Architectural Recombination

By utilizing special materials and reconfiguring floor plans, Ooze Architects create new space in a vintage home.

Ooze Architects

The Netherlands

In 1984, scientists took the genetic information from two animals—a sheep and a goat—and recombined it into a single embryo, creating a genetic chimera. Neither fully sheep nor goat, the resulting organism was entirely new. On the out-skirts of Rotterdam, the Dutch firm Ooze Architects recently completed a house expansion project that’s not an addition per se or a renovation but something different, akin to a chimera. The project began with an existing structure, but when asked about the relationship between old and new, the Ooze partner Sylvain Hartenberg responds, “The space is all new.”

Originally built in 1910, the house had, over the course of a century, undergone several ad-hoc additions and renovations. This left a disjointed set of components and managed to omit what the clients—a Dutch businessperson and an Ecuadoran artist—wanted most: a comfortably sized kitchen and enough bedrooms for their four children.

The couple first approached Ooze to design a kitchen expansion. They soon set their sights on other issues: bed-rooms, bathrooms, circulation. Situated in a suburb with enviably large lots, the neighborhood has become popular with upwardly mobile homeowners inclined to raze old houses and build new ones. In this case, though, the clients were adamant about not eliminating the house altogether, for both philosophical and environmental reasons.

The two main spaces—a traditional pitched-roof structure and a later addition designed to mimic it—were set perpendicular to each other in an L shape and stitched together with a curved wall. The previous, boxy additions had been affixed to the center area of the house, making it seem congested. With its new design, Ooze set out to build a coherent whole.

Building code required the architects to keep the space within tightly defined parameters, roughly eight feet from existing walls and no higher than the existing height. Ooze devised a faceted surface that would allow it to merge the existing parts it chose to keep—such as the pitched roof facades—with the new structure, pushing the allowed envelope without adding another set of clunky boxes.

Made from Lenotec, a prefabricated timber unit, the new exterior material is itself weight-bearing, which keeps the interior spaces free from supports. “If we hadn’t done this, there would have been big beams throughout the house,” Hartenberg says. By rendering the space more coherent, Ooze was able to include new bedrooms upstairs and downstairs and a bright, open staircase to replace its cramped predecessor. Rather than a patchwork of rooms occupying the house’s center, the main entrance opens onto an expansive void, visually linking different areas. Historic features remain, but through recombination, the space itself is entirely new.

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