A Frankenstein House Gets A Brand New Skin, And A New Lease On Life

In a country full of vacant housing, Dutch architects Ooze wrap an old home in a skin of faceted timber and grass.

There are an estimated 1,000 vacant buildings in the Netherlands. For a small country, that number is massive and has sparked debate among Dutch architects for years. In fact, the country’s contribution to the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale was a massive model of the thousands of empty buildings that dot the country’s landscapes. “Why is there so much unused architecture in the Netherlands?” asked the curators.


When Rotterdam- and Paris-based firm Ooze accepted a commission to build an addition to a suburban Rotterdam home in 2009, they hoped to address the debate animating their peers. Their client’s existing home, which was built in the early 20th century and added to in 1991 and 2003, was a Frankenstein of styles and structures. What would have horrified many architects struck Ooze’s partners as an opportunity: to utilize pre-existing architecture, while pushing forward their goals as contemporary architects.

Strict limits on the footprint of Ooze’s expansion meant they were forced to consider unusual paths toward increasing the home’s square footage. Instead of building up a new structure, the addition wraps around the load-bearing members of the original house, increasing the home’s volume while controlling the footprint. The new volumes sit atop the old home like a faceted hat.

Ooze’s client, Gaby, was concerned with preserving what she called the “soul” of the original patchworked house. The language of the addition–prefab timber faced with stained black panels and sedum green roofs–is a deliberate mashup of Dutch farmhouse vernacular and new generative techniques. But the architects claim the folded structure is anything but formal. “It’s not an object,” writes photographer Jeroen Musch. “It’s a collection of very comfortable spaces.”

The addition is sweetly unapologetic for its alien appearance, as if it alighted on the site after taking a shine to the pre-existing home. “We’re convinced that reclaiming the past is a form of discovery,” say Ooze principals Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg, “away from the tabula rasa, towards a more sustainable way of enriching our environment.”


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.