The triangular island of Steigereiland Noord (Jetty Island North), on which the Praam residence sits, was reclaimed in the late 1990s, and is quite different in feel and appearance to many others areas of IJburg.

Ijburg was conceived in the mid-1960s, by architects Jo van den Broek and Jaap Bakema, as a scheme to house as many as 350,000 people in a megastructure-type of city plan. Decades later it is still under construction on six artificial islands to the east of Amsterdam, albeit in a different concept. In this new configuration, developed by among others Amsterdam’s chief town planner Ton Schaap, the streets follow a wide-grid, Cartesian block system in which one has a clear view to the horizon at every intersection.

In contrast to this, however, development on Steigereiland Noord has been designed to echo the intimate, narrow streets and “lapidary spatial qualities” of old, Zuiderzee fishing towns like Marken, Naarden, Volendam and Muiden.

The 60,000 square metres island is home to 10 urban blocks, three of which have been designed by Marx & Steketee for a joint-venture client of Vesteda (a company allied to the Dutch civil service pension fund) and Amsterdam-based social housing organisation Rochdale. Each of these three cast in-situ concrete-framed blocks comprises three-storey apartment buildings arranged around a courtyard which, in the case of the Praam building (shown as H on the adjacent plan) is open to public access. Like the Praam, these blocks (A and D on the plan) are named after traditional Dutch fishing vessels, namely the Tjalk and the Botter.

Try as one might, there's no escaping the maritime influence on buildings in this part of the Netherlands. Those fringing the perimeter of the island, for example, including the southern perimeter of the Praam residence, comprise 6m-wide contiguous “dyke houses”; split-level, luxurious dwellings inspired, says Ady Steketee, by London's terraced mews houses. Each features a vast, floor-to-ceiling picture window at ground level, looking out across open water or, in the case of those fringing the southwest edge of Steigereiland Noord, towards permanently moored floating houses.

Six of the blocks, including the Praam and Botter residences, also include a seven-storey apartment block similarly clad in the dark-coloured, slightly iridescent bricks used on the main blocks. The three main three-storey blocks however, share a distinctive architectural characteristic; unusually for luxury residences in the Netherlands, where bricks are standard, their interior elevations are faced in Colorcoat Prisma pre-finished rainscreen cladding from Tata Steel. 

The steel sheets used here, having been externally and internally coated at Tata’s IJmuiden plant, were then shaped to provide evenly-spaced ribs set against a flat surface. In the UK and France this pattern is quite customary on building façades, explains Ady Steketee, whereas in Holland this is not the case, “and we had to instruct the contractors specifically”.

This form of metal cladding, and its warm, golden colour set against the black ironwork of the raised walkways and window frames, provides a visual reference to Scandinavian board-clad housing. "Originally we planned to give each of the three blocks its own colour," Steketee adds, "but we eventually chose to go for a single colour for the three blocks so the entire production could be made on one 20-tonne coil, to our specifications. We also felt that having three different colours might be too much of a good thing.”

As it turns out, the warm tone and fine texture of the interiors form a pleasant and welcoming contrast with sterner, dark-brick and anodised aluminium windows of the exteriors.

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