Nondescript from the front with its simple matte black facade and small windows, this five-story building in Amsterdam actually contains a one-of-a-kind approach to multigenerational housing. Within its walls, two households come together as one while maintaining privacy and independence — and the overall layout is designed to accommodate both of their constantly changing needs.

The sleek matte black exterior of Amsterdam's new "Three Generation House." Local architecture studio BETA Office took on the challenge of designing this adaptable residence, fitting it onto a narrow city lot while also making it accessible for the potential future needs of its new elderly residents. Moving back to Amsterdam from a rural area to be closer to urban conveniences and amenities, the grandparents have their own retirement oasis at the penthouse level, while their children occupy the two lowest floors with their own kids, giving them easy access to an adjacent ground-level garden. Essentially, it’s a private apartment building containing two to three units.
The lower levels of "Three Generation House," with a bright central staircase in the foreground and common areas visible just beyond. The kitchen and dining are inside "Three Generation House," with a bright yellow central staircase visible in the background. The dining table on the ground floor of "Three Generation House," with a cozy hammock hanging directly overhead.

A fifth level at the center offers an intermediary space that can be added to either the top or the lower apartment, or kept as its own independent space entirely. Currently, the grandparents use it for guest accommodations, but in the future it could easily be used to house a college-age grandchild or another relative. An elevator ensures easy access to all levels of the house for anyone who lives there or visits, running right alongside an angular staircase in a striking shade of yellow.

A. young woman descend the staircase of "Three Generation House" while her small child plays in the kitchen area below.

Instead of reducing vertical circulation to a necessity, it occupies the heart of the building,” explain the architects. “Omnipresent as a sculptural element in the lower apartment, the system gradually transforms into a series of voids higher up in the building. This central access system allows a ‘surplus floor’ to be combined with either apartment. Initially used as a space for guests for the topmost apartment, this space can be easily added to the lower apartment through a few elementary technical amendments.”

A large balcony outside one of the Three Generation House's many bedrooms. Small children playing with their grandfather on the uppermost level of the "Three Generation House."

As though a clair-obscur [chiaroscuro, or bright + dark], the gradient in the building’s plan is emphasized in the building’s contrasting façades. The Northern façade is mostly closed to reduce thermal loss and reduce sound exposure along the busy street. Towards the South the building opens up completely, maximizing passive solar gain and the connection with the outdoors. In between the two contrary façades, the building’s plan undergoes a gradual transformation, from compartmentalized in the North, to open-plan and structured with free-form elements towards the South. Here the building is concluded with an informal filter-like balcony layer.”
The Three Generation House's transparent back facade.

In effect, the house remains a bit of a mystery from the street but blooms like a flower in the rear as it welcomes in the outdoors on every level. Terraces, balconies outfitted with hammocks, and potted plants soften what could otherwise be a harsh stack of concrete slabs and glass, while the daylight that comes streaming inside cheers up low-cost cement block walls. As a home for multiple generations of a single family, “Three Generation House” demonstrates the importance of an intrinsic ability to embrace and accommodate change.

All photos by Ossip van Duivenbode