Online | Architecture

Making Waves

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dutch interior architects i29 create an angular floating home in Amsterdam as part of a sustainable housing scheme

Where better than one of the world’s most watery capitals to build a forward-looking floating community? Schoonschip (which translates as “clean ship”) is sited on northern Amsterdam’s Johan van Hasselt canal in a formerly industrial area: here, a cluster of 46 households have made their home on the water, in a project a decade in the making.

Living on the water is seen as a way to relieve urban density and live with the effects of climate change without it devastating our buildings – but in terms of encompassing changing trends in the way we live (or want to live), Schoonschip ticks a lot more boxes. It’s a custom-build project, where each household has a degree of creative control over the design of their home; it had a strong sense of community and collectivism; and it aims to be an exemplar of sustainable design.

Building on water starts with balance. Each and every choice you make in a design needs recalculation of the complete structure

The masterplan for the project was conceived by Space&Matter, but a number of different architects have been commissioned to build the houses themselves. The latest to be finished is by i29, a timber-frame structure set on to a concrete base, its facade clad with black waxed timber.

Sitting on the corner of the site, the 160 sqm house occupies a prime plot, so making the most of the wraparound views was important: at the corner on the first floor, the facade dips and the angular roofline cuts away, creating a triangular-shaped balcony that leads off the kitchen-diner. “To maximise the space within the given boundaries we had to be very keen on ceiling heights and floor thickness. Every floor level gives a new perspective on the water views,” say the architects.

Below this high-ceilinged upper storey, which is flooded with light thanks to a run of rooflights, the layout drops down on split levels. There’s a mezzanine living area below – its sofa aimed squarely at the eye-level watery view – as well as a master suite. Below that, at basement level, there are two bedrooms, a shower room, utility space and a further lounge area. The floors are all connected by a generous staircase with open timber treads, allowing the light to travel from to bottom. On such a compact footprint, fitting so much in is impressive.

“Building on water starts with balance,” say i29’s architects about the rigours of creating a floating home. “Each and every choice you make in a design needs recalculation of the complete structure. For example, there is a hidden counter-balance element in the basement to give us freedom to position the heavier staircase and technical space towards the home’s north end.”

Community values are important at Schoonschip: the communal jetty has been designed to be a meeting place as well as a means to get to the houses, and residents have agreed to share electric cars rather than have a personal vehicle. Other resources are also pooled: instead of each home having its own meter, a single “smart grid” optimises supply and demand, so that each home’s locally generated energy can be distributed through this central hub (the aim that the whole site should be self sufficient).

I29 was bound by Space&Matter’s overarching plan, which guided the sustainable design, such as in the use of timber frame. “Schoonschip made a programme of requirements for all the materials and systems that could realise a sustainable house. Besides the shared energy system, we used a wooden structure and embedded PV panels on the roof,” say the architects. In addition, water is conserved via efficient showers and toilets, rainwater collection and sedum roofs, and a heat recovery system extracts any warmth from the canal.

Schoonschip may not quite be utopia, however beautiful and well-resolved i29’s house may be. The open-source information Schoonschip has made available to assist any similar projects in the future is littered with earnest goals that fell by the wayside, such as the decision to use concrete despite its poor sustainability credentials, and the dropping of social housing provision for financial reasons. One can’t help but admire how much they have achieved despite all of this, though, rising to the to challenge of climate change despite navigating their metaphorical ship through some choppy waters.