Overvecht is characterised by nondescript, mid-rise apartment blocks set in a park-like environment. Any vibrancy to speak of comes courtesy of the more than 170 nationalities that call this neighbourhood home. Thankfully, it is here that real estate development company AM plans to build a demographically mixed residential complex that is set to contribute to the positive transformation of the neighbourhood. The newly developed NPD area will comprise three unique buildings designed to support the concept of “healthy urban living” (community-based well-ness). Paul de Ruiter Architects are to design the two outer buildings, and will work closely with NL Architects, who are responsible for the middle building. The public spaces and communal courtyard gardens will be designed by Flux landscape architecture.
The City of Utrecht wants to keep the overheated housing market accessible to people on low incomes. Wherever possible, it is expanding its mid-market rental segment with new urban residential accommodation and converting former business premises, such as the former site of the postal service depot (aka the NPD area) in Overvecht, into desirable residential neighbourhoods, DeBuurt. With a brief that calls for the incorporation of sustainable features, the inclusion of a variety of functions and facilities, and a design that meets the needs of a diverse target group, the NPD development is set to become one of the most (socially) sustainable residential projects in Utrecht. Paul de Ruiter Architects have given material form to this vision in their designs for two of the project’s three buildings, which, in addition to their combined total of 334 apartments, also include work and recreational space.
Together, we aim to turn the NPD area into a vibrant, inspiring and socially sustainable neighbourhood, one that promotes entrepreneurship, learning, health, culture and creativity. Our inclusion of a wide variety of housing types in the design ensures that we meet the housing needs of a whole range of target groups. On the ground floor, we deliberately locate a mix of apartments and other facilities, so as to ensure that the wide passageways between and around the buildings brim with life and contribute to everyone’s sense of security. Communal spaces for residents to meet and socialise will include courtyard gardens, a green strip along the water and restricted-traffic inner zones. In addition, the middle block will boast a double-height base devoted to a variety of activities and functions, including a restaurant with a splendid waterfront terrace, thus providing yet more areas in which to socialise. Meanwhile, the development’s proximity and connection to the shopping centre will help to strengthen the neighbourhood’s position as an important focal point for the wider area. The character of the neighbourhood will be defined not only by its inhabitants and the local entrepreneurs, but also by the tastemakers and trendsetters that it attracts from other parts of the city. The result of all of this will be a pleasant environment in which to live and work, as well as a place that encourages you to develop and use your talents.
Paul de Ruiter Architects’ design is informed by our positive view of the neighbourhood. As we see it, the vibrancy of a neighbourhood begins with the diversity of its residents, and this is in evidence here.
Thus, as befits the neighbourhood’s diversity, the development of DeBuurt will include a variety of apartments to meet the needs of a range of target groups, including first-time buyers, upgraders, families, senior citizens, and people with special needs and requirements. This will help ensure a balanced mix of residents. In our designs are a variety of communal spaces, which we have conceived to facilitate and encourage social interaction, neighbourly support and mutual inspiration among residents. The result of all these considerations will be a neighbourhood characterised by liveliness and social cohesion.
The three enclosed blocks are designed as an aesthetic and functional ensemble, their collected coherence ensured by the common width and height of their six storeys. In addition, all three feature brick facades. Within these shared and powerfully striking forms is a great deal of diversity in design and materials. The development’s distinct and soon-to-be-familiar silhouette will be clearly visible from Overvecht shopping centre, acting as an invitation to the public to come visit.
The blocks will accommodate 334 apartments measuring between 40 m² and 120 m², most of which will be geared towards the mid-market rental segment. These two-, three- and four-room apartments will be arranged in such a way within the blocks as to promote interaction between different types of inhabitants, and will meet the needs of young adults, families and senior citizens. The blocks will also include sheltered housing, co-living accommodation and live/work units. All the apartments will meet the requirements of the city government’s standards of liveability and accessibility, as well as the needs of their inhabitants through the age- and health-related changes in their lives.
