Hans is speaking about her studio's latest project, a leaf-inspired balcony design for Hof van Sevenhuijsen, a new housing block in Haarlem (on the outskirts of Amsterdam) designed by architects Kühne & Co. The completed project, which was revealed this week following four years of development, amounts to 1km of balconies.
The balconies are formed from clusters of metal leaves that hang from over the railings at various heights. Rather than being rounded, the leaf-like shape is instead created using straight, geometric lines with several leaf veins filling the centre. By hanging over the balconies, rather than being incorporated within them, the leaves create a textured facade
“Because the project became quite a discussion we also started to think ‘Oh my God,’” continues Hans. “During the process people thought that it was maybe too much but when it was finally finished we had quite nice reactions. It's nice to sit there when the sun goes down. With the twinkling of the light, it's almost like you're in the forest.”
Hans’s design for the balconies was inspired by nature in an effort to contrast with the industrial and largely concrete surroundings (the complex backs onto a busy, main road) and also reference the floral designs typical of traditional balcony railings. The design follows a geometric leaf shape that hangs from the building’s facade, thus giving it a three-dimensional form while providing an element of privacy when the balcony is viewed from street level.
“We thought about traditional balconies in which everything was very floral and decorative,” says Hans. “From there we came to the idea that it might be nice to do some kind of floral pattern on the building. At the same time we wanted to prevent people from being able to overlook your balcony when you are sitting there. If you want to sit in the sun and be naked then, you know you can.”
The railings are designed around several different standardised patterns that are subsequently modified to suit each individual balcony. “It looks very repetitive but there are lots of differences because a lot of the balconies are completely different,” explains Hans. “If they [the designs] were all completely the same then it would be very, very rigid. I think to have some variations makes it slightly more playful.”
The balconies are made by laser-cutting corners from square, steel tubes. The tubes are then folded around these cuts (rather than individual pieces being welded together) therefore avoiding offcuts. As a result the technical process is simplified, making it less time-consuming and, with less welding, more economical.
“By cutting little triangles out of the tube, we managed to make the leaves in such a way that you basically create a tube with a little cutout that can then be folded together,” explains Hans. “You only have to weld on the inside of the fold which means that there is less welding involved. This process also makes it economically possible to do such an elaborate pattern. If you had all loose bits and pieces that you had to continuously weld together, then you would go completely nuts.”
Given that her studio typically designs products and furniture, such a large-scale, public project is a departure from Hans’s usual practice. Yet she insists that her approach remained the same. "You are dealing with people, so you have to look into how they are looking at things and how they experience them. That is of course always the case, whether you are designing a chair, a soup bowl or whatever," she says. "What matters for me is the people that are living in these houses. That was our way into this project more than the facade of the building.”