Daily Diary 7/23 Friday

by colinip on 25 July 2010

Here’s a video of Friday’s travels:

Short Summary

Today was day four of our expedition in Amsterdam and we were fortunate to have Rob Corser’s experience and knowledge to lead us today. In a short summary, we traveled to the Eastern Docklands and more specifically Java eiland. Rob led us on a tour of the island and gave us the background and history. After taking a coffee break, we traveled to central station where we hopped onto a ferry and rode to Tuindorp Oostzaan. During this transition we also visited a gallery that displayed and explained the construction of a new tunnel being built in Amsterdam for a new metro line. In Tuindorp Oostzaan, Rob explained the future plans for the area and its residential potential. Before leaving, we all had lunch at a Northern Lights café.

Today’s Subject

The title of today’s agenda is Derive: X-Form Amsterdam. I eventually came to conclusion that it was related to today’s topic about old, current, and future housing development; and how the use of space and urban planning was and still is very important. X-Form is short for transformation and we saw today a before and after picture of urban development. Java eiland represents the after picture while Tuindorp Oostzaan represents the before picture of the redevelopment. As we explored the two different sites and compared them, it is possible to see the urban transformation happening in these parts of Amsterdam.


Java eiland

In the last twenty years, Amsterdam has experience rapidly developing residential areas especially in the Eastern Docklands. These islands used to serve as places where ships can unload their cargo and store them in warehouses. Until recently these islands were mainly industrial. Eventually the shipping industry moved to a different part of the city and the islands were left with vacant warehouses and were prime candidates for a residential overhaul. But as with all new development, there needs to be prior planning and objective. If I remember correctly, city planners wanted the residential density to be more than thirty living units per hector, which is the average in Amsterdam.  Architecture and design is key in order to accomplish this objective. Amsterdam architects and city planners have to consider many aspects of urban development such as capacity, public transportation availability, bicycling lanes, canals, outward appearance, and interior design. Therefore it is important to consider urban spacing and planning in the Eastern Docklands. By analyzing the architecture and other aspects of the buildings on Java eiland, we can recognize the feats and decisions that were made in order to achieve the objectives set by the city.


Although the Eastern Docklands have very high desirability, living units come in all shapes and sizes as well as affordability. All levels of wealth can be found in these areas. After observing various buildings and architecture in Java eiland, I noticed that many of the buildings are dissimilar and many are repeated. The repeated buildings are aligned in a pattern with a different looking building to make it more appealing. And even so, the repeated buildings have small but distinct differences among them. The only thing that neighboring buildings seem to share is their height. Skyscrapers are few and scattered and Rob explained that they are located in certain places to serve as landmarks so that people can orientate themselves. I thought it was interesting that the city did not allow most buildings be higher than a certain height. When I first arrived in Amsterdam I was surprised not to see more skyscrapers but I now understand why.

Repeated Building Units on the Eastern Docklands

The superblocks on Java eiland are an example of how urban planning is fluid and dynamic. Java eiland has a mixture of superblocks and townhouse like buildings. Superblocks are large residential buildings that usually cover most if not all of an enlarged city block. Much of Java eiland and many parts of Amsterdam consist of superblocks. According to Rob, the urban planners decided to stop building super blocks and instead move towards other designs such as townhouse like buildings. These design changes symbolize the different periods of construction in Amsterdam. At one point, the architects may of decided that superblocks was the best choice and a few years later in a different location, townhouse and apartment style construction was used instead. When Java eiland is compared to its neighboring islands, Java eiland has enormous super blocks compared to the others. Borneo-sporenburg is one of the neighboring islands and only has one superblock known as the Whale. I enjoyed learning about how the architecture of the buildings can be very different from island to island. It inspires me to look at the building designs in Seattle to see how dissimilar they are and try to speculate reasons why architects chose a specific layout or density.

The Whale on Borneo-Sporenburg Island.

Eastern Docklands history can still be found on the islands. On Knsm-Laan Street, there is a huge brick building with an opening in the middle that we walked through. In that walk though, we could see the original infrastructure of a shipyard. The pavement was made out of steel and concrete and was created in a way that allowed it to be moved. Also the building itself seemed to have a slight resemblance to a warehouse with steel windows and bricks. I thought that it was amazing that I was able to learn about this example of the architect’s efforts to preserve the history of the island. Without any kind of guide, I would of never been able to notice or realize the historical value of the building.

