On Borneo Island in Amsterdam’s East, at the very tip of a long row of 56 single-family homes sits a curious collection of bright glazed volumes, projecting out towards the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, one of the most navigated routes in Western Europe.

The eastern docklands of Amsterdam is a man-made industrial area, reclaimed from the IJ river. Here, two 19th century harbour docks, Borneo and Sporenburg, were once filled with repetitive brick or steel plate warehouses.

In the 1990s West 8 developed a radical new vision for this harbour site and by combining a high density of 100 units per hectare (typically associated with the inner city) with low-rise suburban housing typologies for families, West 8 created a unique and highly successful new urban form.

On Borneo Island, SeARCH designed a series of terraced three-storey single-family houses, arranged in a strict line. The regularity of these cast-in-place concrete tunnel structures pays homage to the site’s manufacturing heritage - where efficiency and economy reign supreme.

But there are some seemingly small yet significant tweaks made to this standardized system that quietly enfolded a living quality into the scheme. Typically terrace houses are built back to back, resulting in a streetscape dominated by parked cars. But here this has been reversed to create an internal street with garages and generous patios have been ‘slung’ on top of these garages so that even the north-facing houses can enjoy the sun.

And a little unbuilt piece of land at the end of the site, measuring only three-quarters of the size of the standard concrete tunnel structure, provided an opportunity to explore an alternative typology.

By flipping the orientation of the homes ninety degrees and stacking three on top of each other, these apartments sit like a bookend, completing the end of the row of townhouses with something wholly unexpected.

Here, the oversized concrete slab of the stacked apartments functions as a balcony that stretches along the full facade, only interrupted occasionally by glazed rooms, which stick out like boxes in a high-rack warehouse. The lowest balcony of the slightly elevated ground floor bends down to meet the street, creating extra private parking - the ultimate luxury in Amsterdam.

Bjarne Mastenbroek & Dick van Gameren
Smit’s Bouwbedrijf
Amsterdam, NL
1994 - 1999
Ossip, Kane, SeARCH