Design Architecture Amsterdam Apartment Building Is a Modern "Ship on Land" By Lloyd Alter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Lloyd Alter Updated April 29, 2020 © Francisco Nogueira via V2com Share Twitter Pinterest Email Design Tiny Homes Architecture Interior Design Green Design Urban Design 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. ©. Michael Sieber 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. © 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." © 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. © 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. © 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." © 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. © 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.