New life for old buildings
Over the past years, 7,500 Amsterdammers have participated in campaigns to save old churches, factories and other buildings from being demolished by finding a new use for them. A new book describes how buildings are reused and en passant offers an interesting view of the city’s history.
Amsterdam is known for the large number of historic buildings that have been preserved. This not only regards canal houses, but also buildings such as the De Zwijger warehouse, the Binnengasthuis hospital and the former office of newspaper De Volkskrant.
In many cases, neighbourhood committees and squatters are to be thanked for the preservation of these buildings. For example, the squat movement drew attention to industrial heritage such as the former type founder Tettenrode in Oud-West. Meanwhile, other industrial sites including the Westergasfabriek (Western Gas Factory) have also successfully been given a new use.
Over the past years, the Agora Foundation has waged two campaigns to promote reuse of buildings. Recently, it has also published a book Nieuw leven voor meer gebouwen (New life for more buildings). These activities are supported by the municipality and housing corporations, who are apparently interested in mobilising social support to counterbalance the interests of owners and property developers.
A notorious obstructionist is the Catholic Church, the book explains. Churches are often at locations where a lot of money can be made by demolishing and new construction. Further, reuse of churches is sensitive because of their sacral function. When the Chassé Church in De Baarsjes was sold, the diocese made the condition that the towers would be demolished. It is further doing all it can to prevent discarded churches being used as mosques, even if they are at locations where many Muslims live.
Another eyesore is the huge number of unoccupied office buildings. In Amsterdam, 17% of office space is unoccupied, which amounts to 1.2 million square metres. And the problem only gets worse: in 2009, 100,000 square metres of office space were demolished or put to other uses, but in the same year, 330,000 square metres of new office space were built.
Reusing offices as houses is often difficult because of their locations and because of the technical requirements. It is more practicable to convert them (temporary) into ‘broedplaatsen’ (locations for cultural activities and starting entrepreneurs) or for social functions. Successful examples include the Volkskrant office and Post CS, but there are examples in Nieuw-West as well.
Monumental buildings make for attractive neighbourhoods. This value can also be expressed in monetary value. Nieuw leven quotes a study that found that the difference in property values between disadvantaged neighbourhoods with and without monuments can be as high as 30%.
Of course, it is not always the owner of the building who benefits from rising property values created by the investments he makes. For example, housing corporation Ymere says that the value of houses around the Timorplein rose faster than elsewhere in the Indische Buurt, after a youth hostel, cinema annex restaurant Studio K and digital breeding ground Cybersoek moved into the former Timor School.
Ymere had invested in this project. However, the main beneficiaries were private house owners and housing corporation de Alliantie, which owns many houses in the area.
Between the lines, Nieuw leven makes a sensible case for mixed-use neighbourhoods, in tune with the renowned urban activist Jane Jacobs. Single-use areas, such as the drab office area near Sloterdijk, make for boring surroundings and unoccupied buildings.
Nieuw leven is a manual for reusing buildings, but it also contains a lot of interesting information on the history of public baths, hospitals, schools, warehouses, barracks, fire stations and other buildings. For example, it explains why many schools are from the early 20th Century and built in the Amsterdam School style.
A very nice thing is that a large part of the buildings that are discussed are illustrated with a small photo. Neighbourhood activists get a 5-euro discount on the book.
Eisse Kalk. Nieuw leven voor meer gebouwen: Hergebruik kan sneller en beter. Price: 20 / 15 euro (excluding shipping).