‘The great thing about the Bijlmer is that it follows an integral planning concept virtually without compromises; it’s an idea I’m passionately fond of and one I hope and believe will continue to provide guidelines well into the future. Of course I can see where it failed, the promises that weren’t fulfilled. The separation of functions makes for security (my children could always go to school on their own) but it also evokes fear, because it isn’t safe after dark. And there are other interesting paradoxes. Often it’s the aspects which are so strongly contested that bring about a change in the way we see things.
‘This was the first time that CIAM principles were applied on a large scale, and that’s great of course, but Amsterdam is such a pathetically small place. The population of 500,000 or 600,000 that we had then didn’t amount to very much, and a satellite city with 40,000 extra homes being built at a single stroke meant 10% of the housing stock; there was no way it could be filled up. And the pace of construction too great by far. Those housing factories (Intervam and so on) had imposed stranglehold contracts on the municipal housing department; in retrospect that was questionable business. There were commitments made for huge quantities of homes and the factories produced them at such a speed that the market couldn’t keep up. So you got empty flats, squatting actions and all the problems that go with a situation like that. There you can see all those interesting links between technology, sociology and design in a nutshell.
‘I said just then that I still stand behind the principles; as for the separation of functions, however, we should get rid of most of that. Now I’d argue for exactly the opposite, for a thorough-going mix of functions in Centrumgebied Amsterdam Zuidoost. Originally this was a nondescript programme, offices and large shops and that was about all. When I became involved in January 1994 – they’d already started working on the stadium – we tried to make sure that the sites got used for entertainment purposes. And this trend has gradually been strengthened, I’ve done all I could to see that through. At any rate the stadium gave us one major entertainment function in the area, so I could see the potential in it. And our studies for the boulevard to connect the stadium and Amsterdamse Poort finally succeeded in convincing Joop van den Ende [one of the Netherland’s top entertainment moguls].
‘It’s important that we’ve been able to design the boulevard and to push it through. My argument was extremely simple: there was a 5 metre hole in the railway embankment. So I said, let’s make a 70 metre piercement at that point and then we’ll have a decent east-west connection. It was a drastic operation that cost millions, with people asking whether it was really necessary.
‘It’s a strange thing, the boulevard is only half ready, but already everyone’s talking about it. It’s an urban element with terrific power, it’s a vector for this area, both spatially and culturally, but also because of the link with Amsterdamse Poort. It’s not an introverted road but a dynamic axis. The whole project works on different levels: introducing entertainment functions means that the district ceases to be merely local and the cutting in the embankment – a local version of the Berlin Wall – establishes links with the station and Amsterdamse Poort. The allocations of sites and the cutting in the dyke – these are the levers with which I’m effecting a secret programme, namely integration. I’m not being naive; of course it’s not going to happen from one day to the next. But it gives the process a terrific boost. Every week I read a local paper that writes about the Arena as part of the Bijlmer. This makes for self-confidence, the feeling that we’ve got something and it’s special.
‘On both sides of the boulevard there are entertainment and shopping facilities. Initially a road sliced straight through them, the Bijlmerdreef. It cut awkwardly across all the facilities and across the boulevard as well. Due to various traffic issues, such as the south tangent, we were only able to get rid of it at a very late stage. It was a tremendous relief. It gave us far more planning possibilities. Now it has become a handy triangle that we already had a number of allocations for. The plans for the two megafunctions – Mojo and Pathé [cinema complexes] – are pretty definite. As I just said, Van den Ende only really started believing in it a year ago, because of the plan for the boulevard. We produced a classy-looking pamphlet and that brought him round. He has made the local population a good offer, allowing them to book the large theatre twelve times a year free of charge. So there are all kinds of subtle things that mean that this integration really is being prepared.
‘I know there were supporters of the idea that the urban centre should be sited east of the railway. Frieling argued for building theatres there. I never believed in that idea. If you build a theatre there, the only people who will come will be locals; it wouldn’t generate any dynamic outside the immediate vicinity. And if you want to have facilities, then a broad dynamic is what you need. You need a railway; an underground line isn’t enough. To my mind this is the key to success, that you enlarge the scale of the area. And you can only do this if you have a railway serving as an artery; then you can be in Utrecht or ‘s-Hertogenbosch in no time, it has nationwide potential. I didn’t budge an inch on that.
‘In my study for Kraaiennest I was limited to the central strip; the housing blocks were outside my area. What kept me awake at night was the question of what was to be done with Karspeldreef. The idea of sinking it went against everything I stood for; what’s more, I know the problem of the dreven, the raised structure of traffic-ways. My solution is to maintain Karspeldreef at its present height while reducing the amount of traffic drastically. I landscape the avenue and ground level into a single entity, the one rising gradually to meet the other. Not one of those dreary banks with nothing but bushes and trees; to start with, you can cycle across it. You keep the basic landmarks of this slope, but there’s plenty you can do with it, you can even build on it. That’s the next step then. We’ve made a beautiful computer image of these slopes, just how far they should spread out. That’s all I’ve done in fact. Instead of the three little tunnels under the traffic-way, now you can go all over it.
‘There will be a system of secondary roads and that’s a knotty problem for supporters of the existing Bijlmer structure. I know that in arguing for it, I’m dealing a death-blow to the most important principle, but I have no choice. West 8 respects this structure but its plan is yet another rigid ideological one – it appeals to me, I like it a lot, but it’s out of the question. They preserve honeycomb blocks in the middle section with some 4,000 homes, so they become quite unlettable.
‘The architecture of the Bijlmer is godawful; there’s no need to preserve that. It’s the idea that’s beautiful and so powerful; if you do something with it that only makes it more interesting. It’s like a melody, a rhythm; the rhythm isn’t broken if you make musical variations on it now and then.
‘And the fundamental element, in my view, is not the honeycombs but the system of roads. If you change that and preserve the honeycombs, then it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ve still wrecked the Bijlmer.’