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Living Above and Below the Water

By Christopher F. Schuetze
The New York Times


Living Above and Below the Water’s Surface in Amsterdam

Floating houses built on man-made islands make up the new neighborhood of IJburg in Amsterdam. Center, the home of Monique Spierenburg and Kees Harschel, whose seven-meter sailboat is docked right next to the living room. CreditFriso Spoelstra, Boat People of Amsterdam, Lemniscaat, 2013
AMSTERDAM — When asked about his three-story floating house in a gleaming new part of Amsterdam, Kees Harschel, a 65-year-old native Amsterdammer, likes to compare his living situation to winning the lottery.

“This house fits us like a second skin,” said Mr. Harschel, a retired physical education teacher, sitting in his dining room on the ground — or in this case water-level — floor of the house he has shared with his wife, Monique Spierenburg, since the couple had it built seven years ago.

In Mr. Harschel’s case, the comparison with a game of chance is more than just pride of ownership: To become part of the community of 36 houses floating on an artificial lake on Steigereiland, one of several man-made islands that make up the burgeoning new neighborhood of IJburg, Mr. Harschel competed with more than 400 applicants.

“My wife said: Go on, gamble — you won’t win anything, so try it,” said Mr. Harschel, who lived in a house on the Amstel river before moving to IJburg. But winning a spot in the small community — which the couple did in 2007 — was just the first step in a journey that would include hiring a renowned architect and battling the bureaucratic wrangling that comes with being a building pioneer in Europe.

The result is an expression both of one couple’s love of the water and of innovative living for which the Dutch — long known for their centuries-old ornate houses — are garnering an international reputation.

IJburg, home to about 20,000 people currently, is expected to eventually house 45,000. It has been rising over the past decade on a succession of artificial islands to the southeast of the city center, conceived to ease a chronic housing shortage. The area attracts many young families and professionals who, with a newly built tram line, can be in the heart of Amsterdam in 10 minutes.

The city has taken care to create a mixed community, with mansions, social housing and both market-rate and fixed-rent apartments, all sharing courtyards, public squares, parks, shopping centers and canals.

And while the 36 houses in Mr. Harschel and Ms. Spierenburg’s part of the neighborhood are all individually designed and built, those across the lake are by a single developer. Some are rented and some are owned by their inhabitants.

The couple’s house, which is nine meters, or 30 feet, high, rises just seven and a half meters above the water surface (the submerged 1.5 meters is part of the fully functional bottom floor) and is seven meters wide and 10 meters deep. (The width of the house is set by the size of the lock connecting the IJmeer to the little lake that would become its home.) Over all, the design accommodates 175 square meters of total floor space, or 1,880 square feet, with a 35-square-meter roof terrace.

The interior is the essence of Dutch simplicity. The main floor has a kitchen and dining room, where the couple do most of their socializing. Vast windows ensure the interior is flooded with diffuse reflected light and offer views of the IJmeer and the rest of the floating neighborhood.

The top floor is divided between an indoor living room and an outdoor patio. When the doors are open in the summer, the space becomes one, evoking architecture from much warmer climates.

Built to suit the couple, the basement includes two bedrooms, a master bathroom, an infrared sauna, a study and, according to Mr. Harschel, one of the most important rooms in the house: a two-and-a-half-square-meter woodworking and repair shop.

Although the house feels like a normal house, it is actually floating on its concrete basement foundation. (Power, water and other services are supplied via the fixed dock, which also acts as the land access, installed and maintained by the city.) Eye-level windows in the basement afford just-over-surface views.

Its unusual construction allowed the house to be built miles away from where it now floats, and if Amsterdam’s building code did not forbid it, the owners could simply take it with them when they moved.

“I’m a sailor,” said Mr. Harschel, who pilots saloon boats — canal boats often used for private day trips — around Amsterdam. His seven-meter Thalamus Working Boat is docked right next to the living room.

“On summer evenings we can just take some beer, wine and toast and have dinner out on the water,” said Mr. Harschel, who last summer sailed to the south of England, departing from and returning to the side of his house.

On the rare occasion when the lake freezes over, Ms. Spierenburg straps on her speed skates and takes to the ice without having to leave her house to reach the rink.

“It is much more a gateway to freedom than it is just a place to live,” said Koen Olthuis, who designed this house and whose architectural office, Waterstudio, specializes in designing floating buildings all over the world. “Skating around the house, swimming around your house — it’s marvelous.”

Both owner and architect concede that being one of the first houses on the pier came with costs.

