Amsterdam – Vrijbuiter – in Dutch, the word embodies a few definitions: pirate, hijacker, adventurer – it’s even the name of an early-20th century sailing boat. Most recently – albeit, in the English translation of freebooter – it’s become the name of a building housing two 122-sq-m residences on Amsterdam’s north-eastern Zeeburgereiland, overlooking the IJ river that cuts the city in two.
As property values in the heart of the city soar and free space depletes year after year, Amsterdammers are choosing to spread out in all directions; in the past twenty-odd years, Zeeburgereiland has metamorphosed from an industrial area to a desirable residential neighbourhood. In a place like the Dutch capital that offers free commuter ferries for those who live across the IJ, that continued migration is still, for now, feasible for those that work and play in the centre. Finally given a little space, it makes sense that architects and designers should have a little fun breaking away from the storybook red-brick typology the city is so beloved for.
Designed by locally based studio GG-loop, the Freebooter apartments aren’t just named after the fearlessness of the antiheroes of Holland’s seafaring past, they’re actually built with the country’s maritime history in mind, too. GG-loop turned to the technical ingenuity and material palette of ship-building for inspiration; the construction was pre-fabricated down to the last detail, using western red cedar, pine and steel. The floorplan of the homes were intended to ‘unfold’ as one’d move through them; organic lines and flowing curves create fluid space.
‘The Dutch have always been pioneers and innovators, and have an incredible drive to go for it,’ said Giacomo Garziano, architect, designer and founder of GG-loop. ‘So too did the team that built these homes.’
Privacy and sunlight were two big considerations in the project. But the Dutch have a strained relationship with curtains: many homes in the country don’t have curtains at all. If you ask a local, most will explain that the cultural habit is meant to reveal that those living within ‘have nothing to hide’. Yet having privacy is still valued: you’ll hardly see pedestrians (consciously) attempting to sneak a peek at people sharing a meal or watching television.
Like their neighbours, the Freebooter apartments have expansive, bare-all windows, but the façade’s undulating louvers are designed to balance transparency with necessary seclusion. Garziano studied the movement of the sun year-round to create the parametric shape and positioning of the louvers – observation that ultimately came to accessorise the building with optimally regulated natural lighting and clever private spaces.
When GG-loop embarked on their design voyage with the Freebooter building, their concept was to build a ‘new ship’ on the land that literally – the island was built from reclaimed sediment – belongs to the IJ: by the looks of it, they’re steering the city’s residential landscape in the right direction.