This superblock holds some warehouse characteristics.

At one point, Rob had us imagine in our minds that the place we were in was in the 1950s and that the tall building next to us was vacant. Surrounding the building were run down empty warehouses. He describes it as an “urban industrial wasteland”. Squatters inhabit the vacant building, some illegally. The city decides to redevelop the area and to clean it up. One of the first things they do is remove the illegal squatters and allow artist to live there for very cheap. This allowed the city to start changing the area for the better. This is the usual step-by-step process that the city uses to help redevelop different areas of Amsterdam.

Right before stepping onto the tram, Rob talks about how interwoven and efficient the space is used in Amsterdam. There are train and tram lines overlapping each other at different levels combined with the roads, bicycling lanes, and buildings. The City also didn’t leave out parks and sports fields from the equation and the canals also play a significant role. Rob concludes with the statement that it would be very challenging for us to pull off a feat like this. I believe Amsterdam is unique because of how integrated their public transportation system is with the city. It feels like it is at one with the buildings and the with people, as if they were not separated but a whole single unit.

Urban Transformation part 1

Java eiland served as an end result to a big residential development project of transforming a previous industrial desert to a booming housing expansion. Construction had to be thoroughly planned out and historical preservation, spatial optimization, and appearance were all taken into consideration. Many new or recently developed parts of Amsterdam look like this and have a similar timeline where the area was previously an industry site and was then transformed into residential zones.

New Metro Line

On the way to the ferry we stopped by a small gallery displaying the new metro line project. It had a three dimensional model of the new metro line showing what parts were under construction and what parts were not. It also had an interactive board that used LEDs to demonstrate that the new metro line will be able to get you to your destination faster than by car, bus, or bike. To me, seeing projects that have yet to be finished is awesome because it gives me a sense of the future for the city.

Tuindorp Oostzaan

To get to our last destination, we had to cross the Het IJ. We hopped onto the correct ferry, free of charge, and arrived at Tuindorp Oostzaan approximately fifteen minutes later. The ferry, like many other modes of public transportation, was very busy. The public transportation system has proven to be very handy for us today.

Tuindorp Oostzaan Ferry Landing

Tuindorp Oostzaan is the northern part of Amsterdam and is basically a warehouse wasteland except for some recent renovation and inhabitation by MTV near the ferry dock. It used to be an industrial center but is now almost vacant. Similar to the previous redevelopment in the Eastern Docklands, the same thing is happening here. The whole area is scheduled for redevelopment and the method to which they will accomplish this is first by attracting artist and other groups to start to settle or temporarily inhabit the warehouses before they are razed for other development. We currently see MTV here using the warehouses for various projects.

Urban Transformation part 2

Tuindorp Oostzaan represents the beginning phase of urban redevelopment. Compared to the end result at the Eastern Docklands, Tuindorp Oostzaan is an empty desert. But at one point in time, the islands also use to be lifeless and rundown. The city was able to transform the islands into a bustling part of Amsterdam through a step-by-step process that first involved finding temporary inhabitants and then utilize effective urban and architectural planning. Tuindorp Oostzaan is currently recruiting artist and others to inhabit the warehouses in order to prepare for the next step. One day it may look like Java eiland.

Final Thoughts

I found that today’s subject stood out more to me than the previous days because of how related it is to my group project. My research project involves comparing the outer city with the inner city or in other words new development to old development. In particular I want to look at urban planning and how it changes area to area. Today we looked at how recent residential development was laid out and built to achieve a certain density in population and other requirements. I thought that was interesting and also visualizing first hand the before and after picture of urban development was very intriguing.

Exploring a new area of Amsterdam that is totally different than the inner city was new and exciting. It broadens my perspective on the city and it gives the sense of high organization and a bright future. Today’s experiences encourage me to come visit Amsterdam in the future when the city has finished the redevelopment project in the areas we visited and the new metro line has been completed. Much of the current development is geared towards the northern part of Amsterdam so it would be awesome to see that area in the future.

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