Amsterdam’s Iconic Bridge Houses Get a Second Life—as Hotel Rooms

Local architecture firm space&matter is meticulously converting the defunct cabins into dwellings for the SWEETS hotel brand.
SWEETS hotel amsterdam bridge houses

Room 204 — Hortusbrug Courtesy SWEETS hotel

The historic inner city of Amsterdam contains two utterly omnipresent features: water and tourists. Now, a project by local architecture firm space&matter promises to bring them together.

Much like Venice, Amsterdam is laced with scenic canals and bridges, many of them still operable. A large proportion of them feature a tiny cabin for a bridge guard who safeguards the traffic. Or, at least, that was the case until 2009, when the city started to automate and centralize the bridge control system—a move that put guards and their cabins out of work.

Local architecture firm space&matter—founded by Sascha Glasl, Tjeerd Haccou and Marthijn Pool—saw the empty infrastructure as an opportunity. In 2010, the designers conceived of turning the cabins into hotel rooms, each with a panoramic view of its bridge, roadway, and waterway. In two years, the architects had gained general approval from the city and two partners: the real-estate developer Grayfield, which specializes in reusing industrial heritage, and the hotel chain Seven New Things.

The team aimed to transform a total of 28 bridge houses into double-bed rooms under the brand SWEETS hotel. A variety of structures fall within the mix: The oldest guard house dates from 1673 while the newest is from 2009; the largest offers a comfortable 753 square feet while the smallest is a mere 130 square feet. Amstelschutsluis, a house located in the middle of Amsterdam’s Amstel river, is accessible solely by boat. All of them are unique, freestanding sculpture-like pieces of infrastructure. Each demanded a bespoke treatment.

SWEETS hotel amsterdam bridge houses

Room 206 — Amstelschutsluis Courtesy Mirjam Bleeker

But before the design process could begin, each cabin needed a thorough cleaning. “All 28 houses were very beautiful once,” says Glasl of space&matter, “yet over the years of use, that beauty was covered under layers of ugly color, ugly furniture, and ugly installations—and a certain smell, too.” Once cleaned, the design team determined the bed’s location and developed the layout from there. Each cabin was already equipped with a small kitchen and toilet, yet installing a shower proved difficult on multiple occasions.

Sleeping in the middle of busy road crossings, with omnipresent clanging bells from bicycles and trams, might cause anxiety for some. Yet the stay is still worthwhile: the experience offers a priceless view of Amsterdam and its people. Hotel services promise to be available 24/7. Breakfast is delivered in a brown bag to your doorstep. And keys aren’t an issue—the door opens via smartphone app.

While the design hurdles were great, the bureaucratic process proved no cakewalk either: More than 20 lodgings meant more than 20 cases for planning permissions. Now, seven years after the project started, 18 rooms have been completed with three more set to open later in 2019. All 28 might be available by 2021 or 2022. “It takes way longer than we imagined,” Glasl says. “Yet it’s worth it. You can imagine it like grinding jewels, I guess.”

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Categories: Hospitality Interiors, Preservation