We designed a compact, directionless, self-contained building with flexible use potential.” – Marlies Rohmer (Architects)

In its purest form, architectural space is a volume created by any carefully placed object as a result, and an extension to, the existing materials. Though overused in the modern architectural jargon, architectural space is an intimate enclosure created for the sole purpose of stirring emotions in the user; to create a meaningful dialogue between the animate and the inanimate, namely, the user and the building. By such means, we can say that architecture is a living, breathing extension of the people that inhabit those spaces. This design philosophy makes sense when looking at rehabilitation and institutional building projects. A space erected for the people in need should exhibit warmth, love and affection towards them. Only then such a design can be deemed a successful interpretation of the psychological needs of the necessitous, cast in stone, brick and concrete. 

De Zeester, Noordwijk, Netherlands - Sheet1
De Zeester Daycare for Mentally Handicap_©architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/

The Reverse Integration Movement

De Zeester in Noordwijk, Netherlands, was designed and built-in response to the growing awareness in The Netherlands about care homes and institutional establishments. This movment, known as reverse integration, has been going on for decades and focuses on the reintegration of disabled people into society rather than isolating them. As a result, Marlies Rohmer (the architect) implemented this day centre for the mental handicap between 2003 and 2007. It serves as a poster example of the symbiosis between architecture and cultural development.

The Design Philosophy

De Zeester, popularly known as The Starfish, is an extension to the residential care centre for persons with a mental handicap on the Willem van der Bergh Site in Noordwijk. Built on a much larger site with many buildings on the campus of distinctive architecture style and utilities, De Zeester uniquely stands out as the latest model for care homes in the country. The unique character that the facade of De Zeester poses is just the tip of the philosophical iceberg that interprets the psychological needs of the mental handicap and perfectly crafts those needs in an institutional space that promotes health, well-being and happiness amongst its habitants. Since such a building must need a flexible layout to cater to varying needs of physical and mental activities, the entire centre is built on a 7.2m structural grid to promote a modular approach towards the spatial arrangement. People can merge and arrange the generic spaces into various configurations depending on the requirement. In addition, the outdoor spaces also act as spill-out zones and a further extension of indoor activity spaces.

Over the last few years, the site has been increasingly open for everyone, not just people with mental disabilities, thus, focusing on normalization rather than segregation (a practice that is unfortunately still in widespread use today). De Zeester is therefore striving to be a model for a new type of care home, one which feels like home and not just another institutional establishment. Exploiting the program and the operating philosophy of De Zeester, this care centre is paradoxically both camouflaged and exposed, compressed and yet expansive.

De Zeester, Noordwijk, Netherlands - Sheet2
Building Section_©architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/
De Zeester, Noordwijk, Netherlands - Sheet3
Floor Plans_©architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/


With a very minimal material palette, the most striking feature of De Zeester is the symmetrical arrangement of 275 rosette porthole windows all across its facade and exterior walls. The windows, interestingly, were hand-made by the mental handicap workers that live there; it is also evident by the slight irregularities in shape and colour in each window. The building, therefore, has a personal, non-institutional ambience with a focus on reintegration of people with special needs into society and establishing interpersonal relationships with them. The exposed brick facade against a blue sky and green horizon initiates a warm experience. The building opens visually to the surroundings with the innovative porthole windows and concrete cantilevers that creates an indoor-outdoor relationship, thus eliminating the need to ever go out of the care home. The interiors are equally sensitive to the needs of the people, with warm and welcoming timber flooring and claddings on the ceiling, which offsets perfectly with the whitewashed walls and sun-filled central atrium with a skylight.

De Zeester, Noordwijk, Netherlands - Sheet4
Porthole Windows_©architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/


Invaluable architecture… The pursuit of sustainability led the architects towards a vernacular material palette with natural colours, minimizing the need for temperature control since the use of concrete is kept to a minimum. Earthy materials like brick and wood are well established as natural materials acting like heat sinks and keeping the micro-environment in check. The massive skylight in the central lobby and porthole windows on all sides leaks natural light into the interiors and even light up the already minimal circulation spaces. Thus, further eliminating the need for artificial lighting. The entire program of De Zeester promotes well-being on every level; from the well-being of its inhabitants to the well-being of the site it is sitting on. There is no doubt that De Zeester daycare for the mental handicap, with its therapeutic architecture, is a delightful place to be, live and heal.

Sunlit Interiors_©architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/
  1. Scagliola, D. and Brakkee, S., n.d. De Zeester by Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer. [online] Architizer. Available at: <https://architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/> [Accessed 14 March 2022].
  2. Rohmer, M., 2014. De Zeester by Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer. [online] Architizer. Available at: <https://architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/> [Accessed 15 March 2022].
  3. Rohmer, M., 2014. De Zeester by Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer. [online] Architizer. Available at: <https://architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/> [Accessed 15 March 2022].
  4. Scagliola, D. and Brakkee, S., n.d. De Zeester by Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer. [online] Architizer. Available at: <https://architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/> [Accessed 14 March 2022].
  5. Scagliola, D. and Brakkee, S., n.d. De Zeester by Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer. [online] Architizer. Available at: <https://architizer.com/projects/de-zeester/> [Accessed 14 March 2022].

Priyansh is a multi-disciplinary architect + designer. A creative nerd who gets geeky about art would jump at the chance to skydive and in another life would like to travel the world practising Jiu-Jitsu.