When we think of Dutch houses, we tend to think of those tall, narrow, gabled buildings that line the canals in Amsterdam or Delft. The slightly surprising thing about that architecture is that it is, in effect, an architecture of tax minimisation. The Dutch levied tax based on the width of houses and the result was that even very wealthy citizens built only in modest proportions.
Without those Dutch houses the streets of London, New York or Philadelphia would have looked very different; an architectural response to a local tax sparked an international fashion.
This particular house is a different response to austerity. It is the home of two young architects, Gwendolyn Huisman and Marijn Boterman, who found a slot, a slender 3.4m gap between two blocks in Rotterdam, and filled it with a deceptively simple house.
The interior is surprisingly generous, given the narrow plan, although a 20m deep site helped stretch the space. The interiors are characterised by an absolute minimum of walls, with the central stair core acting as a room divider between the front and back of the house. The materials are basic: plywood facings, brick and concrete. But there are some very smart tricks to make the house seem more spacious than it is. One is a net strung over a double-height space, allowing the volume to visually carry on up but creating a kind of giant hammock suspended between floors.
Another is the windows that stand out of the façade, creating within their depth a small seat for reading or just watching, a kind of contemporary bay. The stair treads are left open, allowing light to filter down through the centre of the house from a skylight, and the spaces wrapping around the stair core become built-in furniture, shelving and storage.
The exterior is of dark grey brick, a burnt tone that refers to the building’s historic precedents. It is laid in a delicate, elegant pattern that gives a little sculptural relief to the street. Perforated brick surfaces have the inverse effect inside the house.
A striking effect of light and shade is achieved by these screened openings next to the huge windows, creating more private sides to the rooms. It also refers back to the generous glazing of historic Dutch houses. The asymmetry of the openings lifts it just enough from its context, asserting its difference: within reason, very Dutch.
This is a subtle reinterpretation of a traditional typology, just individual enough but also restrained, respectful and understated. It achieves something so difficult: making a mean urban site look generous and hospitable.
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