written by:
photos by:
February 10, 2009
Originally published in Growing Up Green

Pieter Weijnen’s brand of maritime modernism brings a touch of magic to Amsterdam’s Steigereiland, where the architect built his family’s home. Inhabiting one of the development’s narrow plots, the house harkens back to the area’s nautical roots with a suspended shiplike story, visible from the street.

The suspended living room's scaly belly doesn't detract from the unfussy kitchen and dining area. A recycled Berlage-era table base (with a new tabletop), a deep blue lamp, and Arper chairs add to the maritime feel of the house.
The suspended living room's scaly belly doesn't detract from the unfussy kitchen and dining area. A recycled Berlage-era table base (with a new tabletop), a deep blue lamp, and Arper chairs add to the maritime feel of the house.
Photo by 
1 / 10
Ceramic floors with radiant heating and cozy wall sconces top off the distinctive appearance, smell, and sound.
Ceramic floors with radiant heating and cozy wall sconces top off the distinctive appearance, smell, and sound.
Photo by 
2 / 10
The hanging living room gains greater privacy via a gauzy curtain wall.
The hanging living room gains greater privacy via a gauzy curtain wall.
Photo by 
3 / 10
The concrete bases of the mooring posts are decorated with seashells.
The concrete bases of the mooring posts are decorated with seashells.
Photo by 
4 / 10
Weijnen's office adjoins the living room, an open area furnished with a 1950s television cabinet (housing a new TV), a battered armchair found on the street, a Fellice Rosso leather sofa, and a Koot Licht floor lamp.
Weijnen's office adjoins the living room, an open area furnished with a 1950s television cabinet (housing a new TV), a battered armchair found on the street, a Fellice Rosso leather sofa, and a Koot Licht floor lamp.
Photo by 
5 / 10
In the master bedroom, a large window looks out onto the surrounding rooftops.
In the master bedroom, a large window looks out onto the surrounding rooftops.
Photo by 
6 / 10
Finn's street-facing room at the front of the house is enlivened by varying window sizes.
Finn's street-facing room at the front of the house is enlivened by varying window sizes.
Photo by 
7 / 10
The master bathroom is softly lit by a skylight. The bath, by Laufen, is sunk into the floor to maintain a feeling of space.
The master bathroom is softly lit by a skylight. The bath, by Laufen, is sunk into the floor to maintain a feeling of space.
Photo by 
8 / 10
The terrace is paved with Chinese hardstone tiles and recycled-wood planks. The garden furniture and planters are also made from recycled wood.
The terrace is paved with Chinese hardstone tiles and recycled-wood planks. The garden furniture and planters are also made from recycled wood.
Photo by 
9 / 10
The "floating" staircase is actually supported by steel rods hidden within each step.
The "floating" staircase is actually supported by steel rods hidden within each step.
Photo by 
10 / 10
The suspended living room's scaly belly doesn't detract from the unfussy kitchen and dining area. A recycled Berlage-era table base (with a new tabletop), a deep blue lamp, and Arper chairs add to the maritime feel of the house.
The suspended living room's scaly belly doesn't detract from the unfussy kitchen and dining area. A recycled Berlage-era table base (with a new tabletop), a deep blue lamp, and Arper chairs add to the maritime feel of the house.
Project 
The Blue House
Architect 

Architect Pieter Weijnen’s tall, skinny blue house stands on Steigereiland, one of seven artificial islands dredged from Amsterdam’s IJ Lake in IJburg, the city’s most recent urban expansion plan. The house is not much older than the ground it’s built upon and is surrounded by deep-blue waters and a dizzying range of forms, finishes, and hues—just minutes away from the historic city center.

Weijnen secured one of IJburg’s coveted “private plots” (parcels of land with fewer imposed aesthetic regulations) and built an appropriately whimsical structure for his family. “When I meet someone new to the area,” he says, “they say, ‘Oh, you live in that blue house with the fairytale boat in it.’ It’s become a local landmark.”

Ceramic floors with radiant heating and cozy wall sconces top off the distinctive appearance, smell, and sound.
Ceramic floors with radiant heating and cozy wall sconces top off the distinctive appearance, smell, and sound.

The “fairytale boat,” so visible from the outside, is also the first thing you see upon entering the house. Suspended above the ground floor, the enigmatic, scaly, blue-green mass hovers, just as likely the belly of a sea dragon as the hull of some fantasy ship. From below, the color and texture of the copper plates, with their beautiful verdigris, form a sculptural centerpiece for the house, articulating and enhancing the vertical thrust of the space rather than interrupting it.

