Skip to content

Amsterdam apartment building is a modern “ship on land”

But let's not oversell wood construction.

Wood is a wonderful building material. When you look at its chemical composition, it's about 50 percent carbon, pulled out of the atmosphere as the tree grows and stored for the life of the building. It's strong, “a natural composite of cellulose fibers that are strong in tension and embedded in a matrix of lignin that resists compression.” And it's beautiful; we have a biophilic attraction to it. We are not called Treehugger for nothing; we cannot get enough of the stuff.

Exterior from rear side© Francisco Nogueira via V2com

That's why I am admiring Freebooter, a new building in Amsterdam with two apartments of about 1300 square feet each. The architect and developer, Giacomo Garziano, writes:

We are part of nature in a deep and fundamental way, but in our modern lives, we’ve lost that connection. Our studio envisions home and city design that respects both inhabitants and the environment, reconnecting both in the process. Freebooter is a response to that; as I see biophilic design as the key to truly innovative design, balancing the technical aspects of environmentally conscious construction with the qualitative, lived-in experience of an organic and natural space.

view from living room with dining table © Francisco Nogueira via V2Com

The building is constructed from wood, steel, and glass. To my eye, it looked like a LOT of glass but the architect says, “The building's energy consumption is close to 0. This result is the combination of 24 solar panels on the roof, high-performance wall insulation, and glass walls, coupled with low-temperature underfloor heating and a mechanical and natural ventilation system.”

View toward stair from living room lots of wood© Francisco Nogueira via V2com

It's also got a LOT of wood, 122.5 cubic meters of mostly PEFC certified timber, which the architect claims is “offsetting nearly 700,000 km of exhaust gas from a mid-range car and the energy consumption of 87 homes in one year.” These kinds of statements always make me nervous; the implication is that the more wood you use, the more carbon you store, and that this is all a good thing. But a lot of carbon is emitted from the soil and the roots; this calculation may be over-optimistic.

interior showing ktichen stair wood© Michael Sieber via V2com

But all that wood is exposed and beautiful: Solid wood walls, solid wood stair balustrades, plus a wood screen wrapping the entire building.

wood screen on exterior© Francisco Nogueira via V2com

The wood screen helps shield that glass: “Among other features in these homes, Garziano studied the movement of the sun year-round to create the parametric shape and positioning of the building’s louvers, allowing optimal sunlight to flood the apartment while at the same time maintaining the necessary privacy of the inhabitants.”

wood stair with solid side© Francisco Nogueira via V2com

The carbon footprint of this building is far, far less than had it been built out of concrete. Because the wood is exposed, it is using far less of other materials like drywall. We should be doing a lot more of this.

interior wood kitchen and stair© Francisco Nogueira via V2com

But let's not oversell wood in such a way that it appears that the more we use, the merrier for the environment. We should still be using it as efficiently as possible. As Paula Melton has advised:

Wood can be beneficial for its reduced footprint, but don’t use wood as a get-out-of-carbon-jail-free card. Consider which materials and systems make the most sense for the project, and optimize how you use them, preferably with whole-building life-cycle assessment as a guide.

GG-loop | Freebooter | biophilic architecture | Amsterdam from GG-loop on Vimeo.

But let's not oversell wood construction.