Matryoshka House

When an early 20th century house in the heart of Rotterdam was becoming derelict, Shift Architecture Urbanism was asked to radically renovate it, while preserving its historical traces.

Shift architecture urbanism, Matryoshka House, Rotterdam, 2017
Shift Architecture Urbanism radically transformed an early XX century townhouse in Rotterdam by completely opening it up. The Matryoshka House comprises now two high-end apartments. Situated in the heart of the city, the house was in a derelict state due the previous owner’s conversion of the building into a sub-standard workers’ hotel.


Bothered by the neglect, a neighbor acquired the property and asked Shift Architecture Urbanism for an extreme makeover. What remained was its envelope and flooring structure, the later partly removed in each unit to create double-height living spaces. The private spaces are suspended in these tall spaces creating a matryoshka effect. The lower apartment features double-height spaces at both the front and rear facade, isolating the volume of the bedrooms and bathroom as if they were floating in its center. The two voids provide the living areas of a 14m deep half-basement level with plenty of daylight.

Img.6 Shift architecture urbanism, Matryoshka House, Rotterdam, 2017
Img.6 Shift architecture urbanism, Matryoshka House, Rotterdam, 2017
The upper apartment is conceived as an inversion of the mass-void relationship of the lower apartment. Here the bedrooms, rather than the voids, are placed against the facades, opening up a spectacular double-height space at the center of the apartment, brightly lit by a large skylight. The historic elements of the street facade were restored. The rear facade was removed entirely and replaced by a portal frame construction in galvanized steel, providing structural stability. A large sliding door and three floor-to-ceiling double doors ensure that both living rooms can be fully opened up towards the garden.
Img.7 Shift architecture urbanism, Matryoshka House, Rotterdam, 2017
Img.7 Shift architecture urbanism, Matryoshka House, Rotterdam, 2017
In the center of the apartments a single galvanized steel cladded volume incorporates stairs, toilets, storage spaces and kitchen equipment. A free-floating kitchen island finished in white tiles stands at the heart of each apartment. The interior of the house is in dialogue between old and new, contemporary and traditional, polished and rough, finished and unfinished. When possible original details of the old house have been preserved. Brickwork was left exposed and roof trusses left bare, while stained glass window panes were restored and placed within new frames. Warmer materials and colors balance the use of reflective metal, concrete and black steel.

Matryoshka House
, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Program: apartment building
Shift Architecture Urbanism
Team: Thijs van Bijsterveldt, Oana Rades, Harm Timmermans, Thomas Grievink, Sara Frikech
Partner: Makina
Structural engineering: B2CO
Main contractors: 13 Speciaal, Ben Werkt
Completion: 2017

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