“We always intended to have the kitchen at street level and the living room above it,” says Weijnen, explaining how “the ship” evolved. “So I decided to suspend the living room on a platform 13 feet from the floor. As it’s so visible, the platform needed to have an interesting shape. A friend of mine who builds yachts designed a hull-like structure for it, and we finished it off with recycled copper from a church roof, cut into plates.”

The hanging living room gains greater privacy via a gauzy curtain wall.
The hanging living room gains greater privacy via a gauzy curtain wall.

Weijnen and his wife, Renske, and their two children, Puck (eight) and Finn (five), lived in a loft on an older island in Amsterdam’s docklands before moving to Steigereiland, and they wanted to create a similar feeling in their new home. “Given the size of the plot, the only way to do that was to create a kind of vertical loft,” says Weijnen. Omitting the second floor created a soaring, 24-foot-tall space stretching between ground level and the third floor in the 2,228-square-foot home. In place of supporting walls, two onumental beams of salvaged tropical hardwood (originally used as mooring posts near Amsterdam’s Central Station a century ago) serve as diagonal braces.

“The beams weigh a ton each,” says Weijnen. “They’re so hard that cutting them destroyed several chainsaw blades.” The giant weathered braces are mounted on concrete blocks set with shells, the idea of the project builder, Jasper Kerkhofs. “He was a great person to work with,” says Weijnen. “He interpreted my drawings brilliantly and was constantly thinking along with us.” The team used recycled materials throughout the house, which the architect intended as “an experiment in sustainability.”

“As an architect, you can have a big influence,” Weijnen says. “In the Netherlands, builders, architects, and developers are all waiting for each other, happy to stick to the legal minimum requirements for new buildings. So I think we just have to get on and do it.” Accordingly, Faro Architecten, the firm Weijnen cofounded and which currently employs a staff of 38 on a range of large-scale projects, “now tends to build in sustainability,” he explains. “But with developers, I don’t talk about things like climate change. I talk about added value and better sales instead.”

Weijnen's office adjoins the living room, an open area furnished with a 1950s television cabinet (housing a new TV), a battered armchair found on the street, a Fellice Rosso leather sofa, and a Koot Licht floor lamp.
Weijnen's office adjoins the living room, an open area furnished with a 1950s television cabinet (housing a new TV), a battered armchair found on the street, a Fellice Rosso leather sofa, and a Koot Licht floor lamp.

The Blue House, which Weijnen describes as “a learning process” in sustainable building, uses half of the energy normally used by a new house of the same size. On the roof terrace, where several apple trees (a gift from a local farmer) are growing, a double-pipe solar water heater uses hot wastewater to help heat clean water. Under the recycled-wood garden terrace, a large tank collects rainwater that is used to operate toilets. An air-cooling system inspired by traditional Arabian wind towers conveys the air outside in underground pipes, which cool it before pumping it back in.

Choosing cross-laminated pine (known for its strength) as the primary building material cut down on labor costs, as it is readily sourced in Holland and easy to build with. “It’s usually seen as requiring lots of maintenance and as not holding its value,” says Weijnen, “but it’s a sustainable resource, and wood processing takes relatively little energy.”

He points to the timber houses in the quaint old village of Durgerdam, across the IJmeer from IJburg, as evidence of the potential longevity of wooden architecture. “Those little houses are 400 years old,” he says. “They were my inspiration, not least because you can actually see them from this island.” The finished result, painted in blue with contrasting white details, keeps with the island’s maritime feel as well as Weijnen’s own love of sailing. “The wood gives the place a unique feel, smell, and sound,” he says. “It moves and creaks; you hear the house. It has a lot of personality.”

Finn's street-facing room at the front of the house is enlivened by varying window sizes.
Finn's street-facing room at the front of the house is enlivened by varying window sizes.

Sustainable features distinguish the Blue House, but its true mastery lies in the details and the execution of space. As Weijnen sees it, “Just because it’s sustainable doesn’t mean it has to be boring.” The stairs, for example, mimic the magic of “the ship” by appearing to float without support. “I drew the stairs like this, but I had no idea how to construct them,” says Weijnen, laughing. Kerkhofs came to the rescue, using two iron rods to fix each stair to the wall. Steel cables were added to guard the sides of the staircase. At the top of the first flight of stairs, the living room is compact and cozy, a nest of a space where the intimate mood is enhanced by curving organza curtains and colored LED lighting. It’s an insulated, island-like cocoon.

