A building using emoji as modern gargoyles by Attika Architekten

A building using emoji as modern gargoyles by Attika Architekten
[Amersfoort] Netherlands
metalocus, DANIEL MADERA
Plein Rond de Eik by Attika Architekten. Photograph © Bart van Hoek, Attika Architekten.
The architecture has always used ornamentation to decorate, enliven even a way to inform. The Greeks favored caryatids, Gothic designers embraced gargoyles, and the Art Deco era saw the rise of pyramidal motifs. A little more recently, historically speaking, Michael Graves summoned the Seven Dwarves to hold up the pediment of the Team Disney Building. Emoji are going to be some of the most recognizable icons of the 21st century, says architect Changiz Tehrani, which is why he decided to cast 22 of them in concrete and use them as decoration for a building in the Dutch city of Amersfoort.
Tehrani, who works in Attika Architekten, pulled each of the 22 happy, sad, laughing, and other faces directly from the library of emoji in his favorite texting app, Whatsapp. He selected only faces emojis, for their expressiveness and consistency. “They are really strong, recognizable shapes,” he says. “You recognize them immediately.” There’s no specific order to their appearance on the building, but Tehrani,  did choose to place the surprise emoji at the very top of the building.

Construction on the building finished in 2015, but commercial occupation only began last summer, with official pictures published last month. The reaction has been uniformly positive, says Tehrani, though he admits he never asked older residents of Amersfoort what they thought of the construction. “I don’t know if older people recognize the emoji,” he says. “But if you have a smartphone, you will have seen them.”

Although the severe dogma of Modernism all but required architects to shun ornamentation, it enjoyed a comeback of sorts with postmodernism and its classical motifs. Still, most contemporary building embellishments consist of abstract details, such as the latticed bronze screen that David Adjaye added to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, or the more classical ornamentation Robert A.M. Stern used in the new Museum of the American Revolution. As to the use of emoji, everyone has an opinion. Although some have responded with crying or wink,
many architects say angry.

Description of the project by Attika Architekten

The center of Vathorst is characterized by a vibrant mix of features that stand on an original, landscape ribbon. Attika Architekten is responsible for the Master Plan of the Center of Vathorst (2004) and the design of a part of the 1st phase (2009).

The construction of the 2nd phase creates a more fully-fledged mall, matching the size of Vathorst. Shops, restaurants and apartments provide a cozy square that seamlessly connects to the already existing part of the shopping center. The expansion consists of two building blocks, of which the grand next to shops in the square includes a 2000 m2 supermarket. Above, 23 apartments have been placed along the contour so that they form square and street walls. The architecture has a tight grid of masonry dams and concrete tires that are prohibited at the hubs. In deep nines there are frames that sometimes serve as a French balcony, fitted with a fencing designed by Attika Architekten. This fence is found as a balustral partition along the galleries and stairs.

The architecture skips to the opposite building block, which is central to the axis of the mall. A clock on the facade and 22 emoticons are right to this particular position. Attika Architekten also designed public space. A blonde floor with ceramic vowels forms the square where an old oak plays the main role. Typical Amersfoort strawberries make the square free from car traffic.

Attika Architekten
BPD Amersfoort / Stable Internationa
2000m² super market, 500m² retail area,
23 apartments
Structural engineer
Van de Laar
Stable International
Heijmans/ Dura Vermeer
Leeghwater, Amersfoort


Changiz Tehrani. HTS Amsterdam (2002), TU Delft Architectuur (2010). Founder of the Attika Architekten studio. A fan of travel, ancient cultures and modern architecture in Indonesia, Mexico and his native Iran. Changiz controls the design process from the start with complex BIM models. He previously worked for Jo Coenen & Co. Architekten.