Until the Second World War, inter-generational living was a common phenomenon in The Netherlands. With the advent of the Welfare State in the 60’s and 70’s, it became possible – and common – for families to split up geographically. Changing political and economic times now require Western societies to reconsider this situation.
Contemplating this new paradigm where generations must once more look out for one another, a family comprising of two households decides to build a house together. While the younger couple already lives in the city, the Grandparents were keen on moving back to the vicinity of urban amenities.
The goal of the project was to create a building where both families could enjoy each other’s company without sacrificing the advantages of private family life. As such two separate apartments are stacked on top of one another with the only connection being a communal entrance. While the project anticipates a greater dependency of the Grandparents, the immediate advantage of the close proximity of the two families is enjoyed through activities such as running errands, shared social gatherings and the occasional day-care for the children.
For this mini-apartment building a concept was devised that would allow the building to accommodate changing spatial demands over time. The bottom apartment has an office and a direct relationship with the garden, making it ideal for a working family with young children. The elderly couple occupies the top apartment with generous views across the cityscape. This apartment has an elevator, level floors and wider door openings in order to accommodate wheelchairs. While it does not resemble an elderly home, all necessary preparations have been made for reduced physical ability.
Instead of reducing vertical circulation to a necessity, it occupies the heart of the building. Omnipresent as a sculptural element in the lower apartment, the staircase gradually transforms into a series of voids higher up in the building. By placing the vertical access system in the middle of the floorplan, the building is divided into a ‘fore’ and ‘aft’. Either side of the floorplan can be connected to one of two staircases to create a different configuration.
The building has been engineered to facilitate the transfer of space on the second floor. Initially used as a space for guests for the Grandparents’ apartment, the space can be easily added to the lower apartment through a few minor adjustments. The position of the double-helix staircase makes it possible to stretch the inter-generational living concept even further. Two studio apartments could be made on the North façade to allow the younger family’s children to live in the building past their adolescence.
As though a clair-obscur, the gradient in the building’s plan is emphasized in the building’s contrasting façades. The Northern façade is mostly closed to reduce thermal loss and reduce sound exposure along the busy street. Towards the South the building opens up completely, maximizing passive solar gain and the connection with the outdoors. In between the two contrary façades, the building’s plan undergoes a gradual transformation, from compartmentalized in the North, to open-plan and structured with free-form elements towards the South. Here the building is concluded with an informal, filter-like balcony layer.
In a near elementary detailing, the building communicates its composition and materials communicate their purpose. Hence the Southern façade is clad only with large triple glazing window frames to underline the building’s relationship with the outdoors. The remaining structural walls are composed of large format concrete masonry and wrapped in high-grade thermal insulation. Between these walls, bare concrete slabs span the full 8 meters and offer a clear plane on which warmer timber elements define spatial moments. Closed and bare towards the North, light and fragile towards the South, the building is a composition of contrasts.