Standing like a symbol of the revitalisation of Amsterdam’s harbour on the IJ River, René van Zuuk’s sculptural Architecture Centre for Amsterdam (ARCAM), completed over a decade ago, represents the design-led regeneration which has brought buildings such as the historic Armoury, now the National Maritime Museum, into the 21st century and provided new high-quality contemporary architecture such as the NEMO Science Museum rising like the prow of a ship over the water.
Once bustling with ships like the three-masted Dutch East India Company ship ‘Amsterdam’ of 1749, a replica of which is moored outside the Maritime Museum, the waters of the harbour are now relatively peaceful as international shipping has moved elsewhere, but along its edge there has been a design-led multi-use regeneration over that last two decades which is still ongoing today, and has been very much focused on creating a connected plan for the waterfront, albeit with different uses, architects and dates of development.
The Architecture Centre for Architecture (ARCAM) was established in 1986 to involve the community in the development of Amsterdam and its future architecture and to work with architects and clients to achieve the best designs for the ongoing regeneration and redevelopment of Amsterdam.
Renzo Piano’s adjacent NEMO Science Museum, opened in 1997, provides a new public space rising above the harbour, under which are five floors of interactive science activities, which has made it the fifth most-visited museum in the Netherlands,while the National Maritime Museum building re-opened in 2011 with a sensitive refurbishment by the Dutch architectDaniël Stalpaert including a new glass roof to the courtyard, and across the river is the eye-catching new EYE Film Museum opened in 2012 and designed by the Austrian firm Delugan Meissl architects.
The regeneration has included a variety of uses such as housing, offices, public and university buildings, focused around Central Station, which, as the key transport hub of Amsterdam, has itself has been refurbished and expanded. When opened in 1884 to designs of Pierre Cupyers, its position on the IJ River was controversial as it split the city from the water, but it was a far-sighted decision, enabling the expansion of the station in a logical way, with the most recent extension being a new arched roof in 2014.
Nearby are the new 28,000 m2 Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (opened 2007), said to Europe’s largest public library, designed by Jo Coenen, the former state architect of the Netherlands, and the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (opened in 2008) located in a new cultural area which includes the ‘Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ ‘ with its new concert halls, designed by Nielsen, Nielsen & Nielsen opened in 2005 and stepping down to the water. The Conservatorium is located within walking distance of the Amsterdam University of the Arts with a design by the Dutch architect Frits van Dongen which creates a statement on the waterfront and is based on the ‘Engawa model’, where the corridors are on the outer walls of the building (thus providing an acoustic baffle and views outside) while the concert halls, classrooms and study rooms are in the centre.
The regeneration has also provided much-needed housing, schools and offices in a combination of new and old buildings, in particular addressing a shortage of centrally-located good quality housing with schemes such as the Fountainhead complex at Sporenburg in the Eastern Docklands, which provides 237 studios and apartments, parking, a primary school, indoor swimming pool and fitness room, designed by the Dutch architects KCAP and partially standing in the water of the Ertshaven.
The final piece of the 20 year redevelopment of the southern docks is IJDock, built on reclaimed land with a new marina to the masterplan of Dick van Gameren architecten and Bjarne Mastenbroek (SeArch) and housing the Palace of Justice in two buildings connected by a bridge, offices and residential apartments. Slots for light and views between the city and the harbour were created to form five volumes in which buildings were designed by different architects. The 285-room hotel and marina for about 60 boats were designed by Bakers Architecten in collaboration with architect Ben Loerakker with the other buildings were designed by Claus & Kaan Architects and Zeinstra van Gelderen architects. The apartment building has an angular corner which is in fact a unique apartment of nine floors (and no lift), the top floor measuring just 7 m2.
The development provides the substantial floor area of 89,000 sq m and enabled the sale of the old Palace of Justice, which dated back to 1664, for 61.3 million euro to be converted into a 5-Star Hotel.
Given the immediate connectivity that has been achieved between the water and many of the new developments around the harbour, there is a missed opportunity at IJDock to create a harbourside public space in addition to the street that runs through the centre. The building occupants have the views and perhaps security made it difficult, but the scheme would have been much improved with this.
What are the lessons for other cities? Regeneration takes a long term vision and needs good master-planning, multiple use and high quality design and public spaces to create new identifiable communities with interconnections back into the old urban areas. Good debate between planning officers, designers, clients and the public on architectural design is to be encouraged, as New London Architecture facilitates in London.