‘Procedurally it was a complex task, because we had to deal with the housing corporation, the residents’ association, and various municipal departments. So it involved more than just drawing: we had to find our way round a maze of competing interests.
‘We were glad to get this part of K district. The public space aspect is very important here and we feel an affinity with that. But it would be a mistake to imagine that this part of the Bijlmer is one big park. A closer look shows that the honeycombs divide up the space into courtyards and that it’s almost impossible to experience the larger spatial scale. Of course the blocks of flats with their horizontal lines give an idea of continuity, but at eye level the view is very much restricted. In particular, the hillocks and slopes to the first floor that are found in almost every courtyard, tend to obstruct every view. Instead of a rolling landscape populated with blocks of flats, the Bijlmer has become an endless string of oppressive chambers, a maze where not a single dwelling escapes anonymity.
‘What’s more, the layout at ground level is dismal. Any attempt at expression by the residents is stifled in advance by anonymity and a singular sense of emptiness. Botanically speaking, the green areas are in a sorry state; there is a tangle of paths, and public functions such as schools, medical practices, day centres and sports facilities are almost nowhere linked directly to the ground level.
‘In the present situation there is a feeling that the blocks with major management problems should be demolished and replaced by low-rise. This would give a better mix of dwelling types; the ground level would be privatized and management more clearly organized. However, the results of such an operation may be questioned. Admittedly, a few of the present problems would be solved, but the remaining high-rise blocks would forfeit their quality.
‘We can see better prospects for the G/K district if selective demolition and low-rise development were enlisted to fulfil the promise of a romantic park: in the first place by pulling down parts of blocks to create piercements at ground level, generating major spaces and long lines of vision. In addition, by giving up eighty per cent of the existing paths and widening the remaining ones a circuit can be created where dwellings are individual entities and there is clarity of organization and a sense of security. And by tripling the water surface, the centre of the area would gain a water feature, along the lines of vision, that in turn would generate an overall scale greater than that of the courtyards. The water and two striking bridges would chop the area into distinct zones, with each block having its own position in the whole. The excavated ground could be used to build two hills able to receive two lockable parking garages serving a certain number of blocks.
‘As for green areas, we have suggested planting two zones with ascending conifers; other areas would be open meadows dotted with trees, though with a greater variety of species including carpets of bulbs. At the metro station we propose a market square jutting into the park area. These interventions show that the G/K district can be transformed into a magnificent English park, one that would give the remaining blocks an attractive potential for renovation. Many of the freestanding flats could be refurbished as such or converted into owner-occupier dwellings or more luxurious apartments. Each block would have a newly built entrance on the circuit. The base of the block would be primed to receive public services such as schools, health centres and sports facilities.
‘Inside the blocks different dwelling types can be created by punching holes and adding gates and cantilever roofs. Along the traffic-ways, where we see a grid of monumental green avenues, the existing car parking could be partly removed. In its place there would be room for low-rise and ground-level parking, but also for transmuting some parking garages into cheap, shared premises for start-up businesses. We have thought through this principle for the G/K district. There we propose a ‘frame’ of low-rise around the open parking area in the middle, with a circuit for cars parallel to the traffic-ways. The streets with low-rise lie along the park; the residents of the park blocks can use parking space close to the main entrance to their block. Delivery trucks, the disabled and taxis can enter the park area by means of the curving circuit and arrive directly to the entrance they require. The interior streets would lose their access function.
‘Our study demonstrates – and this is something many of the residents have been hammering at for years – that the Bijlmer concept has spawned a top-quality dwelling type: large apartments in a collective building with a green, pedestrians-only ground level and all services close by. We additionally conclude that, proceeding from the existing blocks, many more dwelling types are conceivable than are being considered at present.
‘You can’t blame all the Bijlmer’s problems on the ground- level situation. All kinds of micro-economic initiatives have blossomed in the informal circuit. It’s all on a very small scale now, but its importance for the district shouldn’t be underestimated. In ten years it could provide the economic structure the Bijlmer so badly needs. There should be more facilities provided in the periphery for a welter of small businesses and for alternative forms of dwelling.
‘In the Kraaiennest Strategy Plan cars are admitted at ground level. Everyone must be able to drive to their block; that is seen as the salvation of the Bijlmer. A great deal is being woven in, in a way that undermines the quality at grade. The Strategy Plan has taken on board many good things, but the way they have been combined is open to question. My impression is that it’s ad hoc change they are after in the Bijlmer. The advantage then is that the Bijlmer will be transformed into a collage of urban design concepts. Is this a good thing or not? You can at least give it the benefit of the doubt. I don’t believe it’s necessarily bad. But I would suggest being more ambitious at ground level. There are so many opportunities for resuming the English landscape potentially present there. No real choices have been made as yet – it gets no further than benches and paths and bridges. A blockbuster of an urban square, the odd dissonance, a body of water big enough for blocks of flats to stand in – where are these? They are all obvious possibilities, certainly at a time when the environment and traffic-calming measures are the departure-points. But instead they want to let cars in. I can quite understand the housing corporation’s point of view, but it’s a remarkable decision for all that.
‘We believe it is necessary to enhance this type of daily living environment with new programmes. Amsterdamse Poort, for example, has become a fantastic place. What is developing there, almost in spite of itself, is something we’ve never seen before in this country. And because of the Arena stadium it has become an icon of sorts. There is enormous potential there. Another ten years and it will be an amazing place.’