December 08, 2003
ING and the business of starchitecture

This striking looking building is ING House, near Amsterdam. They wanted a landmark, and they got one.


This was no accident. It turns out that they've got quite a few.

ING, it seems, is the very corporate embodiment of "starchitecture".

In the last 15 years, the desire of the ING Groep for "special architecture" found expression in highly spectacular buildings. The large orange N of Nationale Niederlande is prominently displayed in Rotterdam on the highest building in the country (1991, Architekt A. Bonnema, Groningen). In Den Haag, the eye-catching Nationale Nederlanden complex with its green and white stripes (1994, Kraaijvanger Urbis, Rotterdam) spans the freeway and is a kind of modern gateway to the city. The architectural quality of the building is controversial but its function as a landmark is undisputed.

Examples abroad are the much publicized main office of the ING Groep in Budapest (1995) by Erick van Egeraat (Rotterdam) or the Holland centre of the ING Groep (1996/98) by Pro Architekten (Den Haag) at a striking location within the Warsaw city center.

The ING Groep subsidiary, ING Real Estate, also worked with foreign architects. One striking result is the office building, Ginger & Fred (1995) on the banks of the Moldau in Prague by Frank Gehry.

Clearly ING is collectively of the view that striking buildings are good for business.

I heard about ING House by watching the telly, which I like to do. It was a BBC3 TV (one of the free digital channels) show called Dreamspaces, which is all about the showier sort of modern architecture. They showed a few shots of it. I misheard it as "IMG", but crucially I also heard that it was in Amsterdam, and Googling "modern architecture" and "Amsterdam" got me to a picture of it soon enough. It certainly is distinctive, and you know it when you see it. This mention was in connection with an outfit called Archigram, who produced a design for a similarly insect-like object way back in the sixties. (You can just spy the left hand end of this creature at the top right corner here.)

Maybe this thing leaks and is a nightmare to work in. And maybe it has about as much of a relationship with the ground it sits on as an alien spaceship. I don't know. But I do like the look of it.

It looks to be situated in one of those drearily spread out non-places that the modern world is so full of these days, and which has now replaced architectural modernism as the major real world aesthetic horror story of our time. The occasional self-importantly stupid or ugly building – badly integrated into its surroundings perhaps, maybe technically incompetent and with a roof that leaks – pales into insignificance by comparison with these vast swathes of nothingness.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:21 AM
Category: Architecture