Friday, September 12, 2008

Netherlands: Amsterdam Squats

There were many interesting connections that come together in Amsterdam. One of threads that quickly became apparent to me was how squatting (and the ideals and realities they were exposing) in the 80’s and 90’s are now very intertwined with the new lifestyle of modern housing in Amsterdam. For all the information on the squats, I am deeply indebted to David Carr Smith, and his web book: Improvised Houses of Amsterdam and all the wonderful information he has unearthed and communicated. There are three buildings in which I uncovered some interesting relationships.

The first is Edelweis. This amazing industrial building is on the KMSN island and is surrounded by new buildings and housing, as this part of the Eastern Docklands development in the late 1990’s. As the shipping industry was transformed and the harbor moved to another part of the city, old industrial land was left. This beautiful building would certainly have been destroyed had squatters not occupied it. And of course, it leads to some amazing spaces.
The second one is Silodam. This project by MVRDV has become very famous in architectural circles and occupies a prominent spot along the IJ River in Amsterdam. It is actually a third building along an old pier. The first two (which have been converted to high end housing) were originally grain silos. After the industry had left, the first building, simply referred to as Silo had been squatted…..As the land become more valuable, and commercial viability of such projects became more lucrative for housing, the whole site was redeveloped, with the addition of the Silodam project. Of course, the squatters were consequently evicted to make room for higher-end and prescribed housing.

The last and most significant squat is Tetterode. It was originally squatted in 1982 as a result of people looking for a good affordable place to stay. It was increasingly difficult to find such places. The building (or series of buildings) used to be a factory where they made letter presses. As with many buildings of this type, the structural system and floor layout offered great flexibility by which to create dwelling spaces (as in the US, these types of spaces and people were the precursors of the modern loft movement). Many of the folks there were artists and designers and used the space as living and working. As the city wanted to demolish the building in the late 1980’s, a young idealist named Frank Bydendyk began conversing with the squatters. He was running a housing development company called Het Oosten. As it turns out, he was able to serve as an effective mediator between the squatters and the city. He also had a strong interest in providing affordable and accessible housing.
The deal which they agreed to had a number of different components. It is basically described as ‘casco’, or ship’s hull. Het Oosten (which just recently merged with Stadgenoot) would cover all the maintenance and upkeep issues for the core and the shell of the building. Basically, they would be responsible for the exterior, and any interior infrastructural issues (water, electricity, structure). The squatters, whom had formed a collective would be responsible for all the interior issues, but had basic freedom over what to do with the inside of the building, and the city has pretty much stayed out of their hair. Each tenant rents a space and pays money to the collective. The collective then pays Het Oosten at a rate that is renegotiated every fifteen years or so. In this case, the project was able to be formalized, in a way that still allowed the informal and very necessary components to exist. Since in most cases, there really shouldn’t be much distinction between informal and formal, I will just call it exformal, the intersection of the two.
The really fascinating component is that Frank Bydendyk was so intrigued with this idea of living, he has decided to push it and in a more commercially viable/market driven product. There is one big difference here. Many people have already found that lofts are successful and highly sought after, in many parts of the world now. However, it is still relatively a fixed product, and has been commodified and co-opted to serve a niche in the market of a higher end style of life, not anymore serving the flexibility, adaptability and affordability that such projects initially offered. While many projects have open space and allow some variety within the arrangement of rooms, but generally speaking, it is not very flexible.

The new project that Bydendyk is involved in is called Solids. If many people were interested in such a flexible living type, maybe there is a greater demand for it in the market. Unfortunately, none of the buildings have been completed yet, and due to the merger, getting information has been pretty difficult. But, is based on the idea of open building, similar to how the Tetterode project has been set up. Het Oosten will build the building (skin, structure, infrastructure) and then tenants will come in and build out however and whatever they want in the space allotted. The big difference here with other projects is that there is no segmentation between commercial and residential. It will be determined by who wants to put what where. It is a natural and self regulating process, and then product. Additionally, each tenant has its own capacity to design out their space how they see fit. And, the price will be set through a public auction on the internet. People and prices will be offered as to how much they are willing to pay (not what the market demands they pay). And poorer people will be given a handicap, ensuring they have a stake in this as well.
It will be interesting to see how this project plays out. I particularly appreciate the notion that squatters/artists actually had a worthwhile interest and point of view. Especially since they have continually served as bellweathers for neighborhoods that will become hot and soon gentrify, eventually displacing themselves and their way of living. These pioneers often show a different way of living, and it is nice to a new manifestation of it, truly understanding the process of it, not the product of it.
The ad hoc corridor with rooms added above
An annexed space serving as a CAD CAM workshop for a resident
Loft Living
At Tetterode, I was able to visit two different residences, both of which have developed loft type spaces. The interesting thing here is the manner in which each of these residences have been developed in an adhoc manner, and how they have been able to grow and take over space on the inside of the building. They ended up adding more space by building over the public corridor, while one unit annexed a vacated to serve as a work space. I found this notion of growth and extensions and informal development within an existing building and framework quite fascinating.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi there. i am a canadian and was living in amsterdam in 1997 when the now silodam was the grain silo squat. i was exteremely inspired by the community that lived there. i was only 23 at the time and it became a very influencial part of my life. at that time it was a group of 50 or so artists living within the squat. an american friend i met while living in amsterdam was living there with her german boyfriend, they were both dancers. their living space was truly amazing - complete with tremendous views of the harbour and even a tub under the floor! some of my greatest memories were of my times at the silo, whether it be a vegan meal in the boiler room put on once or twice a week, an art exhibit or a party. i truly beleive it was what lead me to be an interior designer. it was a sad time to be there and witness this community be evicted but am very glad to some degree i was a part of it. i am glad this style of living is still being celebrated today.