This new apartment building in Amsterdam is a new home for wildlife,
Amsterdam is in the midst of a housing shortage, and a new building will help, adding 82 apartments to the city’s inventory. But it will also contribute to another shortage of non-human housing, providing much-needed habitat for several other species, from frontage nests for birds and bats to landscaping that supports hedgehogs and fish.
“We are targeting a few species of animals that are now disappearing from the city, such as sparrows or bats or certain types of butterflies, and have tried to recreate their perfect habitat in this building,” explains Jos-Willem van Oorschot, architect main to VenhoevenCS architecture+urban planningwho partnered with DS Landschapsarchitects on the design.
The site, on an island in a river near the city center, once housed a sewage treatment plant, but is being transformed into a sustainable, car-free neighborhood. The new building, called Proto-Zoop Zeeburguses a single zoo model which requires decision-making councils to include a voice representing non-human interests. (The name, short for zoöperation, is a combination of coop and Zoethe Greek word for life.) While the architects worked on the design, a “speaker for life” championed nature with every decision made.
The terraced design creates plant-filled micro-habitats on roofs at varying heights, with built-in systems to store rainwater and keep plants irrigated. “All roofs are different,” explains van Oorschot. “Those that are, for example, closer to the ground, are wetter. Some of them are more exposed to the sun, so they are drier and they have grass. Some of them have higher bushes, which will allow birds to hide. Some of them have plants that also provide food for birds or other animals. The highest roof will not be planted but will include soil where seeds can naturally germinate.
On the facade, insect nests and hotels are built into the walls. Spaces for sparrows include tiny holes and boxes; bat houses are longer and narrower. Each house faces in a specific direction, based on species preference. On the south wall, the habitats are embedded behind solar panels that generate power for the energy-neutral building. On the ground, where the land meets the river, a stone wall is designed with cracks to allow plants to grow and give fish breeding grounds. On one side of the building, the wall is lower than usual, so animals like ducks and hedgehogs can come out of the water and settle in bushes on the ground.
The ground floor of the building will house several nature-focused organizations, including nonprofits that research biodiversity. “They will use the building as a prototype which they will monitor over the next few years to see if there is anything we can improve on the design,” van Oorschot said. Construction will begin in 2024 and the building is expected to be completed in 2026. He believes nature-inclusive architecture will become more mainstream. “I think it will be more and more normal to include both animals and plants in all designs in the future,” he says. “Our cities need it. And the world as a whole will of course benefit.