De Stad als Casco
They weren’t even there yet and already the city was speaking against them. They were dancing. And like a million others, chests pounding, tracks controlling their feet, free they stared out of the windows for first sight of the city that dances with them, proving already how much it loves them.
(From ‘Jazz’ – Toni Morrison)
Podium Werken aan ’t IJ
(Podium Working at the river IJ) is a multi-disciplinary working committee consisting of politicians urban planners, housing corporations, designers, architects, scientists and artists concerned with the urban development of the river IJ banks in central Amsterdam. The Podium opt -in contrast to the City Counsel- for a development strategy that does not aim immediate realization of (costly) goals. The origin of a climate that stimulates the value of private investment can increase in time opposite the static models being studied by the local services till now. The Podium like to put a richer, more varied and particularly more adventurous ambition into the city. They advocate to return to the highest level of creativity and innovation and to go for the best ideas implementation because the city and the inhabitants of Amsterdam have the potential to be and to act so.
The members of The Podium all joined voluntarily and with great enthusiasm despite the different points of view and the diversity of interest and background. Primarily because of this diversity of the members they prove from the beginning to be a vital panel.
Economic and social changes are always main issues for debate and which urban structures are considered to be the driving forces for comprehensive and harmonic city districts? In his essay ‘Work for Everybody’ (Assen, 1994) Prof. Dr. Paul van Schilfgaarde from the Delft Technological University, points out that in The Netherlands ´a city is pre-eminently meaning production in the service-economy. The city is a money- and social environment in one, with its relatively small-scale integrations for economics, culture, education, housing and recreation functions’. Prof. van Schilfgaarde’s points of view inspire us for long discussions. How can the city react to problems as house famine, unemployment, violence, degeneration and corruption? How does a different approach of creativity, life-style, employment and housing contribute to the vitalization of a city? What does this all do to the built up- of public areas and which conditions do the existing buildings at the banks of the river IJ offer us for new urban combinations? Urban warehouses with studios, shops, kindergarten and recreation-spots for industriousness people next to a private apartment? Does this give Amsterdam the desired versatile of an attractive housing climate to live and work? The city is by definition a living organism, most suitable to provide the necessary diversity for life. Situated on the river IJ lies the core for an economic and cultural growth that will enriches urban life-style considerably. The citizens will contribute to this changing environment as ‘producers’; both through working and recreating they will invest in the values of their own surroundings.
To the government, to the various marketing-participants and not least to the private citizens this implies a totally new construction of property, new roles to handle homes and a fresh dimension of housing.
Strategy for Development
The double meaning of ‘Werken aan ’t IJ’ (working at the river IJ) literally refers to the people who have their live- and workspaces or studios in one of the ‘workbuildings’ in the harbour area, like the Grain silos, the Custom-houses and the warehouses Wilhelmina and Veem. Those boys and girls recognized years ago the enormous potential of these abandoned industrial colossus, and put them back into use. Besides management were new concepts introduced for inside re-use and restore and for outside new strategies of city planning. The industrial monuments were at first protected from demolition and later on from premature too energetic real estate development.
A lesson from these experiences is that those new models are gradually developed, step-by-step, and not with already a final-goal in prospect at the beginning. Financial short-track revenues are related to long-term economical prosperity. These examples are of unmistakable more value and importance for the future of the river IJ banks, the city of Amsterdam and the country in general.
The Podium considers long-range planning for zoning of a far greater importance than a simple durable development. A typically city-character, the constantly change in the use of buildings is only in one setting preserved by traditional developers and architects. In our ‘test-tube’ situation there is more acceptances for new and creative functions to continue re-use. They will meet the highest standards later when future potentials are being studied thoroughly. Until that moment the experience and the force of the temporary use prevails. The Podium emphasizes the quality of change and the quality of a not completely filled up plan. Where possible the development plans will have to fit in with the use of the buildings that has been ‘spontaneously’ grown over the years. Dynamics in time and space cannot be disconnected and are both of crucial essence for the development of Amsterdam. The area now lacks by adding public utilities. The isolated position from the rest of the city can easily be neutralized. In other words, the river can be returned to the citizens by following the actual situation and new concepts in the Grain silos and the Western gas factory: a balanced mixture of living, working, recreation and entertainment.
