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Energy Neutral Home Showcases Charred Facade

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Located in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Houtskelet Gebouw is completely built with recyclable or compostable materials and is the first home in the Netherlands to have two Passive Building Approvals – one for the design and one for the result. ZwartHout designed and built the row home to the standards of Cradle to Cradle and while doing so incorporated the finishing technique “Shou-Sugi-Ban” which translates to “the burning of Japanese cypress”. It is an ancient Japanese technique that preserves wood by charring it. Traditionally Japanese Cypress or “Sugi” was used but any wood can be treated with the same process. The process involves first charring the wood, then cooling it, cleaning it and finally finishing it with natural oil. Shou-Sugi-Ban creates a finish that makes wood less susceptible to fire, insects and rot.

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As unique as the facade on Houtskelet Gebouw is, the building does not seem out of place amidst the row houses that flank it, in fact it makes a nice compliment to the contemporary red facade just to the left of it.

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Without Houtskelet Gebouw next to the red building, the red building would look out of place and so Houtskelet Gebouw acts as the connection between the traditional homes and the modern home. ZwartHout was able to bridge the streets designs with Houtskelet Gebouw by combining the traditional finish with the contemporary geometric detailing incorporated in the glazings.

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A detail incorporated into the facade that I am particularly excited about is the way the architects used laminated sections of recycled boards in a clear finish to separate the rows of charred wood. The contrast is both warm and cold and makes a fantastic color composition of light and dark wood tones.

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The linear lines of the light wood separating the charred wood causes the rows of window glazings to disappear while the linear glazings higher up remain noticeable creating a beautiful geometric pattern. Layered on top of this are the two statement windows wrapped in white. This facade is as much abstract art as it is a building and it just shows what a little bit of creativity within an architectural composition can accomplish.

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The two white windows do more then create an artsy aesthetic within the facade; they also tie in the visual of the wind turbine peaking out above the roof terrace.

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The residential wind turbine is one of the ways the home is self sustaining. Wind turbines are a great way of supplementing energy to solar powered homes on short winter days or those days the weather simply isn’t sunny.

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A service room inside Houtskelet Gebouw collects, stores and delivers the power collected from the wind turbine as well as the solar panels.

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A wood burning energy efficient fireplace within the living room on the 3rd level supplies the home with natural heat. Located next to the stairwell the rising heat passes through the open riser design to heat the 4th level as well.

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One floor down from the living room is the home office. It’s a narrow floor – more like a mezzanine – and the office is positioned in front of the larger of the two white-framed windows. The office might be a small open area but it is stilled filled with unique moments such as the amazing tree trunk beam supporting the living room above.

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This is the interior view from the office and what a view it is. The cabled support of the tree beam is simply awesome and the curving lines of the various planes combined with the glass safety rails and the pale knotty wood walls and ceilings are just spectacular. Again, its amazing what a little bit of creativity within an architectural composition can accomplish.

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Even the hallway on the 4th level is intriguing, thanks to the vertical cable balustrade and the angular lines within the solid wood block treads cantilevering from the wall. This hall might be purely utilitarian but it’s a showstopper. This is the private volume and the stairway that continues past it leads to the roof.

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Behind one of the hallway doors is the master bedroom with its own door that leads to a Juliet balcony overlooking the back yard.

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The ensuite within the master bedroom is an open concept design that includes the jetted tub sunken into the floor as well as a glass wrapped shower featuring purple mosaics to tie in with the purple walls and bed linens.

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The back facade duplicates the double white window composition on the front but adds in the master bedroom’s Juliet balcony and a pergola over the walk out main level. Houtskelet Gebouw may revel in its sustainability but ZwartHout’s creativity is just as impressive.

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