To promote outdoor activity and provide the space for residents to meet and socialise outdoors, the second storey of each block will be equipped with a communal courtyard garden. Huge holes in each block will allow immediate views of the external surroundings from these courtyard gardens. These courtyards will only be accessible to residents, and will constitute the heart of each block. In addition to these communal spaces, each apartment will be equipped with its own French balcony, loggia or terrace, so that residents can also get some fresh air in private. The ground-floor apartments in blocks 1a and 1c will, in addition to their private balconies, also come with separate outdoor spaces that look out onto the street and, in so doing, enhance the vibrancy of the street.
Each block will be equipped with its own bicycle lockup, situated next to the main entrance for reasons of safety and security. The residents of blocks 1a and 1c will also be afforded indoor parking space, from which they will have direct access to their homes. To promote liveliness and movement between the blocks and on the perimeter street, the residents of block 1b will also have use of these parking facilities.
A neighbourhood that promotes well-being is one that encourages people to realise their potential. Which is why our design also includes 'function centres”, a range of spaces and facilities for residents to develop their skills and talents.
Among these spaces is the “Workspace”, where entrepreneurship is linked to the opportunity for the development of hidden talent; the “Culture Hub", where residents can experience, and even participate in, cultural activities; and the "Event Space", where exhibitions, lectures and activities will be held with the aim of inspiring residents to discover and develop their own creativity. These spaces will also accommodate workshops and local initiatives for amateur enthusiasts to develop their skills and talents.
The facilities for these executions of creativity, agency and entrepreneurship will be located in the great hall of block 1b. Together with the adjoining food and drink establishments, this part of the development is set to buzz with life day and night, as it fulfils its role as the centre of entertainment and activity for the NPD area as a whole. This level of social activity will increase everyone’s sense of security, and enliven the centre of Overvecht while boosting its reputation and attractions. Keeping the rents in the great hall affordable will ensure its attraction and operation as an entrepreneurial hub for the City of Utrecht. For the detailed conception of these facilities and spaces, we are collaborating with a specially formed team of local designers, artists, event specialists and commercial parties. This will help ensure that the facilities meet all the goals of their design.
The bases of blocks 1a and 1c will each provide approximately 300 m2of facilities to complement those offered by Overvecht shopping centre; these will include an art library, a physiotherapy practice and a dental practice, among other services. These live/work spaces will be located on the sides facing the middle block. And this mix of functions will again contribute to the diversity and liveliness of the areas between the buildings, supported in this role by the positioning of the main entrance to the blocks on these same inward-facing sides of the buildings. By purposefully designing for this level of everyday activity between the blocks, we will ensure that all activity here remains observable to the general public, which will help maintain everyone’s sense of security.
The NPD area is set to further demonstrate Utrecht’s commitment to sustainability and become a blueprint for future projects. All apartments will run solely on electricity, and will therefore be completely gas-free. Our designs for this development have been awarded the maximum EPC and GPR scores of -0.02 and 8.5, respectively. These scores were achieved thanks to our provisions for the generation of clean energy through PV panels on the roof and to our inclusion of dedicated thermal storage units for each apartment. Equipping the apartments with effective soundproofing and dedicated air-conditioning, heating and ventilation will ensure the buildings’ ability to support their inhabitants’ health and well-being, quality-of-life measures further buttressed by the outcome of the attention we’ve paid to the usability, accessibility and flexibility of these blocks.
|Naam en plaats||DeBuurt, Utrecht Overvecht|
|Project||Apartment block, commercial space and indoor parking|
|Total floor area||32,800 m2 (block 1A and 1C)|
|Start of design||January 2017|
|Start of construction||December 2018|
|Sustainability qualities/features||Energy neutral; solar cells|
|Project architect||Paul de Ruiter and Raymond van Sabben|
|Project team||Sander Bakker, Mark Homminga, Tim Bakker|
|Construction consultant||BAM A&E|
|Structural engineering consultant||LBP|SIGHT|
|Wind engineering research||Peutz|
|Landscape architect||Flux landscape architecture|