When I opened up the post on Dezeen, saw this thatched Town Hall in Midden-Delfland by Dutch architects Inbo, and read the post description, I was prepared to get my unreconstructed modernist knickers in a knot. For those of you unfamiliar with Australian slang, that means I was about to get indignantly upset, because the idea of putting thatch on these large sheds offended my mid-20th Century principles of 'honesty' of structure, and 'authenticity' of forms and materials.
Then I stopped, looked a bit more carefully, thought a bit harder, and realised that while I may not fall in love, I may have come across a building I could definitely respect. First, a description edited from the Dezeen post:
The town hall comprises a row of five alternating volumes designed to match the forms of the surrounding hills. Inspired by the farmhouses typical in the region, the building has a thatched roof folding over all five of its huge curved profiles. But unlike a traditional thatched roof, which could pose a significant fire hazard, metre-long strands of reed are wrapped tightly around a system of prefabricated panels. "It looks like the reed is all over the building from beginning to end, but that's not actually the case," explained architect Arnold Homan.
You can see that at this point, I would have been getting a bit skeptical. Let's face it, the large, relatively flat roof form with the box gutter, contrasting with the idea of thatch as I understood it, was what first offended me. But the next bit of information is what grabbed my attention:
"The thatching clads all surfaces of the roof that are visible at ground level, while the uppermost sections are covered with a mixture of sedum and photovoltaic solar panels."
AHA! A vegetated roof for stormwater management, improved insulation values, summer microclimate with plants doing the shading and cooling by transpiration, vast area for unobstructed photovoltaics? OK, what else?
"Windows line the north and south facades of each block to bring natural light through every room in the building. More solar panels are mounted around the glazing and double-up as solar shades.
Honestly, they aren't doing badly, but they could do so much better. It's the way the architects have broken up the big shed - so good for adjusting the perceived scale - that also creates the vertical glazing at each break, which brings the daylight deep into the space.
I gave up being wedded to structural determinism of form twenty years ago, when an engineer colleague pointed out to me that the role of structure was to hold up whatever shape space you need, and who cares whether the structure is 'expressed' or hidden? It's sobering to think that even after that post-structuralist (pun intended) catharsis, I still retained a loyalty to a much more tenuous concept of formal 'honesty'. This building reminds me that there are other ways of producing good buildings. Probably better buildings.
Read the Dezeen article here.