IJburg Amsterdam

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urban guest in nature

Nomination booklet for the 12th Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design, 2015

The Netherlands Amsterdam IJburg


IJburg is a much talked-about urban expansion project in the IJmeer lake to the east of Amsterdam. The design consists of seven man-made sand islands developed in two construction phases. The first phase of three islands is practically finished, and the remaining islands will follow soon. IJburg will then comprise 18,000 homes. From the outset, designing IJburg was a delicate process. The tension between building a ‘compact city’ and preserving the aquatic environment in a meaningful way initially prompted a fierce public debate, but the manner in which the designers managed to reconcile nature and urbanity ultimately commanded widespread admiration. Countless professionals from across the globe – including a group of policy makers from the United States Congress – have come to view the project. This extensive interest is very rewarding in itself. However, it is more important still that the residents of IJburg are exceptionally happy about living there. The IJburg designers are honored that IJburg has been nominated for the 12th Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design. This booklet can hopefully provide the jury with a brief overview of the design principles behind IJburg, as well as some background and specific qualities.

Table of contents 7

1. The compact city


2. City and ecosystem


3. The archipelago


4. Creating urban streets


5. Opening up the process


6. Occupancy strategy


7. Opposition becomes coalition


8. Sustainability


9. Resilience

1. The compact city

Between the late 1960s and early 1980s, Amsterdam saw a steady exodus. Employment in the city dropped significantly, and the city itself was perceived as old, dirty and impoverished. For many inhabitants, fleeing to satellite towns far beyond the urban perimeters seemed the sensible thing to do. These towns offered new and affordable homes in a child-friendly environment, with a garden and parking right outside the front door. Throughout the Netherlands, hundreds of thousands of families relocated to such satellite towns. Most large cities in Europe and the United States saw a similar trend. To everyone’s surprise, the tide turned abruptly in the late 1980s. Due to the emergence of the knowledge economy, the digital revolution and

mass tourism, Amsterdam’s popularity surged once again. The city transformed into a magnet for business, culture, education, new residents and tourists. Economic prosperity was not the only result of this development, however. The steady population growth led to a severe housing shortage, mainly among the low- and medium-income groups. House prices skyrocketed, and the waiting lists for social housing grew longer and longer. The city of Amsterdam therefore needed to build more houses. To some extent, this could be done by filling in the gaps in existing urban areas, but in the long term, a physical outward expansion was inevitable.

2. City and ecosystem

For the municipal authorities, finding new expansion areas proved a considerable challenge. The industrial zone to the west of Amsterdam and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to the south prevented expansion in those directions. Likewise, building to the north of Amsterdam was not an option, either, as it was politically unacceptable to consider encroaching on the centuries-old polder landscape with its many historical villages. So the only option was to look toward the east: the IJmeer lake.

Visie Amsterdam 2040


Potential Building in the IJmeer lake was a bold and exciting choice, and it offered wonderful opportunities. A powerful argument supporting this option was that Amsterdam would, at long last, become a coastal city again. After all, Amsterdam owes much of its trading history, economic success and fame to the fact that it directly bordered on the Zuiderzee – a deep inlet of the North Sea. The once world-famous fleet of Dutch sailing ships sailed directly from the North Sea to the port of Amsterdam, where the freight was transferred to warehouses and the hinterland via the canals. In subsequent centuries, this intimate link between Amsterdam and the sea disappeared as the Zuiderzee was closed off and railroads, highways, tunnels and bridges were constructed; the former seaside became the backside of the city. Expanding into the IJmeer would mean restoring the age-old connection between the city and the sea.


Conflict The peripheral position of the IJmeer was not only a negative attribute. The abandonment attracted many types of aquatic birds spending winter in this area, in internationally significant numbers, feeding on mussels, fish and aquatic plants. The lake forms a vital link in the series of large freshwater lakes on the European continent. Fifty years before, this fact would not have posed a problem: at the time water was mainly seen as an adversary to be conquered through land reclamation or kept at bay with dikes and dams. This attitude began to change toward the end of the 20th century, when people became aware of the ecological consequences of such interventions. The value of the aquatic landscape was recognized, and water was no longer treated solely as an enemy but as a potential partner.


