Interview on Sitec Studio’s Private Housing

In this sit-down interview, Bert Bulthuis, founder or Sitec Studio and Architectuurstudio Sitec, talks about the private housing segment of his architectural work.

How big a segment has private housing been in your work?

Private housing has always been a very important segment of my work because housing represents the essence of architecture. It’s a shelter. It’s an act of ‘I build for myself, I exist’. So, it’s a very important thing if people want to build something for themselves.

From the beginning of my career, I have always accepted private housing assignments from house extensions and renovations to new private houses. It’s a very interesting kind of assignment. You work very closely with your client who is also the end user.

So, would you describe the client-architect communication and relationship as being a joy of this type of architecture?

Yes. Having direct contact with the end user is an important part of this very refined design process. You can really focus on the client and his or her wishes and needs; from the appearance to the spatial things and the minute details which can bring joy to client for many years to come.

Can you describe the process from the client approach to completion of the project?

Every part of the process has its interesting features and I think that its important for the client to take the time for it.

If a client approaches me, it’s usually because they’ve seen houses that I’ve built or they know people who live in houses I’ve built. The first thing we do is talk about their wishes, their family size, the ambitions they have, what kind of roles they see for the house. Are they working in the house? Do they play musical instruments? Are they sporty? Some clients want a swimming pool. In a few sessions, we try to settle a program of requirements before we start with the design process.

What I also do in this stage is get a feel for what the client likes architecturally through mood boards and impressions of things. This determines the direction of the house.

What, apart from swimming pools, are some of the things you’ve incorporated into your designs?

In itself, a house is a simple thing, it’s for people to live in, to eat in, to sleep in. Some people have aspirations to work in their house. Others want to work separately, so we make a sort of separate area from the house… And, there are always things that people aspire to over these basic functions, for example, indoor or outdoor swimming pools. Even for houses in colder climates, we can action 24/7 12-month swimming pools with an insulated floor that goes on top to keep the water warm. You push a button and the swimming pool is revealed… pool houses where you can relax on beds suspended by ropes.

We’ve built houses with indoor cinemas, gyms. Some people are fascinated by musical instruments and so we’ve built sound insulated music rooms. There are people who concerned about security so we’ve built special safe rooms into the house. All these aspects you can take into consideration if you talk about the program of requirements. But nothing is beyond imagination if you talk in the early stages of the process.

We can also talk about special mood elements you might want to feature like indoor and outdoor fireplaces. We can integrate everything you want into the house you want to live in for the next decade or decades.

For all our projects and also for our private clients we strive towards sustainable circular architecture where we incorporate sustainable materials and technical installations (like solar panels, floor heating/cooling with in-depth heat exchangers) to save the planet and save money for the client in the end.

Which creatives have influenced your designs?

I find inspiration in architects like Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright or Rietveld. These are architects who were very famous and at the same time, they really dived into the private client market. They really listened to what their clients wanted, and transformed this into real architecture connected to the landscape. I really like to listen to what people want, build on it and transform it into something they never would have expected, but, really, really like.

So, how long does the process take for an entire house?

This process varies depending on the client. Some want to take a lot of time for the conceptual design (the initial stage of making the program of requirements) and I always say, we can take a lot of time for this stage because it solidifies the later design stage. Then, we go on to the detailed design stage and talk about materials. How long this takes is also up to the client — some want to dive deep into, say, the tiles that are going to be used.

How long it takes to get permits differs a lot from location to location and country to country. In Holland, it takes between two to four months. In other countries, it takes less long if there’s a general planning code and you just fulfil the general planning code. In other places, you might need to change the planning code which can take up to a year.

The next part is the tendering stage involving the organization of the contractors. The building process starts then and it takes about a year for a house to be built. Sometimes it’s a little bit more, sometimes a little less depending on the complexity of the house. I would say, you usually need to take two years from the beginning of the design process to the realization of the project, although it can take longer.

All of the private houses you’ve done seem to have been in The Netherlands. Is this correct and what are your ambitions?

