The Salamander

The housing block with 79 apartments in Zaandam nestles itself into its surroundings like a snake into its basket. The block contains rental apartments for the free and social housing sector as well as 14 service apartments and collective facilities for young handicapped people.

The characteristically sloping roofline is a reaction to the context of the building: a neighbourhood with small row houses on one side, and multi-storey housing slabs on the other side. In order to avoid that the row houses would lie in the shadow, the new building had to remain rather low. This, however, wouldn’t have resulted in the desired number of apartments. Therefore we opted for a volume that traces the irregular perimeter of the plot whilst spiralling upwards, thus adapting to the scale of the neighbouring buildings. At the same time, this spiralling movement encloses a quiet inner courtyard.

As the building lies on a busy road, we decided to wrap the typical Dutch concrete bay structure in a rough skin of black bricks. These bricks are laid on their side, exposing their dent and adding to the tactile quality of the façade. The sculptural character of the building is literally translated to the smaller scale of the single stones. The actual thinness of this outer skin, visible in the openings of the façade, stands in surprising contrast to its robust look.

Behind the outer skin lie the access galleries and the exterior walls of the apartments, clad with yellowish-green panels. The apartments are mainly orientated towards the quiet courtyard, which has a warm and inviting atmosphere due to its wooden cladding and soft curves. «Rough shell, soft core» seems to be the motto of the building. Only at its narrow ends, the block is stripped of its brick skin and reveals its domestic interior to the passers-by. These apartments either have balconies, orientated towards the outside of the block, or extra large access galleries along the inner courtyard, which can also be used as balconies. By this means, the best is made of their north-south orientation.

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The courtyard is designed as a collective garden and is accessible to all residents. For the handicapped apartments, there is a small separate garden on the eastern perimeter of the block. In addition, the sloping roofscape is covered with moss, so the apartments on the top floors have a nice view.

Thanks to its sloping roof and curvaceous shape, the block not only contains many different apartment types – partly with extra high ceilings or roof patios -, but also has a different appearance from each perspective. Time and movement are important factors in its perception: In order to understand the building as a whole, you have to move through and around it. The block was named «Salamander» due to the yellow cladding of the galleries, which is widely visible behind the openings of the black skin – especially at night.

Juxtapositions such as these constitute the leitmotiv of the sculptural building. In the Salamander, robust meets soft, dark meets colourful, industrial meets handcrafted, and sober meets playful.

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