13 Feb 2019 • Living
A three-generation house becomes a solution for Amsterdam’s insane real-estate market
The real estate market in the Dutch capital is nightmarish. For renters, there’s the Airbnb Effect: now you know why the city recently limited vacation rental to 30 days per year and many locals celebrated the departure of the I Amsterdam sign on the Museumplein. Buyers have to face cutthroat competition for limited properties, and the disheartening process often includes substantial overbidding – saying there’s a property bubble is an understatement. So, when local authorities started dishing out plots for new construction in the Noord area, a burgeoning residential development across the IJ river, some families would literally camp out on the spot for six weeks, waiting for a permit. That’s how desperate Amsterdammers are for a few square metres to call their own.
Changing political and economic times require western society to reconsider how families live far apart from one another
Noord is, thus, where most of the residential typology experimentation takes place in the city – if you want to see the future of housing in Europe, head there. It’s where university students live in temporary container complexes and an entire neighbourhood of sustainable floating houses is springing from the Johan van Hasselt canal. It’s also where a family with small children and local architecture firm Beta decided to use a plot to build a three-generation house – something quite uncommon in the country, better known for its independent dwelling customs. ‘With the advent of the welfare state after the second world war, it became possible for families to live far apart from one another,’ explained Beta architect Auguste van Oppen. ‘However, changing political and economic times require western society to reconsider this situation.’
The younger couple already lived in the city with two toddlers; the grandparents lived on the countryside but wanted to be closer to urban amenities – specialized medical care and being able to visit museums and theatres were high on their list. Beta provided a solution in the shape of a mini-apartment building: a dwelling for the elderly couple on top, a larger unit with a garden below and a guest suite between them.
For the older inhabitants, the top apartment has a low-maintenance roof terrace and generous views of the cityscape – but most importantly, for their mobility needs, it has level floors to accommodate wheelchairs and a lift. ‘Without making it appear like a traditional home for the elderly, all preparations have been made for reduced physical ability,’ said Van Oppen. ‘And the energy costs for the lift are reasonable: it is only used a few times a day.’
A door in the guest space located right below connects Oma and Opa to the lower unit, where a series of steps help create a rich variety of spaces throughout the house. The entire setup offers such flexibility of use that, sometimes, the house turns into a four-generation unit: when the two-hour drive home gets too tiring, the 90-something great-grandfather often stays in the surplus guest space sandwiched between the two apartments.
Given the rise in housing prices, further dividing this into smaller units might be necessary in order to allow the kids to live in the city
But there is an added layer of ingenuity in an already ingenious project: given Amsterdam’s dire housing outlook – the land in Noord used to be fairly affordable a couple of years ago, but that is no longer the case – Beta already embedded the possibility of new iterations into the current space. As the floorplan is divided by the vertical access system, either side can be connected to the staircase to create different configurations – a system that is already in place in the guest area. ‘And that means that the house can be further divided into smaller units,’ explained Van Oppen. ‘Given the rise in housing prices in Amsterdam, this might be necessary in order to allow the kids to live in the city.’