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Dune House

Marc Koehler Architects

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dmadsen, hanley wood, llc

Project Name

Dune House

Project Status



180 sq. meters



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Text by Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA

Terschelling is one of the 14 landmasses that form the West Frisian Islands off the Dutch coast in the North Sea. Its residents are known for their resourcefulness: Legend has it that a barrel of cranberries washed ashore in the 1840s, which they cultivated into a cash crop among the dunes, which were dotted with structures they built from other pieces of flotsam, namely masts and driftwood. More recently, the island has become a popular weekend destination for city folk looking to escape to nature.

Two brothers, one a journalist and the other a businessman, called upon Amsterdam-based Marc Koehler Architects to build a shared retreat on the island for them and their families. Working within a tight zoning restriction of a 90-square-meter (968-square-foot) footprint, the firm designed the Dune House, a faceted structure that packs remarkable variety into its tiny site. “We had to be very creative about making spatial conditions,” director Marc Koehler says. “We had quite a small volume of total space, but a lot of people are able to share it without bothering each other.”

The house nods to its beachside surroundings with a neutral materials palette. The chimney acts as a kind of central mast, from which a sequence of living spaces unfold as a progression of platforms that spiral upwards. Three bedrooms share a floor plate submerged partially below grade to take advantage of thermal insulation from the surrounding sand; eye-level windows look onto the dunes. At ground level, the dining and kitchen platforms share a south-facing glass wall that opens to a beachside terrace. A narrow stairway twists around the chimney through a cozy workspace, and culminates in a lounge-like nook at the apex. “The fireplace is at the central core,” Koehler says. “All the life turns literally around the fireplace. In a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of way, it’s the heart of the house.”

The timber-clad exterior is made from untreated western red cedar, which was chosen for its ability to weather corrosive salt spray. Working in BIM, Koehler envisioned the house as a mass sculpted by environmental forces of sea, sun, and wind, resulting in faceted elevations that echo the geometry of the house’s surrounding dunes. “The design is based on careful analysis of the climatological parameters,” he says. “The result is a wooden façade look that will change according to the weather conditions.” The cross-laminated timber panels that form the skin of the house were fabricated off-site at a factory in Germany before being shipped to the island, where the structure was erected in less than two weeks in order to abide by island building codes that prohibit construction from interfering with local bird breeding season.

Project Credits
Project: Dune House, Terschelling, Netherlands
Client: Withheld
Architect: Marc Koehler Architects, Amsterdam . Marc Koehler (director); Carlos Moreira (project architect); Kasia Heijerman, Miriam Tocino, Anna Szcsurek, Jakub Zoha
Interior Guidance: Thomas Welink, Annemarie Swemmer
Technical Implementation: AchterboschZantman Architecten
General Contractor: P.A. Wiersma Aannemingsmaatschappij
Interior Builder: Koen Vleugel
Installations: Bakker Installatietechniek
Façade Builder: Huijberts Gevelbouw
Size: 180 square meters (1,938 square feet)
Cost: Withheld

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