-projection’.

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Initially there were two armchairs, one coffee table and a small television; Last season it changed to a monumental projection screen, where the conversation took place in an open space. In our medialised world, not the video fragments but the conversation conducts the unique character of this widely debated Dutch television evening. Therefore, we propose to reboot the setting of the conversation in our design: by bringing back the focus to the conversation with the guest without ignoring contemporary media techniques.

In our design the conversation takes place in a room instead of studio. The room has different windows looking upon the world representing a old spatial typology: The lounge or siting. The décor becomes an interior with a balanced atmosphere of hospitality, enclosure and intimacy for a good conversation. The room consists of four walls, a floor and a ceiling with some walls and ceiling possessing porosity and/or transparency. The room also has a large opening on each side for a view outwards and inwards. One or more of these views provide a view of the evening’s scenery, composed of the fragments or colors of the evening. Here, the fragments themselves may also be displayed and a guest and presenter can view the video.

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With this design, the decor gets a front view and a background, it creates a spatial layering, which can also be used in projection. The technique does not attract attention, but is cleverly integrated into the overall concept and integrated in the interior. The interior is made up of warm natural materials, and the lighting of the interior can be colored with the atmosphere of the fragments or the conversation.


CIVIC is an office for public architecture. We design libraries, bridges, cultural buildings, public fora, squares, educational buildings, housing, sculptures and stations. We love complex projects that enable us to do what we do best: CIVIC designs generous, powerful and atmospherically architecture that stands the test of time.


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