the archipelago


a collaboration with CO-LAB Designoffice



Fryslân, a province boasting the most water in the Netherlands, is a collection of city-villages situated north of IJsselmeer. Leeuwarden, the largest of these, is located a short distance from the Waddenzee Islands and 140 km journey from Amsterdam. Leeuwarden is the regional centre of Fryslân comprised of a radial network of waterways and a population of 94,000 inhabitants. The project study area comprises 49 hectares along Leeuwarden’s southwestern growth boundary, forming a transitional zone between the city’s centre and the new De Zuidlanden district. Water is an essential element in Fryslân’s landscape resulting in a long tradition of water-culture and waterside housing. As a point of departure, the Archipelago’s design is based on a water-culture that aligns with the municipality’s ambitions to reach carbon neutrality by 2020.


Our proposal for the Leeuwarden Kanaalzone provides a new framework to create an urban geography where the best elements from both the natural landscape and project program create a unique condition for living on the water. The framework enables an organization of housing program that is flexible and varied, envisioning a district where history and future, density and openness, identity and diversity coexist. The resulting spatial experience fluctuates between variation and continuity while relating to the canalized way of life in the Fryslân region.

The master plan sets out to divide the 19 hectare site into three distinct land uses: a housing zone, a leisure zone and a preserved, open zone. In response to geographic and circulation boundaries, we propose a linear landscape that integrates the entire housing zone from western to eastern edges of the site. Surrounded by water on all sides, the landscape becomes an artificial archipelago on which the housing program is rationally dispersed. The Archipelago promotes differentiation through a mix of housing typologies and varied landforms that are connected via a central park and multi-modal promenade. The atmosphere within the Archipelago is one of unintended encounters with both nature and society.

In order to cultivate our emphasis on diversity, we imagine the Archipelago as a multifunctional district. In addition to mixing-in retail, restaurant and leisure functions, our strategy avoids mono-programmatic qualities commonly found in nearby suburban communities by encouraging experimentation with new housing and building typologies. Drawn from a study of waterfront cities, a collection of 8 housing typologies, each with it’s own individual character, create neighborhood identities based on their distinctive interrelationships with water. Differing roofscapes and a range of building volumes create the spatial identity and variety of a village. 


Through an analysis of the site’s natural geography, circulation networks and infrastructure, we define a continuous, linear housing zone between the Van Harinxmakanaal and the historic Bresdyk-Boksumerdyk. Embracing the zone’s linearity, we derive a consolidated, unifying gesture that collects and organizes program in the general themes of diversity, ecology, and activity. In this way, the Archipelago becomes the locus of site development efforts while strategically positioned between water and parkland. Navigating by boat between the Archipelago and Van Harinxmakanaal is possible via two predetermined inlets. Reuse of the 12th Century Bresdyk-Boksumerdyk as a primary cycling route represents a significant east-west boundary and logical delineation between housing and leisure zones. The route, connecting all of the Archipelago’s neighbourhoods with Leeuwarden’s most important districts, becomes a place where the historic meets the unexpected.

The master plan is conceived as a series of neighborhoods along the Van Harinxmakanaal, ranging from medium density areas in the western part of the Archipelago to the private Farmhouses in the east. The neighborhoods are tied together by the central public park that connects through the Archipelago to public spaces along the waterway. The Kanaalzone Master Plan is organized in three phases ordered from east to west. The plan divides 18,300 m² of housing program among 10 islands through a sequencing of clusters. Ancillary elements such as the promenade, boulevards, cycling routes and parking will be planned and built with their corresponding cluster. The three phases work interdependently of one another and are driven by individual development timelines. By providing a reflexive framework to accommodate future uncertainty and changing market conditions, the Archipelago land-form inherently supports a phased development approach.

Phase 1 occupies the Eastern Cluster of the Archipelago, comprising 100 housing units dispersed across 7 islands and 4 building typologies. This cluster includes 18 private Farmhouses and docks that take advantage of their setting with panoramic views of the canals and pastoral landscape. Commercial programs servicing residents and visitors are concentrated here along points connecting to Overijsselselaan.

The Central Cluster of Phase 2 retains an open character with public connections through Park Avenue to both the Leisure Park and the Van Harinxmakanaal quay. Site development and landscaping for these elements would also be included. Terraced Housing, Water Villas and Row Houses create a spatial mix of densities and landscape conditions.

The Western Cluster includes a marina, short-stay harbor as well as an archetypal perimeter block. Utilizing natural energy sources, a micro-hydroelectric system sited on the adjacent Ee river completes Phase 3 of The Kanaalzone Master Plan.

A street pattern is organized around the east-west boulevard running through the central promenade. This boulevard, via a network of four, north-south secondary streets connects to the outlying area. The promenade which is animated by publicly oriented functions, is ideal for pedestrians and cyclists with slow moving traffic and also acts as the main route for public buses servicing the Archipelago. The grid of Park Avenue in the Central Cluster is conceived as a permeable, pedestrianized area, allowing people to connect between east-west and north-south, integrating the park with the rest of the development. We imagine the Archipelago to be experienced not only by automobile and on foot but also by ice skate, kayak, bicycle, roller-blade and boat.

Within the Archipelago open spaces are loosely defined by contours, textures and openness of differing scales to create atmospheres from wide-open public spaces to quiet, private areas. Changes in materiality and form texturize these spaces and uniquely relate them to the surrounding natural and built landscapes. The waterfront and promenade link various neighborhoods together, while the central park and collection of small gardens and plazas provide opportunities to at once see and connect to the surrounding nature and society.




A midrise building with a wide range of housing units and great views. The perimeter block, an archetypal urban unit.




Provides docking facilities for fifteen 20m boats and twenty-five 10m boats with immediate access to the Van Harinxmakanaal.    




A midrise building with great views of the marina and larger area.




Narrow row houses each with waterfront access, gardens, and roof terraces, half of them with large yards and personal slip spaces. 




A water park zone punctuated by small villas and waterfront houses. 




A curvaceous building with a green roof provides a topographic park feature. A mix of apartments with great views overlook the Kanaalzone. 




Hidden, underground cave pools with their intimate and mysterious water passages form the basis of these larger housing units which support a diverse range of uses and home office space with hidden pools which are daylit from elliptical openings. 




The narrow canal passages of Amsterdam's Jordaan quarter inform the typology of cozy green passages in close relation to water. These include mixed housing types with generous decks, mooring facilities and private rooftop terraces. 




In the spirit of the medieval castles that were surrounded by moats - the ring forms a gateway to the developments along the access road. The round form located at one of the intersections with the main canal provides an equalitarian environment with a mix of simplex, duplex and triplex houses, many with their own garden and mooring space. 




Based on the steep roofed houses typical in farmhouses of the area our proposal includes four variations for a mix of dwelling environments.  


project: The Archipelago

team: de baes, co-lab design office & p-ar

location: Leeuwarden, the Netherlands

status: competition

year: 2012

program: residential