Our Hong Kong office has been around for eight years now and we’ve done a few smaller projects in Hong Kong and Manilla for private clients. We’re certainly interested in building in this part of the world, for instance, in Australia or southeast Asia and we can facilitate this very well from Hong Kong, because we do larger projects all-over southeast Asia from Hong Kong to Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal. We’re currently talking with a client about a house in the Caribbean.

What is the project you would most like to do?

I am a designer with a lot of creativity, but I’m not creating my dream. I find it very interesting when clients have a lot of aspirations. It’s my role to facilitate them and to create a project beyond their imagination. I build on the aspirations of the client.

Any final comments?

If you have the opportunity to build your own house, it’s a fantastic experience and I would advise you to go for it. It’s a brave and a bold thing to do and I will support you throughout the process.

The Nooterhof ‘Monopoly House’, The Netherlands

Some buildings are given nicknames by the public. These can be positive, like Sir Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’ in London or Herzog & de Meuron‘s ‘Bird’s Nest’ in Beijing. However, sometimes nicknames carry a negative connotation like the ‘Peperclip’ housing project in Rotterdam designed by famous Dutch architect, Carel Weeber. Positive or negative, the adage “Better to be talked about than not at all” rings true.

We architects always create architecture in the public realm, yet some designs are more obvious than others. The project De Nooterhof and its nickname, ‘The Monopoly House’, gives a quirkiness to the city of Zwolle. The nickname is an honor.

The ‘Monopoly House’ nickname was first coined in a local newspaper, referring to the nature education center we’d built in the nature education and leisure park The Nooterhof in Zwolle.

Sitec Studio designed this building in a urban landscape plan we developed for our Landstede client.

The urban/landscape plan creates a combination of nature education buildings, a school and a museum within an revitalized nature education park with fields, forest and water. The school (C), the Museum (E) and the new bridge (11) have not been built.

Landscape Plan Nooterhof

The Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace, Lumbini, Nepal

Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace Lumbini nepal, from Mayadevi siteUnbeknown to many, the birthplace of the Buddha is, in fact, a mostly unheard of place called Lumbini in province number 5, Nepal. It borders Gandaki Pradesh and Karnali Pradesh to the north, Sudurpashchim Pradesh to the west, and Uttar Pradesh of India to the south.

In recent months, soil has been broken in Lumbini, kickstarting the beginning of the ambitious Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace to mark the place where the Buddha took birth under a bodhi tree. Currently, just a simple Maya Devi temple to the south of the 3km by 1km urban plan by famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and a dharma chakra wheel designed by Sitec Studio indicate the historic importance of the site. The dharma chakra wheel marks the spiritual centre of the future Mahasiddha Sanctuary.

Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace Lumbini Nepal , ceremony

The Sanctuary will measure 45m high and 80m in diameter and will contain a Grand Hall to accommodate more than 1000 persons for ceremonies and gatherings in the name of peace. At the top of the building is a planned Sanctuary Hall with a statue depicting Maya Devi giving birth to the Buddha. The Sanctuary will also house a museum, library and vegetarian restaurant.

Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace, Lumbini, Nepal 06

Also on the site will be a separate monastery including monk and retreat accommodation and an MEVP building.

190725 Architectural FT(Rev. A)_Moment URBAN120190114 locationB development Programmatic SketchBert Bulthuis of Sitec Studio Hong Kong is the lead coordinating architect for this ambitious project coordinating architectural and spiritual discourse between the client, H.E. Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, the building committee, architects KplusK associates and consultants — the Beijing-based BIAD, and Kuala Lumpur-based JRP and Arcadis among them at venues across the Asia-Pacific region.

Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace, Lumbini, Nepal 03Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace, Lumbini, Nepal 02Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace, Lumbini, Nepal 00

These are strange times and we, at Sitec Studio, hope that you’re keeping well and taking adequate steps to protect yourselves against the Corona virus.

As ever, through this blog, we endeavor to keep you up to date with our projects and bring a little sparkle, by sharing some of the things that have inspired us across the fields of architecture, urban design and interiors.

Stay safe and lose not your ability to be find things awesome!

— Bert Bulthuis, Principal architect, Sitec Studio, 2021