Facts of IJburg Total surface of new land: 1.125 acres Homes: 18.000, of which 30% social housing, 40% medium range and 30% high-end Density: 30 homes/acre average Parking: maximum 1 car/household Commercial use: 100.000 m2 office space and 30.000 m2 retail space Public facilities: 80.000 m2 2 marinas and 1.000 meters of new beach


3. The archipelago

Challenge For the urban planners and designers, this conflict posed a conceptual challenge. Can a city develop as part of the natural ecosystem, taking its surrounding landscape into account, rather than at the ecosystem’s expense? Is it even possible to use the city as a building block to improve the ecosystem? And, conversely, can the natural landscape help us improve the quality of urban life as well?

The archipelago concept At the basis of the current design is a deeply held respect for – and enjoyment of – the wide expanse of water: an escape to infinity in a country of which all other parts are fully allotted. Subsequent plans for IJburg envisioned constructing a number of large traditional ‘polders’ for residential areas. High seawalls (dikes) would cut off the new land from the surrounding body of water. The current design pictures a group of seemingly natural islands, floating in the lake with clear views of the water: the archipelago as a concept.

Water in charge The motto of the plan was: ‘The water is the boss, the city its guest’. The water is the location’s primary asset; it makes the site unique. Therefore the task was first and foremost to interpret the water landscape in a new way. The IJmeer is a space full of hidden opportunities – and obstacles. Elusive water circulation patterns, navigational channels, a hidden glacial river channel, water discharge from an electricity plant preventing the formation of stagnant bays, ecological food chains and other issues affected where land could be created and where not.


Like a flock of birds The islands float in the water like a flock of birds. They all appear to be swimming toward the open water, each in its own direction. But they also seek each other’s company, acting as breakwaters for one another. The spaces between them flow into the greater space of the IJmeer and the Markermeer.


Drawing a fixed line in moving water immediately creates a difference in potential, a tension between a weather side and a lee side. Every island is susceptible to this difference. As a consequence, gradients in the water surface arise spontaneously. The design of the islands’ shorelines is based on this. The shorelines are varied: from sturdy dikes with trees in the north through quays and the bay to beaches or soft gardens along the banks in the south.


The bridges are a crucial detail in the composition of the archipelago. The relation of the islands to each other and to the mainland can best be recognized from the bridges. The bridges offer the best vantage point for surveying the dimensions of the original bay.


The ‘submarine landscape’ The configuration of the islands is but the tip of the iceberg. It is complemented by intelligent underwater design. Depth and breadth, erosion and sedimentation zones, and the ecological potential of the water are established there. In accordance with the underwater design, a number of new protective dams were realized along the coast of the IJmeer.


A ’lee dam’ as part of the underwater design of IJburg. The artificial dam helps nature to silt up mud at the lee-side of the dam, thus creating smooth land/water gradients, favorable to Zebra mussels and birds (Photo: Piet Elenbaas)

In the design of the islands, the irregularity of the basic form was kept in check by a signature style that reflects the art and skill of Dutch landscape engineering. Both simple, geometrical shapes and quirky, playful features can quickly lose their importance in the face of the vast surface of water. However, modest irregularities or transfor20

mations of the coastline do wonders. Each island offers a look back at itself as well as one towards its neighbors. Slight bends in the yielding coastline draw the gaze to the horizon. This creates an interplay of rarefied lines. The whole city seems to rise up out of the water.


4. Creating urban streets

By Dutch standards, the building density on IJburg is unusually high (28-32 homes/acre) for a suburban living environment, but the omnipresence of the water guarantees a sensation of openness. In addition, the high density fits in with Amsterdam’s strong urban culture. The infrastructure, with two main arteries, a tramline and a future metro line, provides connections both to the heart of Amsterdam and to important junctions in the region.