The development of the area will be reinforced and activity and life will increase. This motivates people to be strongly involved in their own neighborhood. The vast variety of use of the area will be increasingly recognized as a value of great economical and cultural importance.
A city lies glowing, where creativity and small-scale businesses go hand in hand in harmony, where living and working will not avoid each other and where all components needed are present to realize a new urban structure that is essential for the city as a whole.
A promise of vitality and durable development in a city where all social and economic changes interact with cultural moves. Where time goes by leading to increase, progress and happiness.
The Characteristics Of The Spot
Where the old city of Amsterdam has become the regulated domain of inhabitants and tourists, the banks of the river IJ is a subject to constantly changing as a reaction to the fluctuations in former (harbour) economics. Large-scale businesses moved away while artists with creative and small businesses took over the open empty spaces. Many design studios and workshops showed up in the monumental buildings where once ocean-steamers moored. The new occupants settled in while others remain faithful to their variable existence and move on to new frontiers in the area. ‘Mobile thought’ principles have given numerous forgotten parts of the city new creative impacts.
This development proves to The Podium the strength of Amsterdam and the decisiveness of the new citizens. Especially in the so-called ‘werkgebouwen’ (workbuildings) they established new management forms and attractive housing experiments that are profitable to the area as a whole. The starting point each time is the direct engagement of the inhabitants and users with their own environment. The idea behind this is, that the environment is more in harmony and stable when it is based on personal needs, small-scale and local organization. Interaction between the spot, the people and the environment is more concrete, to the point and easier when it is in control of your own vicinity. The pioneers at those industrial spots in big warehouses and factories have proven the strength of this reality and theory.
Management is Development
Conscientious analysis of the present situation provides the grip for real future developing plans. Fascinating possibilities can be found in the concept of temporary use, of growing processes and of changing purposes, perhaps the most visible in the Amsterdam Grain silos. The Podium highly appreciates the organization and courage of the Silo society. In various creative and innovative models the users of this monumental premises have introduced characteristics of mobility. With a little more imagination and good understanding of what already exists, it should be possible to develop plans that emphasize the uniqueness of this spot, based on his present model. The legendary Grain silo can easily be rebuilt into a cathedral of informal culture, without making its exploitation unattractive for investors and city developers. Instead: the economy of culture becomes the culture of economics again.
Amsterdam can characterize itself as a cultural production city more than it does now. A creative center that stimulates artists, designers and architects. An innovative center that invites business-communities and pleases knowledge networks. A convention and congress city to meet and greet in fair and flair. In such a creative city the ‘new Amsterdammer’ will develop itself and others from a consumer to a producer.
Through direct investment in his own environment by creativity, labour, time or money, the citizen will get a crucial place in the administration. The traditional relationship between government and citizen, between investor and builder, between housing company and tenant will change by this model. Till now we are used to consumer’s ideas that new buildings from the moment of delivery start decreasing in value. The Podium’s strategy breaks through this classic habit and introduces a gradual increase of value. Management and development are no longer each other’s opposite but follower. Recent research supports the feasibility of Casco for existing- and new buildings, starting ‘poorly’ and enabling different quantities and levels to add quality. To built at the top you have to start at the bottom. Plain live/ workspaces or studios can be combined with considerably luxurious accommodations, depending on the user’s individual desires and possibilities. Parallel are levels of responsibility, financing and management and for each inhabitant is the challenge to change and improve as much as possible the Casco.
Casco As Challenge
According to The Podium the city manifests itself as a Casco, with possibilities of different fill-ups. When the Casco is sufficient, the use will be able to change at every desired speed and still leave capacity for semi-permanent and starting-businesses, without leading to unengaged solutions. The vitality of urban textures even depending on this kind of diversification. The Podium wants to offer space and time to this organic grow, which is new, experiential and so complex, that it is impossible to put in blueprints at once. By introducing the concept that gives more opportunity for the inhabitant’s initiatives, a radical social, culture and economic change can be realized.
The city as Casco offers the challenge of change and realistic grow for all participants: managers, administrators and residents will no longer be locked up inside their city, but compelled to the city.
New Amsterdam is already speaking against them. They are dancing. From its historical riverbanks the city is already proving how much it loves them.
Podium Working at the river IJ 1994
Gert Staal & Huub Bongers