kraanspoor in I amsterdam City Guide
9 november 2023
Het iconische Kraanspoor als voorbeeld gesteld voor het herbestemmingsvraagstuk in Amsterdam.
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Amsterdam is a city that never lets a good ruin go to waste, and it is with the repurposing of old industrial sites that the city gets truly creative. What do you do when a prison runs out of prisoners? Or when an arms factory no longer makes bullets? In many cities, the answer has tended towards residential development: how many apartments can be squeezed in for maximum profit? But Amsterdam has been a little more inventive. In the case of that disused prison, one tower block of former cells will house a vertical garden and urban farm, and the former arms factory at HEMbrugterrein is now home to a museum, workspaces and restaurants. And these are just two examples in a long list of success stories of unused spaces turned into something new.
Old space, new ways
In a city with eight centuries of intricate buildings to consider, from the precariously slanted townhouses of the old centre to remnants of the Dutch 17th century, 70s concrete towers, and new marvels of steel and glass, what to do with old spaces has always been a hot topic. ‘Amsterdam has a tradition of squats, which emerged in the 1960s,’ says Jaap Schoufour, partner with urban development firm Stipo. ‘Those showed us a different way for urban development. Not new architectural studio designs to replace old stuff, but instead, squatters moving into venues and taking the existing building and re-using it’. Take for example pop temple Paradiso, which was squatted in the 60s to turn into a gig venue, and which is still, up until this day, one of the cultural powerhouses of the city.
While the 70s and 80s saw open conflict with squatters and fighting in the streets, a shift of approach slowly came around in the 1990s, as some squats were legalised, others bought by the city, and finally in 2000, a policy called broedplaatsen – ‘breeding grounds’ – that saw many of these old spaces given over to art collectives. Schoufour is a former head of the city’s Bureau Broedplaatsen, which had a €22 million budget. ‘The basic conditions for a project were that funds had to be used for the purchase or reconstruction of a venue, and 40% of floor space should be dedicated to artists in all disciplines,’ he explains. Since then, 75 broedplaatsen have opened, rejuvenating the city’s arts scene. There’s circular space De Ceuvel, Broedplaats LELY, housed in an old college, and NDSM-Wharf, whose success is due to the broedplaats-method – this former shipyard is repurposed into a cultural haven, packed with art spaces, restaurants and buzzing nightlife options. ‘Acknowledge the subculture and artists in a town and facilitate them with affordable space,’ says Schoufour. ‘They make a city complete, more vibrant and diverse’.
Playing with history
Architecture academic Dora Rodopoulou has a PhD in industrial heritage reuse in Europe. As part of her studies, she looked across the continent at the ways old spaces were exploited, for good and bad. ‘Amsterdam has taken a playful approach, that leaves space for experimentation,’ she says. ‘It is an unconventional transformation process, championed by the Municipality of Amsterdam, artists, skaters, architects and former squatters. The case of Kraanspoor in particular is my favourite, as it is a magnificent example of creating new sleek architecture that covers current needs while respecting a historic structure’. The Kraanspoor was a 270 meter-long crane track, just 9 meter wide, perched on concrete legs above the River IJ. Then along came OTH architects, who plonked a three-storey glass and steel office block on top. Julian Wolse is a director of the practice. ‘The old shipyards are not there anymore, but the structures and the buildings belonging to the whole composition of this area are beautiful,’ he says. ‘It would really be a waste to deny your own history’.
This approach was also applied to De Ceuvel, another former harbour nearby. On a once polluted site, former houseboats have been hoisted ashore as workspaces, artist studios, a café, restaurant and spa. Sascha Glasl is a partner at Space & Matter, the architects behind the project. ‘Amsterdam is providing its citizens with more opportunities to develop their own places,’ he says, ‘and we saw De Ceuvel as an opportunity to turn wasteland and waste materials into valuable resources, transforming one of Amsterdam’s most polluted spots into a playground for sustainable innovations’. Now it’s one of the city’s most circular projects. From the composting toilets to the locally sourced ingredients, there’s simply no waste (or wasted appetite) at De Ceuvel. Besides the excellent food and drinks, you’ll find several showcases of sustainable tech that the compound uses itself, including a fascinating aquaponics greenhouse, heat exchangers and treatment facilities for kitchen and toilet waste.
Reuse and repurpose
Managing the environmental impact of redevelopment is perhaps best seen in the work of Michel Baars, founder of New Horizon Urban Mining. His firm is a pioneer in using materials from old buildings to create new ones. Perhaps the finest example is the Dutch National Bank building – known as the ‘cigarette lighter’ – a 14 storey block that Baars’ firm painstakingly took apart and loaded on to barges, bit by bit. Even fragile elements like interior glass and plasterboard have found new life, many in a new 115-room care home for the elderly. ‘Instead of crushing the concrete, we took it apart like Lego bricks and will reassemble it in the same way. The CO2 savings in this new development are enormous,’ he says. Another example is Helling7, right next door to Kraanspoor, which was built with scrap metal and glass. Now it serves an all-day restaurant where the circular theme extends to the menu. ‘We must do everything we can not to demolish buildings, but to reuse them in some way,’ Baars says. It is an approach that rings true city wide.
Text: Matt Farquharson