IJburg Second Phase

Grid structure While the composition of the archipelago as a whole displays a certain playfulness, the islands themselves have a strict internal structure. IJburglaan with its tram line and the boulevard along the bay are the mainstays of the structure. A number of cross streets create visual links between the weather side and the lee side of the island. The main roads and intersecting streets form a closeknit grid.



inner world Verdikken

integratie van woningtypen binnen ieder blok




Using a grid in IJburg was a bold choice for the designers. The grid curbs the variation and chaos of the city - and allows it to be. That matches the increasing individualization and self-expression in the current society. It matches the Amsterdam tradition too. The city’s morphology is determined by a variety of straight roads and oblong blocks, like the belt of canals in old Amsterdam and its 19th century districts. The grids make the city coherent and readable. A great advantage is that the grid makes it possible to work with several real estate developers simultaneously. The building parties have equal opportunities and there is a lot of freedom within the boundaries of the strict and sober public spaces. The public spaces of water banks, streets, canals, bridges, parks and locks create sufficient

cohesion for the blocks in the grid. These blocks are large enough to create an intimate interior world with courts, gardens, mews and similar features. The streets on the main islands are roughly 5 feet higher than the interior of the blocks of buildings. This permits the inclusion of half-sunken parking garages under the buildings. In fact, Haveneiland even features two different grids: a grid of streets and a system of canals. They overlap at the bridges, the locks and the banks. Three small parks and one large one create pleasant accents and function as playgrounds for children. The vast expanse of the Diemerpark and the IJmeer can be reached within a 10-minute walk. Trams to Amsterdam Central Station are always within 400 meters walking distance.

Streets On Haveneiland the number of streets are few in comparison to the number of houses, and they are completely straight as well. That may sound dull, but it increases the visibility of people in the street. The straight streets also offer a visual perception of the edges of the islands, forming a pleasant contrast with the yard-like areas within the housing blocks. The residential streets are mostly 22.4 meters wide, with facades of between 10 and 24 meters height. These dimensions create a sense of true urbanity, but also of broad, light streets. All manners of movement and transportation come together in these streets: walking, cycling, driving,


strolling and playing on the pavement. As a result, there is always some activity in the street and there are always people to be seen. Thanks to the varied facade architecture, residents can identify their own front door at a glance. Trees (particularly elms, linden trees and acacias) make the seasons apparent and afford some privacy from the neighbors across the street. Sound-absorbing, high-quality paving materials are used to create broad traffic lanes of light-gray granite that reflect the light and that glisten in the rain; they are bordered by dark sidewalks. Parking spaces and rows of trees are conceived as part of the pavement.

Paving detail

Margin strips Amsterdam has a remarkable urban tradition concerning a typical architectural feature: a narrow strip between facade and street. This is a strip of about one meter width, and it has many uses for the residents in the older neighborhoods: it serves as space for plant pots, as an outdoor working area or as a place to sit and catch some sun and perhaps to chat to neighbors or passers-by. The social significance of this strip was underestimated in many new housing projects, but they have been incorporated expressly in the streets of IJburg. The 1.2 meter-wide margin strips are a pleasant extension of private space into the public domain. Additionally they serve as a privacy shield between the street and the home.


Inner world Within the housing blocks, there is a semi-public yard, as an informal extension of the home. This intimate inner world of courtyards, alleyways, terraces and waterfronts is interconnected by a network of canals, but is unaffected by throughway traffic. It is managed and even furnished by the residents, which encourages a sense of involvement with the common domain. Ideally, children’s bicycles can be left outside overnight here – a village-like element in an otherwise urban environment.


5. Opening up the process

Breaking with conventions IJburg was one of the first large-scale plans (initiated by the government) that radically opened up the planning process to external input. Events in community centers were organized and discussion tables were set up where residents could share their wishes and opinions on the draft plans with the designers. The result was an interactive design process.

