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A House Whose Interior Is Laid Out Like A Tiny Village

A wharf-side home in Amsterdam where the rooms are “houses” and the shared spaces are “streets.”

Holland is one of the densest countries outside of Asia. Unlike America, there isn’t unlimited undeveloped space to work with. Miles and miles of post-industrial harborfront, left over from the country’s days as a shipping powerhouse, have been reclaimed by the country’s inhabitants simply out of necessity.

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Marc Koehler, an Holland-by-way-of-Portugal architect, is used to the unique challenges of the topography. He grew up in the city, and has spent his (young) career designing buildings and urban schemes that engage these unique conditions.

His office’s latest project is a home built inside of an old fishing cantina, located on KNSM Island, one of Amsterdam’s many artificial land masses. KNSM, at one point, was the headquarters of the Royal Dutch Steamboat Shipping company. It’s since been turned into high-end housing for young Amsterdam families.

A young family, expecting their first child, hired Koehler and his team to build out the cantina before the baby’s arrival. The couple became “exceptionally” closely involved in the design process, says Koehler over on ArchDaily. “Because of the chemistry between the clients and us, we were allowed to research and discuss the ways the clients lived in great depth.” The design team asked them to describe their ideal day at home, and came up with a schematic design based on their descriptions. On his website, Koehler calls the approach “architect as anthropologist.”

The architects compare the home to a village. Spaces that don’t change (bedrooms, storage) became built-out rooms, or “houses.” The light, open spaces that surround the houses are the “streets.” The tall, deep space lent itself to a second level, but the architect didn’t want to restrict access to natural light. Instead, they created an open “roof terrace” on top of each house, that houses social spaces, like the kitchen. A guest “house” connects to the system of terraces via a network of bridges. “The open space can be ‘colonized’ in the future, constructing extra volumes, when the family expands,” explains Koehler.

The project has its heritage in MVRDV’s Didden Village, a similar rooftop “village” in Rotterdam. Both projects–one inside an old building, and another on top of one–react to pre-existing sites, and the architecture is definitely better for it.

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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