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  • Writer's pictureEuropean Green Cities/Site Development

De Ceuvel - cultural urban hub and the realisation of sustainability

De Ceuvel is an award-winning, sustainable planned workplace for creative and social enterprises on a former shipyard on the Johan van Hasselt kanaal off the river IJ in Amsterdam North. In 2012, the land was secured for a 10-year lease from the Municipality of Amsterdam after a group of architects won a tender to turn the site into a regenerative urban oasis.

The former industrial plot is home to a thriving community of entrepreneurs and artists, where all involved have lent a hand to build Amsterdam’s first circular office park. The plot hosts creative workspaces, a cultural venue, a sustainable café, spaces to rent, and a floating bed & breakfast.

On the former shipyard we have realized one of the most unique urban experiments in Europe. Old houseboats have been placed on heavily polluted soil, the workspaces have been fitted with clean technologies and it has all been connected by a winding jetty. Around the houseboats phyto-remediating plants work to clean the soil. De Ceuvel is not only a “forbidden garden” which will leave behind cleaner soil, but also a playground for sustainable technologies. Through experimentation, we are as energy self-sufficient as possible and process our own waste in new, innovative ways.


The urban design put forward by Space&Matter is wonderfully imaginative. By placing decrepit houseboats on land, a small “harbour” was created with many different sight lines and surprises. Space&Matter has deployed a variety of boats with distinctive designs. The winding jetty ensures visitors experience De Ceuvel in a dynamic way. The boardwalk is widest at De Ceuvel’s most beautiful places, for example west side where the sun sets.


After De Ceuvel won the tender from the Municipality of Amsterdam, the land was secured for a 10-year lease on which a team of (landscape)architects, engineers, creatives and social entrepreneurs built the new creative hotspot together. Learn more about the plans:

Space&matter: Urban plan and design, architecture, project development Smeelearchitecture: Project development, community Jeroen Apers architect: Project development, finances Marcel van Wees: project- & general management Metabolic: Concept development, research and implementation of the clean technologies and sustainability plan DELVA Landscape Architects & Bureau Fonkel: Design, implementation and maintenance of the Purifying Park Studio Valkenier: Design Café de Ceuvel Waterloft: Financial advice


De Ceuvel is also called a Cleantech Playground. The concept was developed to stimulate new ways of thinking about how we manage resources in our communities. The Cleantech Playground is a concept that responds to the ambitious sustainability targets set early on by the De Ceuvel community while offering a fun and engaging educational environment. Throughout De Ceuvel are showcases of technologies and techniques that operate on a small scale to close local cycles and bring us back in touch with our basic needs.The creative reuse of waste materials throughout the site is a key component of extracting value and nutrients from what many people view as waste.



De Ceuvel is situated in the old industrial area Buiksloterham and is one of the pioneers in the transformation of this polluted zone into a  sustainable residential area. Metabolic together with the Municipality of Amsterdam, several real-estate developers, Waternet and many others involved in BSH have signed the Manifest Circulair Buiksloterham.

As a consequence of this covenant, many sustainable projects are being realized in the area around de Ceuvel, amongst which many DIY buildings, sustainable living on the water SchoonschipPEK Ecostroom and Waternet's bio-refinery. Buiksloterham is on its

way to become Europe's most sustainable neighborhood and at de Ceuvel we're very proud to be in the vanguard of this development. Citylab article - The Atlantic (2016)


Due to the pollution of de Ceuvel grounds, it was impossible to dig in order to lay a sewage system. Instead, each boat on De Ceuvel is equipped with a compost toilet. Waste is collected and pre-composts in the toilets before it is brought to our tumbling composter for further composting.

While conventional flushing toilets produce wastewater discharged to the sewer, dry toilets do not use water for flushing and produce solid compost. Because reusing human waste comes with risks, we have conducted research on the quality of these fertilizers on different parameters, such as metals, pathogens and medicine residues, and which treatment steps and production methods can be applied to best harvest the nutritional value.

*NB The Café and the Crossboat do have standard flush toilets installed


Each office boat has a heat pump and an air-to-air heat exchange ventilation system. As warm air leaves the boat, over 60% of the heat is captured and circulated back inside.

The heat pump extracts heat from the surrounding air to heat up each boat. These simple technologies allowed us to circumvent the need for a gas connection and use renewable electricity to power the heating needs of each boat.


We process wastewater from kitchen sinks in decentralized helophyte filtration systems placed adjacent to each office-houseboat. Helophyte filters are simple constructions built using different layers.

