MAD unveils plans for Fenix, Rotterdam’s newest cultural foundation

MAD unveils plans for Fenix, Rotterdam’s newest cultural foundation

The Droom en Daad (Dream and Do) Foundation has announced that MAD Architects has been commissioned to create its flagship Fenix project in Rotterdam; a spiraling staircase that pierces the roof of a historic warehouse to form an observation deck. Under the artistic vision of director Wim Pijbes, the former general director of the Rijksmuseum and founding director of Museum Voorlinden, the Fenix is one of the first initiatives of the city-based philanthropic art and culture foundation. Built in 1923 by the Dutch architect C N van Goor, the Fenix warehouses in the historical Katendrecht borough are contained in an enormous concrete building, once used for the storage and transhipment of a variety of commodities, but ruined during Second World War.

‘We chose MAD directly, not via a competition, because we preferred to start a relationship from the very beginning,’ says Pijbes of the commission. In the 1900s, the Katendrecht peninsula, on the southern banks of the port of Rotterdam was one of the oldest Chinatowns in Europe; by appointing Beijing-founded firm MAD, this forgotten part of history will be revived. ‘Contrary to the current nondescript, international, could-be-anywhere modern architectural style where most buildings are rectangular and with a high-rise shiny facade, I wanted something rounded, organic or even feminine,’ adds Pijbes.

A strong, curvaceous design makes the renovated building feel eye-catching, yet softer and more organic

The futuristic, organic and sinuous design proposal certainly promises to soften Rotterdam’s rough and heavy industrial skyline. Yansong Ma, principal founder of MAD Architects explains its concept: ‘We have designed a 360-degree panoramic viewing platform on top of the warehouse as well as a staircase and ramp that connects from the ground floor to the rooftop observation deck. From a distance, the platform and staircase look like a single entity, but when it’s in front of you, it stands as a sculptural work that invites you to explore. It both signifies the Fenix’s witnessing of Europe’s history of migration from the port and symbolises the future of the city.’ 

The design is intended as a metaphor for hope and a new perspective. ‘We want to give the visitor a dramatic viewpoint on the river, to evoke the feeling of getting aboard a ship that brings you to the other side of the ocean to start a new life,’ Pijbes explains.

The Fenix will be the first cultural building in Europe designed by a Chinese architectural studio, say the organisers. MAD is one of the few practising in the West – from its 2012 Absolute Towers in Toronto to the more recent Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles. ‘The West has been regarded as a role model by the rest of the world since the Industrial Age. There is no doubt that it is advanced in many aspects: technology, design and lifestyle. Hence, there have not been many firms from the East, especially from China, who have practised there,’ he says. ‘Now, we want to bring our Eastern design philosophy – the correlation between humans and nature – to Rotterdam.’

When completed, the Fenix will portray the stories of the docks’ millions of migrants through an art collection on the topic of ‘movement’. The ground floor of the warehouse will offer creative, culinary and cultural activities. §

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