MVRDV has completed the new Chanel flagship store in Amsterdam with a replica façade made entirely out of glass. The entirely transparent façade of Chanel flagship store on Amsterdam’s upmarket shopping street, PC Hooftstraat, uses glass bricks, glass windows frames and glass architraves in a way to evoke the vernacular of the area with the goal to maintain the character of the site. Designed for investor Warenar, the 620 sqm of retail and 220 sqm of housing respond to the ambition of Amsterdam to have distinctive flagship stores without compromising the historical ensemble.


MVRDV wanted to make a representation of the original buildings and found a solution through an extensive use of glass. The near full-glass façade mimics the original design, down to the layering of the bricks and the details of the window frames, but is stretched vertically to comply with updated zoning laws and to allow for an increase in interior space. Glass bricks stretch up the façade of Crystal Houses, eventually dissolving into a traditional terracotta brick façade for the apartments, which appears to be floating above the shop floor.


The design hopes to provide a solution to the loss of local character in shopping areas around the world. The increased globalisation of retail has led to the homogenisation of high-end shopping streets. Crystal Houses offer the store a window surface that contemporary stores need, whilst maintaining architectural character and individuality, resulting in a flagship store that hopes to stand out amongst the rest.


After conceiving the initial idea MVRDV worked closely with a number of partners to develop the technologies to make it possible. Solid glass bricks were individually cast and crafted by Poesia in Resana, near Venice. Research undertaken by the Delft University of Technology, in partnership with engineering firm ABT and contractor Wessels Zeist, led to the development of structural solutions and fabrication techniques, with the use of a high-strength, UV bonded, transparent adhesive from Delo Industrial Adhesives in Germany to cement the bricks together without the need for a more traditional mortar.


Six to ten experts worked every day for a whole year in a place that bore more resemblance to a laboratory than a construction site. Due to the sensitivity of the materials, an extremely high level of accuracy and craftsmanship was required and a technical development team was onsite throughout the process. Since this construction is the first of its kind, new construction methods and tools had to be utilised: from high-tech lasers and laboratory grade UV-lamps, to slightly lower-tech Dutch full-fat milk, which, with its low transparency, proved to be an ideal liquid to function as a reflective surface for the levelling of the first layer of bricks. Despite its delicate looks, strength tests by the Delft University of Technology team proved that the glass-construction was in many ways stronger than concrete. The full-glass architrave, for instance, could withstand a force of up to 42.000 Newton; the equivalent to two full-sized SUVs.


images by Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee and MVRDV