“They paid a bit for the things we learned,” said Mr. Olthuis, explaining that the pioneering families did pay — in money, time and frustration — for what the city was learning about urban planning on water.

“It was a book this thick, but we were free,” joked Mr. Harschel, waving an imaginary building code volume.

Mr. Olthuis noted that the house had been built following code for land houses, which, in keeping with a mandate to build greener houses in the Netherlands, stipulated triple-glazed windows, heavy insulation and even a heat exchanger to retain heat from effluent — something that most houseboats, which tend to be light houses on a heavy foundation, avoid.

Mr. Harschel estimates that the couple spent 350,000 euros, or $380,000, to build the house (the lease for the lot is €600 a month), and guesses that the value of the property has probably more than doubled in the years since it was built.

“These people living here are pioneers; they are willing to take a risk, they are willing to try stuff out,” said Mr. Olthuis. “They all have a very strong feeling of freedom. That’s why they came here.”

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Wonen met staal: Villa New Water, Naaldwijk

By Paul van Deelen
Bouwen met staal



Een opdrachtgever met een ruim budget, een mooi ruim kavel en een gevelmateriaal met ruime toepassingsmogelijkheden. Architect Koen Olthuis benut zijn ruimte om een uitgesproken ontwerp te maken met bijna industriële precisie. de transparante gevels en gekromde gevelvlakken zijn het best te maken met een stalen drager.

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Corian-Clad Pad in the Netherlands Could Be an Extra on Tron

By Rachel B. Dyle
Photos Credits Waterstudio.NL


A couple years back, Disney used the space-age material Corian to build a real-life version of the futuristic house from the 1980s movie Tron. Now a firm in the Netherlands has clad a submarine-shaped home next to a lake with the material, for a very high-tech effect. Indeed, the one-story home with floor-to-ceiling windows by Waterstudio.NL has the rounded edges and elegant white shell of a living space created by Apple engineers.

Building in the rural location of Westland, Holland comes with rules about the permitted heights for structures. The resulting Corian-and-timber house is low to the ground, with a main entrance on the side of the volume, and a subterranean level that is obscured from the lake-side. “The concept of transparency was maintained throughout the house by creating an open layout where almost no doors are used,” architect Koen Olthuis writes. Photos, below:

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waterstudio aligns low-profile dwelling with the dutch landscape

By Philip stevens

Photo Credits by Waterstudio.NL

this residential property in the netherlands has been designed to comply with strict regulations that limit the height of the single storey structure. completed by koen olthuis of dutch architecture practice, the property utilizes additional floor space at a subterranean level, providing extra surface within the limited dimensions of the building envelope.

the building is formed of a white frame that outlines large surfaces of glass

the building is formed of a white frame that outlines large surfaces of glass, offset with integrated touches of warm timber. the entrance has been designed to be a space for the dwelling’s occupants to take in the morning sun, while façades alternate between corian and glass.

the dwelling integrates touches of warm timber

continuing the sense of transparency that pervades the scheme, a minimal amount of doors are used inside the home. the ground floor contains a living room, kitchen and a dining room, while bedrooms and private programs are positioned below grade. koen olthuis was also responsible for the project’s interiors and landscaping, where a simple garden introduces a flow of water inside the plot.

the entrance has been designed to be a space  to take in the morning sun

the property utilizes additional floor space at a subterranean storey

the house frames views of the surrounding landscape

the ground floor contains a living room, kitchen and a dining room

the home’s bathroom at lower level





project info:

name: villa new water
location: westland, the netherlands
completed: 2014
photography: architect koen olthuis /

architect: koen olthuis /
client: van der arend family
contractor: van leent bouwbedrijf
lighting: stout lighting
cladding: corian dupont


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Koen Olthuis, Hong Kong design week

By Today’s living


The business of Design Week (BODW), organized by the Hong Kong Design Centre, has been a key event for the local design community since 2002. BODW 2014 saw the arrival of leading designers from Sweden and all over the world,, carrying with them invaluable insights from the fields of architecture, fashion, technology and culture. Today’s Living talked with six of the design heavyweights present at this year’s event, namely Anna Hessle, Erik Nissen Johanson, Koen Olthuis, Lisa Lindstrom, Thomas Eriksson and Marcus Engman. In this issue, we introduce you to three of these interior and architectural leaders, all of whom are masters of their industry.



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Sea Trees , a beautiful way to save the cities

By Ana Swanson
The Washington Post


In many of the world’s fast-growing cities, there isn’t enough room for people to live, let alone wildlife. Our friends beneath us in the food chain are becoming increasingly marginalized—world wildlife populations have decreased by about half over the last 40 years alone. Now, there’s a plan to give urban homes back to wildlife. But these homes aren’t quite urban. They’re, essentially, giant floating trees.

