This time, we went to Amsterdam and had an interview with Gerald Lindner, a design-minded engineer who partnered with an architect - Thomas Dill - in order to build one of the most surprising two apartment house we have ever seen: a greenhouse building...
Tiit : you are co-owner of small architectural and engineering practice CC-Studio in Amsterdam.
What kind of projects are you developing and designing daily basis? Where is your passion?
Gerald: we like to put a touch of imagination back into urbanity. We work mostly on private housing. They often become experimental and fun to do as a result of the "Design Thinking process" we do together with our clients. That is why each of our projects looks so very different and unique.
Many hours go into them, yet it never feels like work.
Tiit : your house is really different from what one expects when saying "home". It is also highly experimental.
Please tell us a bit more about your collaboration with Thomas: what were your intentions, what did you want to accomplish?
Gerald: Thomas Dill is an architect. For many years, I used to share a house here in Amsterdam with him.
He knew my fascination for "a house in a greenhouse” concept (invented by Frei Otto).
One day I called him saying I had a chance to buy a small plot in the city but I needed a second family to join me, in order to be able to afford the building operation.
He immediately jumped on the opportunity, also because he knew the many advantages of building using the greenhouse concept.
We wanted to show people that it is possible to build this way even in a densely populated city like Amsterdam.
We wanted to show there are smarter solutions to housing than just concrete and bricks.
Tiit : in the Netherlands, it is not really a common practice to build in wood. Traditional Dutch houses are more made out of bricks and stones.
Why did you choose to build in wood in such an innovative way, using CLT (cross-laminated timber)?
Gerald: Actually the Dutch have a very long history of building with wood. They were famous shipbuilders and in 1592 Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest invented the first ever wind-powered wood mill, which made the conversion of log timber into planks 30 times faster than before.
However, the little wood we had here in the Netherlands (a wet delta full of clay grounds is not a great place for growing high trees) was soon used up and wood became a luxury material that has to be imported from the Baltic States, Norway, Sweden... therefore too expensive for housing.
Why did I choose wood – because I had to “walk the talk”.
As a university design and engineering teacher, I can’t ask my students to care about sustainability and not do it myself :)
As for CLT, it was a logical solution because we needed to limit the ceiling to floor height if we wanted to fit in 4 stories within the set limitations.
The bonus is that the ceiling is finished out of the box, plus it looks great and gives the house a “warm” feel.
Tiit : how long it took to design and how long it took to build your home? What were the biggest challenges on the road?
Gerald: The land was bought at the end of 2011.
It took the council 2 years to get it ready, then almost a year to get all the permits because it was so “unusual”.
Then we found out – even though it was still the crisis period, that none of the "normal" building companies wanted to build it.
We lost one year trying to find someone.
Finally, we gave up and started split up the work in parts, sourcing them individually.
We found a builder who normally builds for farmers prepared to take on task-by-task and build the outer shell of the building.
We did all the work drawings, permit applications, ordering of materials ourselves. And then all the inside: installations, finishes etc. we did ourselves too.
Hard work but it was a very valuable school. That is why I didn’t rush it.
I wanted to get the maximum out of it. I literally know every element that went into the building, where to buy it, how much it cost and if it worked as expected.
Also when you are in the real space you see much better how things work and can adapt them as you go.
The design got better.
I really liked this “slow house” process. It has changed my way of designing.
Tiit : you are sharing the apartment with your wife and with your 4-year-old daughter.
Your wife really appreciated the environment and climate of your home. At the same time, she is a bit critical of the amount of cupboards designed into the house.
What about you? What would you do differently if you could start over?
Gerald: the most honest answer is: the greenhouse concept is great – but not for multifamily housing in one space.
Keep it to one per greenhouse space because the inside climate is so good we always have the windows open.
I also would change a few details that could have been thought through a little better. Working with two different offices did not simplify matters on that point.
When I will use CLT as an apartment-dividing floor again I will be extra focused to get every acoustical detail 100% right on paper and built.
It is the most critical aspect when working with wooden structures.
As for space, we were only allowed to build 85m2 per family.
That is not much, so we must be efficient in how we use it if we want to keep it visually open. It takes time to slowly get used to it and find fitting solutions.
Tiit : What does your daughter think about here home?
Gerald: she got the best room in the house. It overlooks the kitchen, living room and entrance hall and has the privacy of her own little balcony. Kids intuitive sense that this house is meant to have fun and be played in and that is exactly what they do immediately.
I like space to feel free. Maybe because I grew up in the tropics?
Tiit : at the dinner table, you told me that energy systems of your home are not yet installed. You have here some really experimental plans. Please tell us a bit more about your ideas...
Gerald: they are still “top secret” :)
Seriously, we did sign a non-disclosure agreement.
We are looking into a solution for thermal energy seasonal storage. We know that the surface area of our roof and a part of our southern façade is enough to cover our usage.
Everyone is focused on PV and heat pumps. But I am not convinced they are the best solution if you look at the overall picture. Anyway, most of our energy comes from the sun. The smartest thing is to use that as directly as possible (or go geothermal collectively).
Tiit : It is really nice to be in Amsterdam, I have always enjoyed walking and “flaneuring” on those streets without any deeper goal. It does not matter if I am in old town or in new development areas, but I see some connection and historical continuity.
When talking about living spaces, Dutch people are always experimenting, always squeezing out as much as possible from any spatial idea or system they exploit. And at the same time, they remain almost always rational.
Dutch architecture, where it stands in your opinion in the world architectural scene?
Gerald: The Dutch are indeed super pragmatic. They are not scared to go where the opportunities lie.
In the late ’90 the ideal cultural and financial climate was here at home, but now most of these innovative offices have moved their focus to China. All of them have studios there. Next in line is I guess Indonesia, where labor is still cheap and with a middle class on the rise.
Interview and article by Tiit Sild.
Photos by Gerald Lindner.