Sand, gravel, and shells help remove solids, and a mix of special plants consumes organic matter like nitrogen and phosphorus. Once purified, clean water is then discharged into the ground.


Like many areas of Buiksloterham, the area underneath de Ceuvel is polluted by almost a century of heavy industry. Normally such polluted ground is removed and mixed with clean ground, thus moving the problem to another space. At De Ceuvel we want to handle this differently, a ‘forbidden garden’ was designed by DELVA Landscape Architects using plants that are known to be particularly good at absorbing these pollutants through their roots, a simple technique with a complex name: ‘phytoremediation’.

The soil between our boats is cultivated and maintained as a Zuiverend Park (Purifying Park): a green environment that grows specific sets of plants, which absorb, stabilize or exhaust high concentrations of pollution. To protect both human- and plant-health, we built a raised jetty over the park. Eventually the plants will help us to leave the ground much cleaner than we initially found it, while in the meantime, as De Ceuvel demonstrates, there can be other uses for the space.

Until today, the practice of phytoremediation has only limitedly been used for small, urban areas. Zuiverend Park is part of the unique ‘Cleantech Playground’ belonging to De Ceuvel: we aim to increase our knowledge of this technique in order to improve it, and, ultimately, to transfer our experiences to a larger audience. Due to this learning process, our way of cultivating and maintaining the park develops over time. Now, in 2017, the original plan (designed by the Delva Landscape Architects in 2014) has only left us with the willows, poplars and some grasses. Since 2016 we have been taking a closer look at the plants that spontaneously stem from the polluted soil. We carefully examine their use for phytoremediation, while simultaneously sowing plants that are already known for their metal absorbing qualities. This combination seems to work out really well!


De Ceuvel is equipped with over 150 Photovoltaïc (PV) panels that generate energy from the sun. The panels are installed on the majority of the office boats and produce around 36.000 kWh of power yearly.

This covers the electricity demand of the heating systems of the offices, along with a part of the remaining electricity needs. The rest of our power is supplied by a green energy supplier.

Crypto-Currency 'Jouliette' In September 2017, Spectral Utilities (daughtercompany of Metabolic) introduced a new crypto-currency on De Ceuvel, named after the Joule, the international unit of energy. The Jouliette uses energy production as a starting point. Mining existing crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin consumes a lot of energy, while the Jouliette is generated by the user producing excess solar energy.

Jouliette stimulates the local production and exchange of renewable and so contributes to the energy transition and the local economy. It encourages solarpanel owners to exchange energy locally, instead of selling surplus power to the grid. De creation of new Jouliette's is simple, transparant en based on smart meters. Through blockchain technology, points are generated and distributed among De Ceuvel community, and users are rewarded for smart and efficient usage of power and solarpanels. The Jouliettes can then be traded for power when needed, or for other things as well. The goal is to connect all of the Buiksloterham neighborhood to create a local smart grid. 


Organic waste streams including food and human waste contain nutrients necessary for plant growth. The effective use of these nutrient streams as fertilizer for urban agriculture can help close the nutrient cycle on local and urban levels. At de Ceuvel, we investigate methods for recovering nutrients from urine.

Separated urine is collected from Metabolic Lab and Café de Ceuvel men's urinoir, from which phosphate is recovered by using a struvite reactor. These phosphate crystals can then be combined with other local inputs and used as a fertilizer for local food production.


De Ceuvel has been built largely out of recycled materials. Old houseboats that would have been demolished have been upcycled into creative, energy-efficient workspaces, using secondhand materials from all over the Netherlands. And of course, we make sure to separate all our waste: glass, plastic, paper, organic waste, and rest.

Upcycling is an important part of our philosophy as well as the visual aesthetic of de Ceuvel. The Logic Works workspace across from the Café regularly cranks out newly upcycled furniture using old industrial metals and wooden panes, and benches made from old boats.


The greenhouse is the key to recycling nutrients at De Ceuvel. The greenhouse at De Ceuvel produces vegetables and herbs for Cafe de Ceuvel using a closed-loop aquaponics system combining fish and vegetable production.

The fish excretes are broken down into nutrients for the plants, and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. Aquaponics is thus based on the natural symbiosis between plant and water life. Inputs include primarily local nutrients like worms from our composting bins, and struvite from our struvite reactor, produced by men's urine from the Café. In the future, we will be experimenting with algae and insect production.

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