An entirely different atmosphere is achieved on the top floor. Four narrow, closely spaced windows on the north wall provide a remarkable prismatic play of light on the wall beside the staircase. “I do think northern light is more poetic,” says Weijnen. “It has a more mysterious quality. But I hadn’t really anticipated this effect—it was a gift from nature.” Similarly, the master bedroom and bathroom are beautifully downlit by a skylight in the roof. “It’s a gentle sort of alarm clock,” says the architect.

On the family’s big recycled-wood kitchen table sits a model of Weijnen’s next house (a natural progression from this one), which will soon be built just a couple of streets away. “We built the Blue House intuitively,” he says. “The energy-saving systems are all add-ons. But in my next house, they will be part of the architecture.” The next house will use no energy (though Weijnen insists it will be equally beautiful, with photovoltaic cells in the roofing and a turbine), illustrating his conviction that architects should design with sustainability in mind, not as an afterthought. “At the moment, I’m trying to figure out how to make the facade out of photovoltaic cells and make it look sexy, too,” he says. “Beautiful buildings are preserved—you can’t get more sustainable than that, can you?”

The response to IJburg has been equivocal due to the merits of its progressive urban plan and demerits of its ecological impact. The scheme has been organized with an eye towards density, integrated green space, and public transit—arguably serving as an alternative to sprawl, though few could claim that dredging the IJmeer is without consequence. Weijnen can only hope that the ideas expressed in the Blue House’s narrow footprint will spur a sea change in the character of this burgeoning development, which will—like it or not—house 45,000 city dwellers in nearly 18,000 dwellings by 2012. After all, no house is an island. 

To see more images of the project, please visit the slideshow.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Chalet in the French alps
An innovative glass addition adds contrast to a timber mountain lodge in France.
February 11, 2016
Aumas' assorted collectables.
Bright colors and vintage furniture are abound in these French homes.
February 11, 2016
Kogan designed a number of the built-in furnishings, including the headboard and cupboard in the master bedroom.The cupboard is deliberately reminiscent of a mid-century stereo speaker. The vintage lounge chairs are by Percival Lafer.
Need to relax? Make your bedroom an oasis from the rest of the house.
February 11, 2016
Modern Florida seaside home with corian island, dornbracht faucet, cees braakman combex chairs and marble knoll table in the kitchen
Read more about Knoll's impressive career here, but in the meantime, explore just a few of her works in these contemporary homes.
February 11, 2016
Modern small box home in Mexico
Letting the warm climate indoors is a common thread through these diverse dwellings.
February 11, 2016
Modern white cabinets under the stairs with skylight above
What could be better than a modest-sized house in a quaintly historic city?
February 11, 2016
dining room lighting
These renovations connect rustic, classic, and modern design in Italy.
February 10, 2016
12362509 211441865858796 1743381178 n1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 10, 2016
modern outdoor garden room plastic polycarbonate
From colorful living rooms to a backyard retreat, Belgian designers reimagine vernacular forms and materials for the modern world.
February 10, 2016
Tel Aviv kitchen with custom dining table and Smeg fridge
Would you go for an out-of-the-box palette for your major appliances? See how these kitchens tackle the trend.
February 10, 2016
Exhibition view, of Klaus Wittkugel works at P! gallery, New York
On view through February 21 at New York's P! gallery, a new show explores the politics of Cold War-era graphic design with a presentation of works by Klaus Wittkugel—East Germany's most prolific graphic designer. Curator Prem Krishnamurthy walks us through the highlights.
February 10, 2016
Reclaimed cedar and gray-stucco home outside San Francisco.
The new kid on the block in a predominantly Eichler neighborhood, this Menlo Park home breaks the mold and divides into three pavilions connected by breezeways.
February 10, 2016
A third floor addition and whole-house renovation modernized a funky cottage on an unusual, triple-wide lot in San Francisco.
From modern interiors hidden within historic structures to unabashedly modern dwellings, these seven renovations take totally different approaches to San Francisco's historic building stock.
February 10, 2016
Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen and gyrofocus fireplace in living room of Villa Le Trident in the French Riviera, renovated by 4a Architekten.
The Aegean's all-white architecture famously helped inspire Le Corbusier; these five dwellings continue in that proud modern tradition (though not all are as minimalist).
February 10, 2016
San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016