Over the last two decades, green roofs have grown from a rarity to a hot trend gracing even the largest of architectural projects, bringing the feel of natural environments to surprisingly urban settings. Now, landscape architecture firm Buro Harro imagines a whole new kind of vegetated rooftop installation for Amsterdam’s innovative Groenmarkt apartment building, which is currently under construction. When it’s finished, the building will be topped by a hilly, sand dune-covered landscape surrounding a saltwater swimming pool.

Renderings of the Groenmarkt apartment building's green roof, which houses a dune landscpae.

Groenmarkt is an unusual, sustainability-minded urban apartment building packed with a variety of features designed to welcome local wildlife in. Designed by Paul de Ruiter Architects and situated between the Singelgracht and the Marnixstraat on a site that was formerly home to a beloved farmer’s market, the development consists of two standalone buildings set into a park-like environment.

View of Amsterdam's new Groenmarkt apartment building from the nearest canal.

The Paul de Ruiter team initially envisioned a more standard kind of vegetable garden for the rooftop, paying homage to the site’s history, but Buro Harro’s ultimate plan aims to provide a more tranquil refuge for the buildings’ residents, mimicking the experience of going to the beach. After all, Amsterdam can be a windy, chilly place, and these conditions are even more dramatic when experienced high up on a rooftop. The designers explain that coastal imagery felt like a fitting (if not immediately obvious) match for the setting, especially since the roar of traffic could be likened to the sound of crashing waves.

“Now you no longer have to leave Amsterdam to go to the beach,” they say. “People, plants, and animals will really come together in this building in downtown Amsterdam. A building where both people and birds, bees, bats, and butterflies [can] live! At Amsterdam’s Groenmarkt, a truly nature-inclusive construction will arise. Its facades are designed to be simultaneously overgrown and inhabited by animals, and on the roof, [there’s] a dune landscape where you can swim!”

The bricks that make up the sides of the Groenmarkt apartment building, which double as small birdhouses.
Amsterdam's new Groenmarkt apartment building.

“On top of the Singelgracht-block, a spectacular dune landscape appears, including a natural swimming pool. The greenhouse and wooden deck terrace provide space for residents to work, relax, and have fun. Or grow plants. Neighbors of the Nassaukade, Groenmarkt, and Marnixstraat will have a beautiful new and almost soft view. This will be a meaningful place to meet for young and old folks, sparrows and busy bees. Here, we embrace the city outside as well as inside.”

Space for wildlife isn’t limited to the ground and rooftop levels, either. The designers integrated holes into the bricks on the building’s facades for nesting birds, as well as several planting boxes at various points. On top of that, the sides of the building are completely covered in vertical greenery, while the street-facing facades are designed to give a fresh, modern take on the existing architectural style of the bustling Marnixstraat. To help each of the apartments feel more tranquil, the architects placed the bedrooms on the quieter, shady side of the building.

Renderings of the Groenmarkt apartment building's green roof, which houses a dune landscpae.
Amsterdam's new Groenmarkt apartment building.

Observers occasionally question whether recent trends toward highly vegetated architectural concepts are realistic, particularly because of the weight of the soil needed to support all those plants. In this case, it’s hard to say whether the dunes on the roof will require a little extra support, particularly since the renderings depict full-sized trees. But finding ways to engineer urban architecture that are up to the task seems to be well worth it. And how nice would it be to see more wildlife habitats and “natural” places pop up in big cities?