Civic Architects started its work on a cyclist and pedestrian underpass with a bit of a white lie. The Amsterdam-based firm promised its client, the city of Tilburg, Netherlands, it could design a high-tech facade of transparent brick that would allow light into a passageway connecting the historic downtown with a new development on the other side of the railroad tracks. “Of course, that brick didn’t exist,” says Jan Lebbink, 36, one of four partners—including Rick ten Doeschate, 34; Ingrid van der Heijden, 49; and Gert Kwekkeboom, 33—who founded Civic in 2015. They went through unsuccessful tests with ceramic and porcelain brick before finding Van Tetterode glass studio, known for working with artists to create custom glasswork. “Would it be three or four bricks?” asked the studio. No, the architects would need 30,000. Once that hurdle was overcome, Civic collaborated with interactive-design firm Lust and Philips Lighting to integrate an algorithm that reacts to passersby and to shifts in the environment like a passing train or changing weather. The resulting tunnel makes good on the architects’ promise, creating a passageway that feels more like an open-air street; residents even rent it out for parties now.
The project embodies a philosophy underpinning much of Civic’s work, which is that the role of technology is not to lead but to support the advancement of materials or experiences. In this way, the firm aims to weave together architecture with public value and cultural heritage with the logistics of urban life.
Civic brings community-mindedness to its operation as a practice too. As architecture-school graduates at the height of the country’s recession, its principals found themselves part of a network of peers who were just trying to get by. “We were in crisis, and not everyone had the most interesting work,” says Lebbink. So they started collaborating on temporary exhibitions and small projects, and eventually formed Cloud Collective, which today consists of three firms, Civic, Bright, and Matters, a trifecta that can tackle public projects from all angles: public architecture, scenography and culture, and strategic urban planning, respectively. “For architects, working with other people is sometimes hard to do,” says Lebbink, “but for us it’s part of our DNA. Everyone has an ego and voice, and we are able to manage that.”
Though Amsterdam faces a housing crisis—and many local architects have entered the residential design sector to meet a demand estimated at 60,000 units—Civic has sought broader subjects. Its work for the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, which launched this month, is a catalogue about creating buildings that breathe. It will be a resource for young architects who want to design facades that relate to their environments and provide better interior air quality—something that Lebbink says has been lost in Dutch housing in the fervor to create airtight, energy-efficient structures.
As for what’s next, Civic prefers to seek out project types it hasn’t tackled before. “We play public-buildings bingo,” jokes Lebbink. In this way, the firm may never find its comfort zone, but it can always find a new frontier.
DESIGN STAFF: 10
PRINCIPALS: Jan Lebbink, Rick ten Doeschate, Ingrid van der Heijden, Gert Kwekkeboom
EDUCATION: Lebbink/ten Doeschate/Kwekkeboom: Technical University of Eindhoven, M.Arch., 2009. Van der Heijden: Technical University of Eindhoven, M.Arch., 2010
WORK HISTORY: Lebbink: VenhoevenCS architecture+urbanism, 2009–12, Paul de Ruiter Architects, 2012–15. Kwekkeboom: Fabrications 2009–10, Venhoeven CS architecture+urbanism, 2010–12. Ten Doeschate: VenhoevenCS architecture+urbanism, 2009–12; Atelier for Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands, 2009–17. Van der Heijden: AWG Architecten, 2010–11
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Willem II Passage, Tilburg, NL, 2016; Piushaven Harbour Pavilion, Tilburg, NL, 2017; Flemish-Dutch pavilion, Frankfurter Buchmesse, Frankfurt, 2017
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Public Library & City Forum, Tilburg, NL