Keeping it fresh
TEXT: FRANK VAN LIESHOUT | PHOTOS © ZECC ARCHITECTS
With a clear vision and plenty of passion, Zecc Architects creates visually stunning designs underpinned by sophisticated functionality and smart, sustainable solutions for your home.
“Passion, inspiration and enthusiasm are some of our core values,” says Zecc creative director Bart Kellerhuis. “But we always make sure we balance our creative flair with a well-researched plan and a budget to match.”
Since Bart joined as a partner in 2008 to lead the firm alongside general manager Marnix van der Meer, Zecc has been growing steadily to now having 22 staff in 2019.
“Just the right size to keep a nice balance,” Bart smiles. “It allows us to take on large projects while at the same time retaining a real family feel and can-do mentality within the organisation, so we can give all of our clients our full focus and dedication.”
Over the last ten years, Zecc has built a reputation for original residential developments – often in urban densification areas – as well as many high-profile transformations. Standout projects include the design of the temporary residence for the Dutch Parliament in The Hague and the transformation of Utrecht’s former post office to house the city’s new public library.
Bart Kellerhuis (left) and Marnix van de Meer (right). Photo: Inge Snelders
Think outside the box
Maybe not as well known, but equally important, is their work in the private sector. “Working with private clients allows you more freedom to think outside of the box, rather than following a completely rational process to find the optimal functional design. If a client wants to have 20- by ten-feet glass patio doors leading onto the garden, that might not always be great in terms of functionality, but it will be stunning to look at and give a fantastic feel to the area.”
From its end, Zecc also maintains a clear profile of what they stand for. “We have a penchant for more daring designs, and in every project we undertake, we have the ambition to achieve something special. So we need to make sure that our vision fits in with the client’s wishes, otherwise it would be better not to take on the job.”
Zecc’s private home designs include new builds as well as some spectacular transformations, including a number of church conversions and a stunning design for a historic water tower in Utrecht’s city centre. But Bart’s favourite private project is a barn-like extension to a farmhouse in the countryside near Utrecht. “We’re really happy that the clients had the courage to go along with this radical design,” he explains. “It’s as if the main building has been ‘impaled’ by an alien wooden volume, which creates a whole new constellation and radically changes the relationship between indoors and outdoors.” The design uniquely intertwines landscape and architecture, and also offers great comfort and functionality, with different areas to sit around the house at different times in the day. “And the choice of material means that the extension will only become even more beautiful and interesting as time goes by, without needing a paint job,” he adds. “So it’s not just beautiful to look at, it’s also a very sustainable solution.”
Some of these private projects had plenty of budget to realise these daring plans, Bart admits. But, he argues, it’s not just about the money: it’s also about how your plans fit the budget. “Not every transformation or build needs to have tonnes of money thrown at them. The important thing is that they are within budget. Projects that are underfunded will rapidly go from bad to worse. It’s much better to cut costs by simplifying your design. Sometimes it can even improve a design. It’s all about making the right choices and looking for the best solutions.”
To come up with these solutions, Zecc’s experience in social housing and public buildings has proved to be a real help. “Our work in urban densification projects forces us to be creative within very tight budgets: for instance, by introducing small details to give an otherwise dull and repetitive residential development an unexpected dynamic. And our experience with larger-scale redevelopments and transformations helps us to find creative ways to integrate existing elements into our designs. But of course we also look at any new design solutions that may be developed by other firms.”
Outside of architecture, Zecc also looks for inspiration in fields such as art, photography, graphic design, advertising and the digital domain. Every month, they invite guests to discuss a topic related to one of these fields during a Friday afternoon ‘images and drinks’ session. “Personally, I think it’s really important for architects to stay in touch with the wider world so that in some way these elements are channeled through in our designs,” Bart explains. “I believe it’s the only way we can keep our work fresh and relevant.”