WärtZ | Zwolle, Netherlands

A former business park alongside the railway station in the Dutch city of Zwolle will soon become a vibrant innovation district, thanks to plans assigned by area developer AM and developed by a team including MVRDV, Orange Architects, and LOLA Landscape Architects. Introducing around 850 homes, of which roughly 30 percent will be social housing, the project also includes educational institutions, workspaces for creative industries, catering, and various neighbourhood facilities. The centrepiece of this new district will be the transformed former factory and warehouse of the Wärtsilä hall, with its characteristic undulating roof topped by a hovering timber apartment block.

The masterplan is named WärtZ, an acronym that references the Wärtsilä hall while standing for the words wild, art, raw, tech, and Zwolle. Designed for area developer AM, the plan emerges from the Municipality of Zwolle’s development framework for the station zone, which sets high ambitions in the areas of energy, mobility, circularity, and climate, as well as the development principles outlined by the Dutch railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). Covering a total area of 9.5 hectares, WärtZ comprises three distinct areas: to the east, close to the station is Spoorpark; to the west is Lurelei, with buildings designed by Orange Architects; and in the centre is the Werkplaatsen, with buildings designed by MVRDV.

The Wärtsilä hall, a factory and warehouse building originally designed by Gert Grosfeld in 1998, sits in the very centre of the district. Standing out as the largest building in the masterplan, its undulating roof will become a visual marker of the area; it will provide an element of continuity while the character of everything below, around, and even above this roof is transformed. MVRDV’s design will allow the hall to host innovative startups, creative companies, and educational and research institutions.

Above the roof, a hovering wooden apartment block will form a dramatic addition to the building, solidifying the Wärtsilä hall as the anchor of the new district. This communicates the district’s ambition to provide a counterpoint to the historic city centre of Zwolle, with the eye-catching apartment block mirroring the unconventional rooftop extension of the Museum De Fundatie. This relationship is further reinforced by the addition on the roof of the Dikke Vette Gouden Vredesduif (Big Fat Golden Dove of Peace), a statue by Marte Röling. Three originals of this artwork were produced by the artist in 2002; after years in obscurity, one of these is now being returned to a public place to look out to its doppelganger, which since 2010 has occupied the roof of the museum 500 metres away.

In addition to the Wärtsilä hall, MVRDV’s contribution to the plan includes three mixed-use buildings, with offices on the lower levels and housing above. Clad in brick, these structures reference the hall’s roof with the curving lines that cap their ground floor windows. Along with the Orange-designed residential buildings in Lurelei, these sit within the green landscape designed by LOLA Landscape Architects. In this design, parts of the public space are returned to nature, in line with the principles of urban rewilding.

Taking advantage of its proximity to Zwolle’s station, WärtZ gives priority to walkers, cyclists, and public transport users, with attractive slow-traffic routes, multifunctional hubs for parking both cars and bicycles, a wide range of shared transport, and a Bicycle Innovation Centre. The plan fits in with the ambitions of NS and the Municipality of Zwolle for a healthy and car-free neighbourhood.

WärtZ thus has the ambition not only to create a vibrant “second city centre” on the station’s south side but also to become an example for the whole of the Netherlands. From the goal of giving Zwolle the greenest inner-city station area in the Netherlands to the emphasis on circular, low-carbon strategies such as reusing buildings and bio-based materials to the introduction of sustainable mobility, WärtZ will be a standard-bearer for such “station zones” nationwide.


Location: Zwolle, the Netherlands

Architect: MVRDV
Founding Partner in charge: Jacob van Rijs Partner/Director: Frans de Witte Design Team: Fedor bron, Mick van Gemert, Karin Houwen, Daniele Zonta, Anna Brockhoff, Nick Boer, Gabriel Perucchi, Roos van den Toorn
Copyright: MVRDV Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries

Architects (Lurelei zone): Orange Architects
Landscape architect: LOLA landscape architects
Structural engineer: Pieters Bouwtechniek
MEP / Building Physics: DGMR
Cost calculation: Skaal
Programming: Skonk
Others advisors & partners: RHDHV, Mobycon, Kickstad, Skonk, Tenman, De Stadstuin, Stepforward, Kwirkey, ’tIdee!

Images Credit: © AM, LOLA, MVRDV, Orange, Vivid Vision
Text Credit: MVRDV

About Damian Holmes 3228 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/damianholmes/

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