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UNStudio: My Personal Architectural Inspiration

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:15 AM
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by Jennifer Shockley last modified Aug 20, 2011

United Network Studio (UNStudio) was established in 1988 by architects Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos. It is a Dutch Architectural design studio. Its first office was located in Amsterdam and has since branched to a sister office in Shanghai which opened in 2009 as UNStudio Asia.



Visual experiences that make you smile, question how, and take your breath away is a dynamic, ever-changing part of architectural practices. As a research writer and student I stumble upon creations that are inspiring nearly weekly, whether I want to design like them or disagree with their techniques, it is still an inspirational, educational experience for me.

DUO and Tax Offices Detail

DUO and Tax Office Facade

DUO and Tax Office Interior

Not nearly as often, though, do I come across architectural firms that leave me speechless with the work they have achieved and their continuous strive to design always new, always better structures. This week, this article, is dedicated to a firm that reminds me of why I’m doing what I’m doing and working so hard to achieve my goals. It shows that architectural beauty, inspiration, sustainable creativity, and preservation can be a life’s work that a person can be proud of.

The firm is United Network Studio (UNStudio). It was established in 1988 by architects Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos. It is a Dutch Architectural design studio. Its first office was located in Amsterdam and has since branched to a sister office in Shanghai which opened in 2009 as UNStudio Asia.

UNStudio is a global firm with designs in Asia, Europe and North America. Recently they have completed projects in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Germany, and the United States.

Their focus is to combine design and the building of projects with active participation in architectural theory. They discuss their process as:

“UNStudio’s organizational structure accommodates our objective to be a flexible partner in challenging projects. We strive for quick and efficient processes, and we constantly evaluate and renew our working techniques.”

They base their research for each project on four platforms:

  1. Architectural Sustainability Platform (ASP)
  2. Innovative Organizations Platform (IOP)
  3. Smart Parameters Platform (SPP)
  4. Inventive Materials Platform (IMP)

ASP is the research area that is engaged in the earliest phases of design to ensure that UNStudio’s high sustainable design standards are met. It uses a collaboration of the world’s sustainable certification programs, such as LEED (US), BREEAM (UK, NL), DGNB (DE), Greenmark (SG) and Estidama (UAE), to meet and overcome the highest set standards in environmentally friendly, zero footprint design.

IOP is incorporated during the concept phase of design and it is the research area that UNStudio uses to investigate new types of architectural practices.

UNStudio uses the SPP during their design phase which is the creation of new digital technologies and designs.

The final platform of research that UNStudio incorporates is the IMP which is during the building phase of their designs. It is the research of custom-made materials in collaboration with other experts in the field to push for continuous progress in material design and use.

These four platforms are the foundation for all of their designs and are the reason that they are excelling in modern designs with futuristic components.

Three examples of projects that meet and exceed their clients’ expectations and that I can’t look at enough are:

  • Galleria Centercity
  • Dalian Football Stadium
  • DUO and Tax Offices

Galleria Centercity is found in Cheonan, South Korea and was completed in 2010. It is a department store with a museum-like feel. The design was based on observations of current behavioral tendencies in large commercial spaces, how malls are a more social meeting place, and it seeks to provide a stimulating experience for all visitors. It was designed as a play on scale and dimension and the main theme is dynamic flow.

Galleria Centercity Facade

Galleria Centercity's Lighshow

Galleria Centercity's Advertising

Galleria Centercity Interior Layers

Galleria Centercity's Interior Details

The Galleria Centercity has a double layered facade where the inner layer allows light to pass through and the outer layer prevents direct sunlight, keeping the building cool. The facade is the world’s largest illuminated surface and is used as a light show to enhance the visit and to advertise as necessary. Architect Ben van Berkel states,

“The most interesting thing to me about the effect of the Galleria Cheonan is that, because of the organization of the atrium and the moire treatment of the facade, illusions are created which result in the seeming alteration of scales and the creation of double images. No image is permanent in this building.”

The Dalian Football Stadium is located in Dalian, China and was built in 2009. It is inspired by the ancient Chinese Cuju football with colorful layers and overlapping materials. It was built for UNStudio’s client, Dalian City Bureau of Urban Planning and can hold 40,000 spectators.

The Stadium consists of seating, a TV broadcasting centre, administrative areas, VIP lounge, players’ facilities, public concourse, outdoor public areas, decked parking facilities and two training fields. The building is 38,500 square meters on a site that of 144,000 square meters.

Dalian Football Stadium

Dalian Football Elevation

Dalian Football Stadium View

The DUO and Tax Offices are a 92 meter tall building in Groningen consisting of two public institutions: Nation Tax Offices and Student Loan Administration. It consists of 2500 workstations, 1500 bicycle parking spaces and 675 underground car parking spaces.

The DUO and Tax Offices is one of Europe’s most sustainable large new office buildings. It will be surrounded by a large city garden with a public pond and is designed, if necessary, to be easily converted to public housing in the future. Van Berkel states,

“The design contains numerous new innovations related to the reduction of materials, lower energy costs and more sustainable working environments. It presents a fully integrated, intelligent design approach towards sustainability.”

These three extremely different buildings are just the icing on the cake of the list that UNStudio has designed.

I am inspired, and my drive renewed by discovering this firm’s ability, understanding and dynamic approach to sustainable architecture. If an architectural firm can be an idol, I’ve found mine, and I hope you are inspired as well by this remarkable group.

Resources: UNStudio, The ArchHive, Yanko,, and Archello




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