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.