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Project X, Almere

Villa, Almere NL, Design Team: René van Zuuk, Client: Marjo Körner & René van Zuuk, Start of design: 2003 - 2004, Completion: 2004-2006, Area: 215 m², Volume: 780 m³

Behind the somewhat mysterious name ''Project X'', hides the design of René van Zuuk and his family's own residence. The villa, with a small office space, is located right next to the architect's former residence ''Psyche'' in Almere's ''De Fantasie'' district, an area for experimental housing. Due to the fact that the old house serves as his architectural office since 2004, it was logical to consolidate the two plots into one garden. The garden area is maximized by leaving only the width of a parking space between Project X and the neighbouring house.

From an urban point of view, three major points were important: the box-shaped appearance of all the ''De Fantasie'' dwellings, the fixed building line and the pattern of alternating building heights. Placing the lower storey half below ground level, resulted in ''Project X'' being lower than the adjacent dwellings, thus fitting in the height sequence. The distance from the living room to the water is reduced to half a meter, creating a sense of living along the waterfront, despite the rather modest size of the canal. This feeling is being reinforced by the large glass panels of the living room, offering a panoramic view of the water.

Only the exceptionally high entrance door infringes the closed appearance of the box-shaped upper storey volume, enclosing the bedrooms. Its facade is cladded with large, thin cement tiles with a continuing branch-like pattern that softens and invigorates the rigid block shape. The sparse daylight entering the bedrooms comes from skylights and a few subtle ''eyelets'' in the facade. Because of the small dimensions of the facade openings, the main volume remains intact. The upper volume is kept separate from the floor below by a glass window strip on the garden side.

The basic design is largely defined by the latitude enabled by the Dutch Building Decree. The maximum volume allowed on the particular plot is 500 m3, while the residence and the office required 750 m3. Nowadays, the Building Decree gives the opportunity to offset the external house wall and build up to 2.5 extra meters in length, without submitting a planning application, under the condition that it does not border a public street or public park. Therefore, the building part perpendicular to the street is maximized in length to create as much extra building volume as possible.

According to another requirement in the Decree, the extension can only start one meter from the front facade. To provide the ground-floor level with a uniform width, the upper floor protrudes one meter in the direction of the street. For the office section, a rule that allows an annexe up to 30 m2 without a planning permission, is utilized. This extra part is constructed as a basement, to make it secondary to the living area, despite its street-side location. To emphasize its more corporate character, but also its secondary use in comparison to the rest of the house, the concrete here has been left exposed in the outside. Inventive interpretation of these loopholes in the legislation has resulted not just in acquiring the needed space, but also in creating refined and sophisticated architecture.

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