BLOCK PARTY

Am­s­ter­dam’s bru­tal­ist Bi­jlmer­meer dis­trict cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary with a new-found creative iden­tity

Wallpaper - - Architecture Icon - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: GILLEAM TRAPENBERG WRITER: ELLEN HIMEL­FARB

Ad­dress­ing the tiny win­dows and opaque bal­conies, they hauled in miles of dou­ble-glaz­ing. ‘The Dutch are known for their large win­dows and fear­less em­pha­sis on trans­parency,’ says Klaasse. The gut­ted in­te­ri­ors were sold as DIY shells (keep­ing prices low) to en­ter­pris­ing residents, who to­day form a cross sec­tion of Bi­jlmer­meer’s 140 na­tion­al­i­ties. For now, Kleiburg is the only build­ing on the es­tate where residents have pur­chased their flats on the open mar­ket.

If van den Akker rep­re­sents the sal­va­tion of Kleiburg, you could say Kleiburg rep­re­sents the sal­va­tion of the wider Bi­jlmer­meer area, a dis­trict con­ceived in the 1960s as a pro­gres­sive par­adise that quickly be­came, in­stead, the most no­to­ri­ous es­tate in Hol­land. The Bi­jlmer, to use its col­lo­quial name, went fur­ther than the ur­ban blue­prints of Le Cor­bus­ier and Ernö Goldfin­ger. En­dowed with around 100 hectares of re­claimed farm­land on a for­mer polder in Am­s­ter­dam-zuidoost, the ar­chi­tect Siegfried Nas­suth de­signed an egal­i­tar­ian pub­lic-hous­ing nir­vana for the emerg­ing mid­dle class. His iden­tikit high-rises in hon­ey­comb for­ma­tions tow­ered above au­to­mo­bile traf­fic, which in turn trav­elled on fu­tur­is­tic fly­overs above gar­dens and play­grounds. Quad­rants were zoned for res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial or so­cial func­tions. But once the (all too cheap) hous­ing went up, the pub­lic money evap­o­rated. The sup­posed shop­ping dis­trict? All va­cant lots. No­body with means would choose to live in a bru­tal­ist mono­lith with no street life, no metro, no heart. The hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tion shoved Suri­namese migrants into rent-con­trolled flats while more spa­ces sat va­cant, be­com­ing prime ter­ri­tory for heroin ad­dicts. With the Bi­jlmer name an em­blem for squalor and sin, Nas­suth re­tired from ar­chi­tec­ture. And that was be­fore 1992, when an El Al cargo plane lost con­trol and plunged into two tow­ers, killing dozens of ten­ants. Strike up a con­ver­sa­tion with any­one here over 35 and they’ll likely have ex­pe­ri­enced the ‘Bi­jlmer­ramp’ catas­tro­phe some­how: the re­sound­ing crash, the screams, the night-long vigil.

Ul­ti­mately, though, this tragedy was the cat­a­lyst the Bi­jlmer needed to sur­vive. The city re­solved to raze a quar­ter of the tow­ers and the road­ways float­ing be­tween, re­plac­ing them with low-rises faced in ver­nac­u­lar brick and slat­ted tim­ber, still of­fered at sub­sidised rents. It dammed a lake, built trans­port links and put up ded­i­cated hous­ing for ad­dicts. Even­tu­ally the con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum OSCAM moved into a shiny space across from the pro­duce mar­ket. A Suri­namese en­tre­pre­neur called Sar­riel Taus»

Con­ceived as a pro­gres­sive par­adise, the Bi­jlmer be­came the most no­to­ri­ous es­tate in Hol­land

THE BI­JLMER­MEER ES­TATE, SEEN FROM THE KLEIBURG BLOCK, LOOK­ING ACROSS THE TEN­NIS COURTS TO THE KRUITBERG AND KIKKENSTEIN BLOCKS. CUT­TING THROUGH THE ES­TATE IS A RAISED METRO LINE, BUILT IN THE 1970S TO CON­NECT IT WITH CEN­TRAL AM­S­TER­DAM

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE, A VIEW FROM THE KLEIBURG BUILD­ING OF LONTARPALMSTRAAT’S TER­RACED HOUSES, A LOW-RISE DE­VEL­OP­MENT THAT HAS RE­PLACED ONE OF NAS­SUTH’S ORIG­I­NAL BLOCKS; NL AR­CHI­TECTS’ 2012 KAMELEON BUILD­ING, A MIXED-USE PROJECT THAT IN­CLUDES RES­I­DEN­TIAL UNITS, A NEW SHOP­PING CEN­TRE AND A CAR PARK; XVW AR­CHI­TEC­TUUR‘S XAN­DER VER­MEULEN WINDSANT AND NL AR­CHI­TECTS’ KAMIEL KLAASSE IN FRONT OF THE RE­FUR­BISHED KLEIBURG BUILD­ING, A PROJECT FOR WHICH THEY WON THE MIES VAN DER ROHE AWARD

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