De Realiteit, Almere

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One of the many reasons I love the Netherlands, particularly Almere, is the buildings. In Britain, you could be dropped into almost any housing estate built in the last 30 years and you be unable to say where you were, because the buildings look identical to every other estate.

In Almere, on the other hand, there are streets where no two houses look the same...but every house on the street looks amazing! Almere is a new town. The newest in the Netherlands. The first building was finished in 1976, so it's a few months younger than me. It's less than a hundred years since the land on which it stands still lay at the bottom of the North Sea, before that famous Dutch ingenuity led an ambitious program of dam building to reclaim the land.

From the beginning, they wanted to do things differently, so in the early 80's, when the population of the city still only ran to four digits (It's approaching two hundred thousand now) they had several competitions which encouraged designers (from professional architects to enthusiastic amateurs) to think differently.

The first competition in 1982, 'De Fantasie' (The Fantasy) was based around the theme of 'Unusual housing' and called for 'experimental, freestanding, temporary homes'. The prize was the plot and funding on loan to realise the design.

The Living Area

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The Bedroom

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The Dome

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Several years later, they followed up with a second competition 'De Realiteit' (The Reality). Zeiltoren was one of the seventeen winners which now makes up the eponymous street. These two competitions played no small part in setting the tone for the city as far as thinking differently and trying new things, which still endures today.

A few years ago, when my wife and I first visited, and fell in love with, Almere, we visited De Realiteit. We didn't realise at the time that the architect, Theijs, and his wife Nicoline now ran the Zeiltoren as a rentable apartment. Once we discovered this, we jumped at the chance to return to Almere and stay in the Zeiltoren for a few nights.

And we weren't disappointed. It's the most unique place we've ever stayed and, situated as it is on the banks of the Noorderplassen lake, is as idyllic, tranquil and relaxing a place as you could hope to find anywhere. It's also only 20 minutes by car, or an hour by bike, from Amsterdam, if that's more your thing.

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If you're interested in staying at the Zeiltoren, you can contact Thijs and Nicoline via their homepage, or their Airbnb page. For more information on Almere's innovative architecture, visit the urban planners Masterplan page.