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In the Old Testament, God gets angry. For the seafaring Jonah, a refusal to accept his destiny as a minor prophet incurred a divine storm, with wrath manifested in a deadly surge of water. Sensing the deity’s rancour, Jonah’s fellow sailors threw him overboard in hopes of sparing themselves. But instead of drowning, the Israelite was swallowed by a great fish that kept him safe in its belly for three days. For Amsterdam‘s Jonas IJBurg apartment complex, it’s an unconventional source of inspiration.

Then again, Jonas IJBurg is no conventional apartment complex. Designed by Rotterdam-based Orange Architects, the seven-storey, 273-unit complex (named for the Dutch-language variant of Jonah) boasts a warm, welcoming belly of its own. Spanning the length of a narrow quay on the rapidly developing cluster of artificial islands on Lake IJmeer, the 19,950-square-metre structure is distinguished by the dramatic — and eye-catching — inner public courtyard at its heart.

A close-up of the facade details at Jonas IJBurg, showing wood-clad balconies behind the zing envelope

From the exterior, the building is a handsome yet imposing addition to the growing waterfront neighbourhood. A sinuous façade of dark, patinated zinc is elevated by its grooved extrusions and subtle, fish-pattern motif, with the jet black tones elegantly paired with European Douglas fir soffits and window details. And while the envelope asserts a stately presence, a series of wood-framed perforations across the slightly irregular façade hints at the building’s lively interior face.

A view of the lobby, clad in bold geometric patterns of Douglas fir

Inspired by the ship-building wharfs that have historically defined swathes of Amsterdam’s waterfront, the building’s interior is a sinuous, wood-clad canyon. The indoor-outdoor space connects a public park at the north end of the building with a greenery-filled inner courtyard that opens up to the water, thanks to a bold diagonal cut in the building’s façade.

Inside the narrow, wood-clad public passageway in the building's courtyard

Combining a residential lobby with a public venue and commercial spaces (including a small cinema), the space is a rare hybrid of two distinct programs — bolstered by an eye-catching interior architecture that invites exploration. (For residents, a staircase and elevator lead to another outdoor space; a tranquil rooftop garden.)

A view of the outdoor courtyard, featuring a pair of young trees and public seating

While the Jonas IJBurg design is oriented towards the public, the residential program is also geared to support social inclusion. The building’s 273 homes are split between 83 owner-occupied condominiums and 190 units that meet the Dutch government’s “mid-market” affordability guidelines, which ensure affordability for private market rental apartments.

a view of the lush rooftop garden

The project is also designed with a holistic sustainability mandate. Alongside an extensive array of rooftop solar panels, the building also features a rainwater collection system (with the water used to flush toilets in ground floor commercial units and shared spaces), as well as landscaping that supports local ecology — including a special wall built for sand martin birds. Down in the lake, meanwhile, new mussel reefs were created to improve water quality and support local wildlife.

A view through the building's perforated inner courtyard facade from an upper storey landing

According to the designers, the complex is a testament to intimacy at a heroic scale. “The name Jonas is a reference to ‘Jonas and the Whale’, a tale about adventure and intimacy, and about shelter, security and homeliness inside a ‘big body’,” note Orange Architects.

A panoramic dusk view of Jonas IJBurg from across the quay.

In the biblical story, Jonah and God eventually make good, and the almighty commands the whale to spit the prophet out. And in Amsterdam, the belly of the beast is a destination in its own right.

A Welcoming Whale of a Building Lands in Amsterdam

Designed by Orange Architects, the Jonas IJBurg apartment complex brings a sociable setting to the city’s burgeoning waterfront.

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