Keihard rijden tot vlakbij huis. Rients Dijkstra / Top speed till nearly home. Rients Dijkstra

‘We were asked to knock down 40 to 60% of the existing high-rise in F district and build it up again with at least the same amount of low-rise. It’s true to say that a lot of residents are fairly dissatisfied with their housing, which tends to stigmatize high-rise. (Not that it proves that high-rise is the cause of their dissatisfaction.) Then we had to find a way of dealing with the vast amount of public space, and the concomitant issues of social malaise. It looked at first sight like a rehabilitation process: fitting a prosthesis and learning to walk again. The first exciting discovery was that there are great numbers of Bijlmer enthusiasts, and that the media portrayal of despondency there is only partly true.

‘We then offered to try once more to find a way to keep the Bijlmer as it was, though in our opinion it was a hopeless undertaking. Quite apart from that, I’m not in the least nostalgic about the Bijlmer. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, but that’s no reason to preserve it.

‘So we agreed to the idea of knocking down 50% of the housing, as well as trying to find a way to demolish the least significant high-rise and leave what was worth keeping – in other words, high-rise whose characteristics appeal to people who want to live in high-rise: close proximity to the city and infrastructure, relevant facilities at hand, a view out and a sense of seclusion.

‘We decided that the high-rise close to Bijlmerdreef, with easy access and a modern view, was the most interesting. So we followed a sequence with the blocks we left standing, working from the outside inwards, if you count Bijlmerdreef as the outer edge. We compared that with a list drawn up by the housing association indicating the poor state of some of the flats. We discovered that it differed considerably from our order of priority. So we locked horns with the housing association. We told them that the stupidest thing they could do was to pull down for technical reasons high-rise blocks which met the requirements of the people who wanted to live there, and leave high-rise that didn’t meet those requirements where it was.

‘Neither the housing association nor the councillor responsible was prepared to stick their neck out. The project group was interested and eventually we heard that ERA, the property developers, thought that the block close to Amsterdamse Poort could be revamped. We then managed to persuade the project group to ask ERA if they thought there was a chance of reprieve for the block next door, earmarked for demolition because of its technical state. The upshot was that our strategy was accepted. In other words, we are scooping out the middle strip, though it’s sheer luck that it all happened so easily. The demolition strategy is based purely on our view of the urban qualities of that high-rise.

‘Left with what was potentially the best high-rise, we were now able to look at what would be the best low-rise. We felt it was advisable to first examine whether there were viable combinations of high- and low-rise, thus avoiding a sterile division between the two. One problem with combining them is that low-rise residents feel as if they are being watched from the lower floors of the high-rise. We propose starting the low-rise at the foot of the high-rise, but then side-on. That means that the high buildings look out along the streets and the low buildings don’t overlook the high-rise. Simple computer models confirmed that this was worth researching more thoroughly.

‘There was the additional problem of blankwalled ground floors in the high-rise. We developed a system resembling a hovercraft – that name came from the kind of drawings we made of it. You build a slope around the bottom floor and have a street open into it. We designed two levels in the slope, enabling people to park at the high-rise but not so that they only saw cars when leaving the house.

‘The slope and the location of low-rise around the flats also solved the problem of how to supervise the ground level. The islands of low-rise buildings around the flats are semi-privatized, meaning that only half the original area of ground level has to be managed, concentrated around the routes we thought were interesting. It is a network of footpaths and cycle paths that are greatly appreciated locally. So we killed two birds with one stone: a greater concentration and less to look after – and relatively more activity that can be observed since the boundary consists of housing.

‘We didn’t have much to do with Bhalotra’s master plan. He’s added a few things and I must admit that I’m very dubious about the effect of those additions. He assumes that there’s too little cohesion between the parts, and wants to solve the problem by doubling the size of an existing water feature. To my mind, he makes the mistake of assuming that cohesion is relevant. Imagine the Bijlmerdreef wasn’t there, and you could cycle to and fro to your heart’s content and walk between the parts that are now separated – people might go from here to there, but only a very small percentage (studies have been carried out that prove it). And it wouldn’t have anything to do with ‘spatial cohesion’, but just because they wanted to visit a friend or relative, or go to the shops. I don’t think the analyses hold water. But I do think it can have a psychological effect.

‘If anything here can achieve cohesion, then it’s the access structure. You can build something onto it that functions really well. For instance you can drive top speed until you’re nearly home. Then a right turn and you drive almost seamlessly into picturesque surroundings. There’s something attractively direct about it.

‘Of course the construction of the Arena played a major part. We tried to let the development of that centre so close to F district play a bigger role still. One of our first proposals was to connect the Arena up with Amsterdamse Poort – the other centre in the immediate vicinity. And we proposed expansion of the Poort too, making the outside into a front facade. The Poort works well, but it’s a pity its programmatic qualities are inside, whilst the outside is such a dismal affair.

‘Our proposal was embargoed. Probably because they didn’t want to upset the division of tasks among project groups that had been reached with great difficulty. But we still insist that high-rise can come back into favour in the Bijlmer estate, precisely because of its proximity to the Poort and the Arena. I can just envisage a bunch of people it would appeal to. And that argument was also seen to work when we asked ERA if they fancied developing two blocks on Bijlmerdreef. In the end their interest ensured that our demolition strategy was adopted. And I think it will make it easier to fill the homes, the commercial premises, the mixed programme along Bijlmerdreef. I wouldn’t be surprised if, twenty years from now, the whole stigmatizing history will be forgotten, and the Bijlmer will be a thriving area.

Werken aan de infrastructuur. Pi de Bruijn / Working on the infrastructure. Pi de Bruijn