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Stepstone: an architectural gem for Amsterdam’s young people

The building will provide the perfect stepping stone between studying and working – and will offer 100 percent affordable homes. These are the goals that De Key’s Stepstone apartment complex sets out to achieve. In February 2020, it was announced that LEVS architects had won the contract. LEVS, which already had a proven track record in the field of building affordable housing, was excited to get the green light for its plans. That meant it could continue to develop its vision for this affordable rental housing complex on Mahlerlaan. A lot of work had already been done for the pitch the previous year. ‘Our plans were already quite detailed, because there were a lot of design parameters to take into account. For example, the municipality sent us a set of requirements for the site, specifying the exact dimensions of the building and the sustainability requirements.’

Adriaan Mout
Willem de Kam

Homes specifically for young people

De Key housing association – the future owner of the building – also had its own requirements, of course. One important goal was to meet the needs of Stepstone’s target group: people up to the age of 28, who will not be able to live in the building for more than five years. For that reason, the apartments are on the small side. There will be 216 individual residential units, most of which will measure around 30 square metres. Mout: ‘Because the residential units are so compact and because the building’s future residents will all be younger people, we’ve incorporated some nice places for them to meet and socialize, as well as sports facilities. These will be located on the ground floor and on the roof.’ An extra challenge was that the building needed to be on a par with other architectural gems in Zuidas. ‘From the outside, it shouldn’t be visible that this is social rental housing. Stepstone needs to be distinctive, accessible, and transparent – and it will need to blend in seamlessly with the high-quality buildings all around it.’

The exterior of the building
LEVS Architecten

Creative solutions

All of that was quite a challenge, given the budget available for the project. ‘De Key housing association specialises in providing social rental housing. And a cap on rents means that there’s also a cap on how much it has to spend on a new building. But we’ve refused to compromise on the quality of these homes. Coming up with creative solutions is part of the challenge of being an architect. For example, we will save money by using prefab elements, which cost less in relative terms – but we’ll be making the very most of those elements. By using them creatively and linking the elements together in ingenious and playful ways, we are going create a kind of giant jigsaw puzzle in which every apartment has its own balcony. The ceiling height for all the new buildings in Zuidas has been set at 3.30 metres, which will also give these homes a really spacious feeling inside. And we’ll be using materials that are great to look at. For example, we’re working on a type of gravel that, depending on the angle of the light, always reflects a different shade of green. And there will also be plenty of space for plants, which will be a distinctive feature of the exterior of the building in the form of foliage hanging from the balconies. That’s a recurring theme throughout Amsterdam Zuidas, and we’re very happy to incorporate it here too.’

An amazing jigsaw puzzle
LEVS Architecten

Intensive

The architect’s partnership with De Key is very close and things are going well. ‘The housing association will be the ultimate owner of the building, so they are closely involved in the design process. This is their first residential building in Zuidas, so it’s a unique process for them too. This residential tower is meant as a gift to Amsterdam’, says Mout. The first tenants will move into their new temporary homes in 2024. Mout thinks that future residents will spend a few wonderful years living in Stepstone. ‘These homes are going to be really beautiful. Not the biggest, that’s true, but they will have everything, every convenience, and they’ll be finished to the highest standard. Residents will even be able to do some sports on the roof, looking right out across Amsterdam – that’s not something that every twenty-something gets to do!’

The Stepstone site

Innovation District

In partnership with VU Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC, the municipality plans to create a completely new neighbourhood in this part of Zuidas in the years to come, to be known as the Innovation District (or Knowledge Quarter). The area is located south of the A10 motorway, between Parnassusweg/Buitenveldertselaan, Amstelveenseweg, and A.J. Ernststraat. The Innovation District will include around 2,700 homes. There will also be space dedicated to knowledge-related businesses, a primary school, culture, and hospitality and catering. It will be quite some time before it is fully completed, but once it is, it will be a neighbourhood that brings together healthcare, science, and entrepreneurship.

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