SAWA: Fully wooden residential building

Mei architects and planners en tant que Architectes.

Rotterdam's first fully wooden 50-meter high residential building
Commissioned by Nice Developers & Era Contour, Mei architects and planners is designing “SAWA”: a unique wooden residential building in the heart of the Lloydquarter in Rotterdam. Exceptional to SAWA is that the building will be built entirely in CLT (cross-laminated timber) and is therefore the first fully wooden residential building of 50 meters high in Rotterdam. In addition, the building is distinguished by the generous green terraces, with which the building enhances the biodiversity of the neighborhood.


Maritime history

The Lloydquarter has a rich maritime history, dating back to around 1900. The Lloyd Pier owes its name to the Rotterdamsche Lloyd shipping company, that built a terminal on the pier from which its passenger ships departed to the east of the world. The SAWA building owes its name to the trampled form with generous green terraces, as a reference to Eastern rice fields and the history of the place.



A conscious choice was made to reduce the building volume of SAWA compared to the zoning plan model and to introduce a stepped volume on the west side. This comes with several advantages. The new volume connects SAWA to the surrounding buildings in the Lloydkwartier and takes existing sight lines into account. An open square will be created on the west side of the lot and air and light will be preserved in the streets. The building’s shape also provides spacious terraces for the residents and a large communal deck on the first floor.

SAWA will house approximately 100 apartments, varying from 50 up to 100+ m2. The apartments can be freely arranged due to the column structure. This ensures a high degree of user-friendliness and flexibility for future (and next generation) residents and makes the building future-proof.


Innovation in timber architecture

In the context of the European Green Deal, UN Sustainable Development Goals and objectives of the municipality of Rotterdam to reduce CO2 emissions, the client and architect share the ambition to almost completely execute the building, including the main support structure, in CLT (90,97 %). There are multiple advantages of building in CLT: In addition to the fact that it stores CO2 and reduces emissions, construction time will be shorter compared to concrete construction and living comfort will increase.

Together with a team of experts, existing solutions are combined, and innovations are designed to optimize the application of wood; minimizing the amount of concrete and steel in the design; and solving the resulting fire, noise, and vibration problems.

The aim is to leave as much wood as possible visible in the houses and on the galleries and balconies. Only in places where the wood will be minimally experienced (storage room, toilet, bathroom), the walls will be finished with plaster.

Most of the design solutions and technical elaborations are not new when viewed separately. The innovation of SAWA lies in the combination of all the things that contribute to the construction of a residential building of 50 meters high, of which the main supporting structure consists of more than 90% wood. SAWA will thus be an example project for new generations, an important step in the sustainability goals and demonstrable evidence that things can be done differently.


Shared values

SAWA is being developed in the heart of the neighborhood and will, partly because of this central location, provide added value to the neighborhood by creating meeting areas and by connecting with existing local initiatives. Various facilities will be added to the ground floor of the building and the green deck will function as a green connector between building and surrounding area (such as the communal garden) and add value for both residents and neighbors.

The program comprises approximately 100 dwellings, of which 50 rental apartments in the modal segment, making it possible for people with indispensable professions (police officers, teachers, nurses, etc.) to remain in the city.

The residential units are accessed through a gallery. Despite the concept of a gallery is still labeled unpopular by (amongst others) real estate agents, Mei is a strong supporter and has deliberately chosen for an open gallery to stimulate contact between residents. The success of this design choice has already proven itself in many other projects by Mei, such as Fenix ​​I. The housing concept is enriched by various shared functions – such as shared mobility, tools, and vegetable garden – which actively create a community.



Dutch cities continue to grow and experience increasing pressure. The consequences of this urbanization on the human ecosystem – eg flooding, heat stress and increasing CO2 emissions – are becoming increasingly noticeable. At the same time, the habitat of birds, bees and butterflies is being considerably limited by increasing urbanization and mineralization of the landscape. With the design for SAWA, Mei commits to changing this evolution and contribute to a healthy living environment.

In collaboration with city ecologists and biologists, SAWA is designed on a nature-inclusive basis. For example, by integrating the greenery into the balconies, terraces, and deck, by choosing the planting specifically in the location (depending on the orientation to the sun and height in the building) and by integrating nesting boxes into the architecture where possible. Therefore, SAWA increases the biodiversity of the neighborhood and taps into the existing ecological structures within the city.



SAWA will be built using a modular construction system made of wood, using dry, separable solutions (no cast construction). This makes the building materials reusable in the future (urban mining).

The design is based on the Open Building principle: the main supporting construction consists of floors, beams, and columns. This creates a high degree of flexibility and freedom of layout for both the first buyers and the next generations, making the building future-proof.

The construction is made of Cross-laminated Timber (CLT). The trees used for SAWA come from sustainable production forests. For each tree that is cut, three new ones will be planted. The other materials that are used are biobased as much as possible and provided with a material passport.

SAWA is an installation-poor building, with a healthy indoor climate and possibilities for adaptations in the future. The houses are equipped with cross ventilation and temperature plus CO2-controlled ventilation valves in the facade. The city heating is sustainable and there will be PV panels on both the roofs and the solar crown at the highest point. The energy generated by the PV panels, is stored in batteries of the shared cars, scooters, and bicycles.

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