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Living in a monument. The Entrepotdok in Amsterdam
Franka van der Loo, illustrator

I would very much like to tell the story about the place where I live. It is unique, not only in the Netherlands, but also stirred quite a lot of attention in the rest of Europe after it’s restoration was finished.

Amsterdam is an old harbour town, gathered riches and fortune, mainly by the expansionist trading companies and merchants of the Dutch East Indies Company in the 17th century, and expanding fast in the 18th century. It needed an organized harbour, where the costly goods, imported from the East, could be stored safely. We are talking about sugar, salt, spices, tobacco, spirits, grain, whale fat etcetera. A canal was dug in the eastern part of the town, a place teeming with wharfs and breweries. The old admiralty was near, an enormous building of high importance, built in 1650. It is still there, now the Naval Museum of Amsterdam (closed for restoration until 2011).

The first warehouses were built in 1710, the last in 1830. They were used by private entrepreneurs, rich merchants who could store their goods without having to pay any import duty. This changed under French rule. Napoleon Bonaparte had great influence over the Netherlands and Belgium (at that time one country). His brother Louis was king here between 1806 and 1810. The country had been a republic before and was reluctant to accept the new French king, but on the other hand the people wanted peace and quiet after a long period of revolution and disorder.

A new legal system and administrative control were introduced and people had to pay taxes. Now the function of the warehouses changed. Clearance of goods took place at the Entrepotdok (Entre pot-dock literally means: ‘temporary place for storage’). In 1830 a gate was built, and big walls around it; the goods would be protected by armed guards.

A bigger canal was dug further East, and a new dock was built at the end of the 19th century, and decline of the Entrepotdok slowly set in. After world war II the town built a modern harbour, fit for much bigger ships in the west of the city, and the Entrepotdok fell prey to fires, neglect and disuse. It was a large complex, 84 warehouses on a quay 550 metres long; the town council had to decide what to do with it. It was left in a worsening state till the late 70ties of the last century, then the council realized there were three options: demolition and new housing, renovation to make it an upmarket part of town with expensive lofts, chic stores and art galleries, or renovation for social housing. The last option got the majority of votes, especially because of active political participation of people living in the neighbourhood, and with great help from socialist town councillor Jan Schaefer, famous for his initiatives for urban renewal and affordable rent prices.

The Entrepotdok would be the first mega project of re-using historical buildings for social housing in Europe.

The architects selected to undertake this difficult project were father Joop and son André van Stigt. They were prized internationally for bringing this enormous challenge to a stunning result. Now, 30 years later, they have undertaken the task of saving many more imposing buildings from being demolished: one enormous warehouse (Pakhuis De Zwijger, built around 1930 as a place to cool perishable goods), the old grain silo, an even larger building from 1898 to store enough grain for the city to survive a long period of siege, a monument of great military-strategic importance), and two neoclassical military barracks from the early 19th century were transformed into similar housing projects, three catholic churches are now cultural centres, the old Olympic Stadium, built to house the Amsterdam Olympic games of 1928, is now the hub of an elegant area with small enterprises, café’s and restaurants; renovation of schools and hotels would follow.

These architects preferred to respect and keep intact the given materials, proportions and caracteristics of the buildings as much as possible. Now they are senior promotors of durable management of cultural heritage.

Many problems have to be overcome handling these enormous projects: politically, financially, technically and socially, but the impressive results speak for themselves.

It is a privilege to live in the largest monument in our country, the apartments are spacious, beautifully restored, with the original ceiling beams intact, enormous wooden beams, a size I have never seen anywhere else; they are fully insulated and since 1984, when I first moved here, nothing is outdated. Rents are affordable; a place like this would cost more than double in London, Paris or Berlin. People are standing in line to be able to rent a home here; the housing company (DeAlliantie) has a waiting list 10 years long.

franka.vanderloo@wanadoo.nl


For more information: www.burovanstigt.nl

15/01/2010
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Entrepotdok, December 2007. Source: Karel Meijers
Entrepotdok, about 1980. Source: Karel Meijers
Renovation Entrepotdok 1983. Source: Franka van der Loo
Old postcard of Gate Building, 1898: unknown photographer
Gate Building 2010. Source: Franka van der Loo
Entrepotdok detail. Source: Franka van der Loo
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