IJburg accommodates many creative and innovative building designs, like self-developed homes, floating homes and so called ‘solids’. In short, solids are almost ridiculously sturdy and multifunctional buildings. The ‘hull’ (main structure) of the building is designed to accommodate any imaginable destination: homes, offices, shops, sport, leisure, or even a little factory. The quality of the outer façade much better than usual. The whole idea is to make a building that will last for centuries and will age gracefully.


A series of expert meetings was organized as well. From across the country, leading experts were invited to Amsterdam to exchange views on quality dwellings, market trends, ecology, water management, recreation and environmental aspects. To add inspiration, a consortium of large developers proposed a bold alternative design for IJburg. The alternative was not entirely accepted, but the consortium was given the lead in developing some of the islands. And on Steigereiland the urban designers incorporated a lot of room for prospective residents to develop their own homes. This manner of opening up the design process had been practiced in the Netherlands before, but on a smaller scale. For an urban expansion project of 18,000 homes, this was a new approach.


Integral design team The opening up of the design process also occurred internally, within the municipal authority. Experts in the fields of residential living, nature, technology, water and costs came to share the same working space with the designers and the overall municipal project manager. This made it easier to achieve a truly integrated design process, in which all aspects and ideas could immediately be transferred to the drawing board


An essential intervention, around 1994, was to recruit the services of Frits Palmboom of the young Rotterdam-based design agency Palmboom & Van den Bout. From the outset, this agency pursued a landscape-oriented approach to urban planning and design, which had a decisive impact on the final masterplan for IJburg in 1996. The landscape architect Dirk Sijmons paved the way for this new approach. Yttje Feddes, Jaap van den Bout and Klaas van der Lee were the main co-designers.

In addition, the Amsterdam-based designer Ton Schaap played a leading and stimulating role in developing the individual islands, alternating between working for the municipality and the consortium of developers. His main colleagues were Felix Claus and Frits van Dongen; later, numerous young colleagues from the municipal department joined. This new generation of designers approached the design brief with fresh eyes. A quality control team, chaired by Kees Rijnboutt and, since 2009, by Frits Palmboom, safeguards continuity in the planning process.


The ‘pancake method’ for making land in water The bottom of the IJmeer lake is sandy, but covered in a thick layer of soft mud. Making land there was a challenge, but IJburg developed an innovative solution. In the areas of the future islands, the water bottom was entirely covered with ‘geotextile’ – a giant plastic carpet laid out on the mud. Next, layers of sand were sprayed into the water, sinking on the geotextile as thin ‘pancakes’. Gradually, layer by layer, the land emerged from the water.


6. Occupancy strategy Making new land, building 18,000 homes, the accompanying commercial real estate, and the entire necessary infrastructure required investing billions of Euros. It was therefore desirable to develop a occupancy strategy for IJburg, in order to find out the best order for making investments and realizing expensive plan elements. Some main points of the strategy were: 1. Two main realization phases IJburg is developed according to multiple construction phases, with a go/no go moment for each island. 2. Order of investments Usually, costly investments are pushed to the latest possible moment. Nevertheless, two vast investments were brought forward: cleaning up the waste dump at the adjacent Diemerzeedijk and building a tram connection.


3. Building tempo and quality The quality of construction has precedence on IJburg. In the event of a lagging market demand, the construction tempo is slowed down until the demand picks up again. 4. Image building Image is crucial. Every new housing project beyond the city center is at risk of being labeled as ‘yet another boring suburb’. That is why IJburg immediately created a boat connection for interested people and parties, organized cultural festivals on the newly created sand islands, built an informal beach, invited artists to set up creative installations and reserved room for experimental self-designed homes. 5. Mix of real estate developers IJburg did not want all islands to be built up by a small group of large investors, developers and housing associations, as this would only have lead to uniformity. Besides, there was a growing desire among residents in the Netherlands to develop one’s own home, either individually or collectively. That is why IJburg reserved a lot of room for small-scale private initiatives, resulting in a rich variety of architectural styles and moods.

