Special Needs Group-Housing within different housing models

Communal Garden in Kembang Baru (photo courtesy of TV-Oost)

Maximizing living and working conditions for the less fortunate makes for a more compassionate society” — Bert Bulthuis, Founder & Principal architect, Studio Sitec.

Studio Sitec has extensive experience in designing housing for people with special needs. This experience includes self-assured exteriors and interiors with smart tools to improve quality of life.

Every human being is special and building houses for people with special needs is an architectural niche, because of the specifications required to realise housing that has a proud identity in the midst of society.

The building vision for people with special needs calls for a design attitude towards a specifically-designed environment where all can live to their maximal capacities in a safe and inspiring environment.

The architect plays a crucial role in bringing special needs-group initiatives together with building partners, paving the way to realisation of these important initiatives.


‘Kembang Baru’ Housing for the Elderly, The Netherlands (Handellaan 237, Zwolle)


  • Clients: Projectteam Holtenbroek, SZW, Deltawonen
  • 35 apartments, a communal activity room and kitchen, a communal garden
  • 50% social housing , 25% rental and 25% for sale
  • Built gross 4,830m2
  • Photos: Studio Sitec/Vulkers Fotografie/ TV Oost
  • Kembang Baru, Housing for Elderly. Zwolle, Netherlands

‘Ensemble’, Housing for the elderly and autistic youths, The Netherlands (Belvéderelaan 439, Zwolle)


  • Clients: SZW, Driezorg, Sitchting BeMa
  • 40 apartments, a communal activity room and kitchen, communal storage and parking
  • 30% housing for autistic youth, 70% housing for the elderly and disabled elderly
  • Caretaker availability 24/7
  • Built gross 4,500m2
  • Photos: Vulkers Fotografie

‘Pieter Steyn’, Housing for disabled youth and their families, The Netherlands (Pieter van Bleyswijkstraat, Zwolle)


  • Clients: Deltawonen, Stichting Dubbelklik
  • 10 special care apartments, a communal activity room and kitchen, communal storage and parking
  • 14 detached family houses
  • Caretaker availability 24/7
  • Built gross 3,700 m2
  • Photos: Studio Sitec

Special Needs Housing, The Netherlands (Kooiveen Oldebroek)


  • Clients: Deltawonen, Philadelphia Zorg
  • 24 apartments, a communal activity room and kitchen, communal storage and parking
  • 50% housing for disabled youth, 50% housing for the elderly and disabled elderly
  • Caretaker availability 24/7
  • Built gross 3,000 m2
  • Photos: Studio Studio

Appartments in Monument Building for Re-integration of Homeless People, The Netherlands (Buitenkant, Zwolle)


  • Clients: Deltawonen, Leger Des Heils (The Salvation Army)
  • 6 apartments for re-intergration into society
  • Caretaker availability 24/7
  • Built gross 400 m2
  • Photos: Studio Sitec

Apartments for reintegration of people towards newly achieved independence, The Netherlands (Berkumstraat 110, Zwolle)


  • Clients: Deltawonen, SWZ, Stad en Werk
  • 4 apartments with communal spaces for re-integration into society
  • Caretaker availability 24/7
  • Built gross 240 m2
  • Photos: Studio Sitec

Re-designing of 24 apartments for an ageing population in a compound of 396 apartments, The Netherlands (Haringvliet-Dollard, Zwolle)


  • Clients: SWZ
  • Renovation of 24 apartments for the elderly and disabled elderly in a compound of 396 apartments
  • Caretaker availability 24/7
  • Built gross 3,000 m2 (45,000m2)
  • Photos: Studio Sitec

Renovation of a monument family house and the addition of a house for the special needs-grandparents, The Netherlands (Park Eekhout, Zwolle)


  • Clients: A private family
  • Renovation of a monument family home and the addition of a house for the special needs-grandparents
  • Family care 24/7
  • Built Gross 400 m2
  • Photos: Studio Sitec

Interview on Sitec Studio’s Private Housing

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.