A New Building in the Historical Context of Groningen

04 March 2018
Michael James Lucas


Since the 7th century, the Grote Markt has been the heart of Groningen and is the largest and oldest square in the city. Throughout the years, it has been the centre of economic activity and since 1310 the seat of civic governance.

In 1945, large sections of the inner city were destroyed, including the northern (Noordwand) and eastern edge (Oostwand) of the Grote Markt. The post WWII reconstruction opened the previously compact city up to motorised traffic, with the eastern wall moved 17m backwards to make room for wider roads. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the lost quality of the historic city centre became appreciated. 

In 2005 the City of Groningen held a referendum about redeveloping the eastern edge of the Grote Markt. The population voted for a total regeneration whereby the buildings would move back to their historic position to re-create a more intimate square. This lead to the construction of a new ‘Oostwand‘ (Eastern Wall), with a new square (Nieuwe Markt) and cultural centre Groninger Forum behind it. Merckt is the cornerstone of this eastern wall and the entrance to the new square.

In its structure, Merckt follows the historic structure of the former urban fabric, with a clear plinth, body and set back crown. By creating a double height space, opening the plinth on all street fronts and activating it with a food market and pub, Merckt becomes an integral part of the social life of the inner city. At the same time, this open plint becomes part of the public domain and invites people to use it as a short cut to and from the Nieuwe Markt.


While the Grote Markt facade of the building is clearly vertical in its expression—referencing the narrow buildings of the past with their tall windows, the building steps down through staggered terraces on the Oosterstraat and Poelestraat facade so that it responds to the smaller scale of the adjacent monument and streets. Viewed from the Poelestraat and Oosterstraat the building forms the transition from the lower existing urban fabric and rises up introducing the scale of the Grote Markt. The arches of the plinth are contextual and reference an architectural language that is visible in many buildings in the inner city.


In its materialisation, the three layers of the building are individually expressed while harmonising as a whole. The iconic yellow bricks of Groningen’s streets flow through the glass facade of the ground floor and continue into the building to link it physically to the street. The arches of the plint touch the ground with a yellowish brown Jura Gelb honed natural stone that transitions over to a sandblasted concrete showing the white Norwegian marble aggregate that reflects the sunlight—creating a dynamic effect. These double curved concrete elements clearly read as a modern intervention, while creating a conversation with the plint of the new Vindicat building at the other corner of the Oostwand. The body is wrapped in brick made from locally sourced clay with a top layer echoing the patina found on the Bentheim Sandstone of the iconic Martinitoren. From a distance it reads as a single surface, however as one moves towards the building the nuances of the colours become more visible. The champagne golden colour of the window frames and balustrades add another layer of richness to the facade that is continued in the frames of the crown of the building. The whole colour and material pallet is in tune with that of the surrounding city. 

All this together combines to form a building that is clearly a modern addition to the city, while at the same time takes its inspiration and references from the historic urban fabric of Groningen.