The underwater portion of a “Sea Tree.” (Waterstudio)

Waterstudio, a Dutch architectural firm that specializes in designing floating structures, wants to erect “Sea Trees” in major cities. The structures are multi-tiered, tree-shaped habitats that float near urban areas and could provide sanctuary for birds, bees, bats and small aquatic creatures that might not be cut out for city living in the 21st century.

Based on the technology in oil storage towers, the trees have multiple platforms for accommodating wildlife. The underwater portion can house fish and other sea creatures and even provide an artificial coral reef in climates that will allow it.

Koen Olthius, Waterstudio’s founder, told Fast Company that the concept is ready to be implemented as soon as possible. “Our favorite locations would be Mumbai or New York,” he said. “Both have such a high price on land that it makes the construction of new park zones on land not feasible.”

According to Waterstudio, the design would cost approximately 1 million euros ($1.23 million) to build. The idea, of course, may never actually come to fruition, but it looks like a clever and innovative way for cities to give refuge to animals that badly need it

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La torre acquatica che ospita la biodiversità

By Giulia Mattioli
La Stampa


Sea Tree. Un progetto innovativo per preservare la flora e la fauna selvatiche sfruttando le grandi aree marine e lacustri

Navigare sul sito web di Waterstudioè un notevole viaggio della mente: i loro progetti architettonici, alcuni davvero visionari, si legano indissolubilmente all’elemento acquatico. Case galleggianti, palazzi sottomarini, strutture che funzionano dentro e fuori dall’acqua: se lo scenario del film ‘Waterworld’ si realizzasse veramente, loro saprebbero come adattarvisi. Il confine tra terra e mareper Waterstudio non è un limite, ma una nuova frontiera da esplorare, anche in coscienza del cambiamento climatico e dell’espansione degli agglomerati urbani.

Tra i progetti più audaci e affascinanti dello studio di architettura olandese c’è Sea Tree®, una sorta di palazzo galleggiante che svetta sull’acqua, adibito a giardino dove trovano ospitalità diverse specie animali. Non è un progetto per gli umani, ma per la flora e la fauna costantemente minacciati dall’espansione urbanistica, i cui habitat vengono ristretti e alterati di anno in anno in favore delle necessità della modernizzazione. Conservare la fauna selvatica di ogni territorio è fondamentale, ma l’espansione delle città non ne tiene particolarmente conto, ed ecco che i laghi, i fiumi, i mari potrebbero diventare il luogo dove preservare uccelli, insetti, pipistrelli e piccoli mammiferi.

Sea Tree è un grattacielo di biodiversità, che si può collocare benissimo accanto ad un’area urbana, ma nei suoi bacini idrici, in modo da rimanere isolato e protetto dall’avanzata del cemento. Si tratta di una struttura in acciaio, galleggiante, composta di strati di vegetazione, giardini verticali che provvedono alla sussistenza delle specie animali, che includono dei piani sommersi per piccole creaturine acquatiche e, se la latitudine lo permette, per barriere coralline artificiali, habitat a loro volta per centinaia di esseri viventi. Naturalmente in base alla posizione, alla profondità delle acque, alle mareggiate, alle correnti, alle temperature ogni Sea Tree avrebbe altezze e caratteristiche differenti.

Dal punto di vista della tecnica, Sea Tree si basa su una progettazione molto simile a quella delle piattaforme petrolifere offshore, e proprio alle grandi compagnie si rivolgono i membri di Waterstudio per caldeggiare la realizzazione di un ‘condominio’ marittimo per animali. Oltre alle loro torri di stoccaggio e le loro piattaforme, perché non donare alla natura e alla comunità un Sea Tree, fosse anche solo per dimostrare un po’ di buona volontà nel rendere il mondo che tanto sfruttano un posto migliore? Un progetto forse visionario ma assolutamente innovativo per far luce sulla necessità di proteggere la flora e la fauna selvatica di ogni angolo del Pianeta dove vi sia sufficiente acqua per realizzarlo. E considerata la grande esperienza che ingegneri, architetti, tecnici olandesi hanno nel confrontarsi con l’acqua e con i territori dove terra e mare si fondono, a cui si aggiunge il fatto che le torri per lo stoccaggio del petrolio in mare già esistono, i progettisti di Sea Tree hanno ‘semplicemente’ adattato, modificato le tecnologie già esistenti per fare un favore alla natura.


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