top of page
  • Ruben Hanssen

The Heineken Corner Design Competition

By Ruben Hanssen

Until recently, a building known colloquially as the 'Heineken corner' ('Heineken hoek') stood at the intersection of Leidseplein and Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen, initially constructed as 'Café Moderne'. This three-story building was characterized by large billboards advertising Heineken beer, giving it a distinctive appearance, though the building's 19th-century design was modest.

The building underwent several modifications, including the addition of three large dormer windows to the lower, adjacent part. A few years ago, it was demolished to make way for new construction. According to the developer, the existing building had no special value—a typical 19th-century 'filler building'. The developer's argument is debatable, but the Caransa Group successfully obtained a demolition permit, followed by a building permit for a new structure designed by MVSA architects after a private design competition.

sources: wikimedia Commons (Kleon3), stadsarchief gemeente Amsterdam

The Cause

One would expect that at this corner of one of Amsterdam's most famous squares, frequented daily by thousands of city residents and visitors, a special building could be erected that would at least not harm the location, or even enrich the city. When MVSA's design emerged from the scaffolding, it was clear that the new design of the Heineken Corner followed a very different philosophy instead. It's hard to say which philosophy explains a facade with sleek white, plastic-like panels in a city of red and brown brick, wooden frames, and decorative stucco?

City residents were shocked, and a major Dutch newspaper, Het Parool, dedicated an article to the new, divisive Heineken Corner. The board of the Dutch branch of the architectural rebellion, ArchitectuurOmslag Nederland, including Tom de Vries, Ruben Hanssen, and until recently Huub Smetsers, were also shocked. "A building like that, in such an important place, should at least face some scrutiny...".

The idea of organising a design competition had been conceived earlier, and this was the perfect opportunity - a project that plays a major role in public debate and that cries out for a more fitting alternative. Although the project was nearly complete, sparking a wider discussion about appropriate architecture in a historical setting seemed reason enough to start a design competition for this project.

The Competition

With a special webpage on the competition, a prize package for the winner, a 'design brief', and a major social media campaign, the initiative was launched. Besides a public prize, determined through a poll on the website, a jury prize would also be awarded. A jury was appointed, including Walther Schoonenberg, chairman of the Friends of Amsterdam Inner City Association (Vereniging Vrienden van de Amsterdamse Binnenstad), Wolbert Vroom (INTBAU Netherlands, architect at architectenbureau Vroom), Peter Drijver (architect at Scala architects and chair of SOS The Hague), Nadia Everard (architect and chair of La Table Ronde d’Architecture and INTBAU Belgium), and Pablo Alvarez Funes (architect and chairman of education at the Classic Planning Academy).

Media Attention

The competition immediately caught the attention of the media. Het Parool (two articles), AT5, and even Architectenweb wrote about the competition. It also gained a lot of traction on social media. Votes poured in, and emotions ran high when the first submissions were published on X / Twitter. 


The competition was narrowly won by Sabrina Rugg, a student from the United States, currently pursuing a bachelor's degree at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. This university has a newly established program teaching traditional architecture, and it appears to be paying off. Sabrina Rugg won not only the public prize but also the jury prize. She was briefly interviewed by Het Parool and has already received her books and prize money. You can read the jury rapport here: 


The design competition raises several important themes and questions. For example, how much room should there be for innovation in a city with a strong historical appearance? How far can architects go with deviations in material and appearance? Is everything permissible, or should we be cautious in important places like Leidseplein? But perhaps more importantly: isn't it time that decision-making on significant changes to the cityscape, like this, becomes more democratic? Why doesn't the public, which was barely involved in the creation of this building, have more say?

My opinion is as follows: the city belongs to everyone. Buildings are public. Architects therefore have a responsibility to the public, and play a significant role and responsibility as guardians, even protectors of cities and their appearance. Some architects take on this role, but some seem unaware of this responsibility and only want to enjoy the benefits of unlimited design freedom.

But perhaps the most egregious is the role played by the city of Amsterdam and the Spatial Quality Commission (Commissie Ruimtelijke Kwaliteit). The city should act in the interest of its residents, but the commission seems to act with mostly the architect in mind. It is obvious that the new design of the Heineken Corner is not popular among the population, and the fact that this fact is not considered, in my opinion, is a disgrace. Too often, designs that completely clash with the qualities of Amsterdam are tolerated under the guise of renewal and innovation. Where the architect fails to exercise self-restraint, the commission should compensate.

The design competition has achieved its goal as far as ArchitectuurOmslag is concerned, but the battle has just begun. The Heineken Corner does not stand alone but is a symptom of much deeper problems. It will be a long road to address these, but with a shift in public opinion, there might be a way out.

Recente blogposts

Alles weergeven


bottom of page