by Ron Bernthal
Amsterdam is experiencing a population boom these days because of the city’s attraction as an über progressive urban hub in the European knowledge economy. According to the Amsterdam City Council, as many as 150,000 people are expected to migrate into the city between now and 2040.
Central Amsterdam is already busting at the seams due to its tight geographic footprint around the city’s famous canals, especially in the last decade as global tourism has tremendously increased the number of overseas visitors to its central neighborhoods. In order for Amsterdam to physically expand, and do so intelligently, the Amsterdam City Council developed the comprehensive new Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 Master Plan, integrating innovative urban design and neighborhood revitalization strategies, smart technology systems, and more advanced mobility options for residents and visitors, much like Gӧteborg, Sweden, and other European cities are doing.
As part of its plan to create a new “Metropolitan Amsterdam” the city is populating huge swaths of post-industrial riverfront landscape in its outlying neighborhoods, including the area called Amsterdam Noord, located north of the River IJ. The EYE Filmmuseum, opened in 2012, and the three-story, transparent Kraanspoor office building are part of the revitalization, both built on the site of the once decrepit former ship building yard called NDSM Wharf.
In 1937, the NSM, forerunner of NDSM, was the largest shipbuilding company in the world, building tankers as well as huge passenger ships. Later the company merged the Dutch shipbuilders of NDM, becoming NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij). Utilizing the large NDSM Wharf the company built cargo ships, bulk carriers and war ships for the Dutch navy.
Shortage of new orders caused NDSM to finally stop building ships in 1978, but the company continued repairing ships until around 1984, when the era of Dutch shipbuilding came to an end. The empty buildings left to waste at NDSM’s East Wharf were soon filled with squatters, often craftsmen, artists and their families and friends who settled in and united, naming themselves Kinetisch Noord. In Amsterdam, of course, the politics and sensibilities are somewhat different than the rest of the world, and the Amsterdam City Council actually liked the idea of this new ‘broedplaats’ which translates somewhat into “an innovative breeding space for new ideas.” The group now receives subsidies from the City Council to further develop the area an make good use of the large boathouse and the huge outside terrain and ramps.
This area, including many parts of Amsterdam-Noord that were not originally part of the NDSM Wharf site, is attracting artist studios, galleries and pop-up festivals, as well as major arts and media companies, such as MTV Europe. The modern 17-story A’DAM Tower hotel, formerly the old Shell Oil headquarters building, towers above the terrain, offering a revolving rooftop restaurant with a stunning, 360-degree view of the river and city skyline. On streets leading to the NDSM site there are new, colorful buildings testifying to the area’s recent creative renaissance. A free pedestrian/bicycle ferry, called the ‘Buiksloterweg‘ runs every few minutes to the NDSM site from the city’s Central Station just across the river, taking about ten minutes to make the crossing.
Adding to the numerous new residential, retail and office development projects in Amsterdam-Noord, Dutch authorities have recently opened the new Noord/Zuid (North-South) Metro line that extends almost six miles, connecting Amsterdam-Noord to Central Amsterdam, running under the River IJ that is making life easier, and the commute shorter, for thousands of residents in the northern neighborhoods. “It’s a major step towards the future of the city,” said Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema after the new, $5.3 billion Noord/Zuid Metro line opened this summer.
Amsterdammers and tourists can now ride the entire new route six mile route from Station Noord to Europaplein in just 15 minutes, although it took $5.3 billion and almost 22 years after the project began, to make this happen. Still, the seven new metro stations along the route - Station Noord, Station Noorderpark, Centraal Station, Station Rokin, Station Vijzelgracht, Station De Pijp, and Station Europaplein – all designed by the Dutch architecture firm Benthem Crouwel, have been so beautifully and efficiently created that the cost and time devoted to the project has almost been forgiven. The Dutch love their home grown architects — Rem Koolhaas, Ben van Berkel, Rene van Zuuk, Wiel Arets and Willem Jan Neutelings have all helped make modern Dutch architecture a much envied global phenomenon, and having the new Metro line designed primarily by a Dutch firm was of course well received.
Benthem Crouwel designed two stations above ground, and five below, saying that they created the stations as a “new public layer” for the city, mirroring the canals and streets that cross the city at surface level. Station entrances have been left uncovered, with escalators leading directly to entrance halls that in turn have direct views of the track to create a sense of continuous public space. All the stations have been designed to be distinctive, but all are unified by plans that make it as easy and fast as possible to travel from street level to train carriage.
Clearly, a major urban project like tunneling a new urban metro line 75 feet deep in Amsterdam’s boggy soil, and underneath the city’s River IJ, provided plenty of construction challenges. When the city was founded in 1300 it was on reclaimed land, and houses had to be built on stilts. Advances in boring technology made in the past few decades made tunneling deep under the city without disturbing the unstable soil possible, but the Metro line construction still left historic brick houses in some city center neighborhoods leaning at awkward angles, and issues with water lines and electric cables were often stubborn obstacles. During the digging operations construction workers were constantly finding historic artifacts buried in the soil under city streets, many of them hundreds of years old. Fortunately, local historians were able to identify and save most of the best preserved items and 700,000 of them are now displayed in a large glass case between the escalators at the new Station Rokin.
Except for small ferries and a few crowded roadways, the district of Amsterdam Noord (North) was cut off from the rest of the city by the River IJ, but that changed forever after the shiny, new trains on the Noord-Suid Metro line started running under the river to connect Amsterdam-Noord with the city’s central business district, including the RAI Convention Center, the city’s largest meeting venue. Now Noord commuters, students and shoppers can have easy and fast access to the city center and points south. Even the small, historic fishing villages like Holysloot and Ransdorp, both established in the 12th-century, and the harbor at Nieuwendam, which enjoyed a 16th-century Golden Age before Amsterdam did by transporting goods to France, are now more accessible to tourists.
Bikers can now better explore the area’s parks and sport complexes, and visit the historic dykes of Nieuwendammerdijk, Schellingwouderdijk, Durgerdammerdijk and Buiksloterdijk. The shopping has improved in Noord as well, with local butchers and bakers, outdoor markets, flea markets, a good-sized shopping center called Boven ’t Y on Buikslotermeerplein, and a large vintage and industrial design furniture store. Even before the new metro line appeared there was a variety of lovely restaurants and bars, such as the Noorderlicht Café, IJkantine, Pllek, Hannekes Boom, De Ceuvel and Hotel de Goudfazant, all of which are now seeing increases in evening and weekend customers.
With the new Metro now making Amsterdam-Noord as close to the city center as the popular canal neighborhoods further south, the revitalization of Amsterdam’s northern communities will continue in the decades ahead, with new mixed-use projects, schools, seaside cafes, and design-friendly residential housing, as well as restoration efforts in the traditional 1920’s-era Amsterdam School-style tuindorpen (garden villages). It is a big step forward for Amsterdam’s Master Plan 2040.