6. Multifunctional ground floors Along the main streets, all ground floors have been given additional height (11 feet). These spaces are generally used as living space, but the extra height does offer the possibility of setting up a business, an office, a shop or catering establishment in the future. This encourages the organic growth of social and commercial initiatives rooted in the area and organized by the residents. 7. Housing for any income In accordance with a treasured Amsterdam tradition, housing in IJburg caters to all income groups. To accommodate a broad cross-section of the population, at least 30% of the dwellings are social housing with low to very low rents. But there is also room for people who have more to spend: 40% of the dwellings are for middle-class budgets, and 30% are high-end homes.

The standard height of ground level floors is often much more than required by law. This makes it possible for streets to grow into lively areas with shops, offices, cafes and workshops.


7. Opposition becomes coalition

The plan to build in the IJmeer lake initially triggered a fierce public debate. The designers afforded maximum consideration to the landscape and the ecological issues and made extensive plans to create compensatory natural areas. Nevertheless, many nature conservationists were ill at ease with the project, and they were supported in their opposition by ‘Natuurmonumenten’, the largest nature conservation association in the country.

Referendum The opponents demanded a corrective referendum to reverse the municipal council’s decision for construction. This signaled the start of a battle for the hearts and minds of the voter, never seen before in the world of urban planning. For many months, the municipality of Amsterdam and Natuurmonumenten, both powerful organizations, went head to head with ruthless professional campaigns. The referendum was held on 19 March 1997, but there were not enough opponents to stop the plan.


Opponents start to cooperate Nonetheless, the opponents of the IJburg project had clearly voiced their concerns and the city of Amsterdam wanted them to be heard. As soon as the air had cleared, Natuurmonumenten and the municipality again met for talks. Though relations were initially testy, during long walks together in nature parks the former adversaries turned out to fully agree on many issues.

Unprecedented nature recovery Most importantly, everyone agreed that city and nature should be able to co-exist. Indeed, it was thought that building IJburg could actually result in a net gain for nature. This notion was bolstered by figures that showed that the ecological value of the IJmeer lake had been declining steadily for a long time. The design for IJburg, with its archipelago of islands and the corresponding underwater design, offered all sorts of footholds for nature. In 1998, the former opponents of IJburg established the ‘IJburg Nature Development Fund’, in which millions of euros were deposited. This money was used to developed supplementary plans for mussel habitats, aquatic plants, aquatic birds and amphibians. This collaboration between a municipality and a nature conservation association was an absolute first in the Netherlands, and the development fund (recently closed in 2015) proved to be a resounding success. According to ecologists, the diversity of species and ecological value in and around the IJmeer lake is higher now than before construction began.


The Diemerzeedijk is an old seawall dating back to the Middle Ages. It seems that the painter Rembrandt sometimes came here to draw and enjoy the view. In the 20th century, part of the seawall close to Amsterdam was turned into a makeshift garbage dump. That was unfortunate, but even worse was that many chemical companies from all over Europe came here to dump their toxic waste. IJburg is situated right next to this former dump, so parallel to the construction of IJburg, one of Europe’s largest, most complicated and expensive soil sanitation operations took place. The entire dump is isolated from its surroundings by a ‘dome’ of underground walls and a ceiling made of thick plastic. Internally the whole belt is constantly kept at a lower pressure than outside, in order to prevent any possible leakage. After the sanitation operation, the surface of the Diemerzeedijk was redesigned according to the best ecological insight, and it proved to be a major success. The undulating landscape is highly appreciated as a park for IJburg and houses a diverse community of wild vegetation, birds, amphibians and other small animals.


8. Sustainability Environmental In Amsterdam, IJburg was the first large-scale housing plan where sustainability became a key issue. Environmental experts continuously cooperated with the designers. In 2010, US designer and thinker William McDonough, well known for the regenerative ‘Cradle to Cradle’ approach to design, was invited to help define the ambitions for the second building phase of IJburg: 1. IJburg takes the leading edge of urban planning 2. IJburg will only use sustainable energy 3. IJburg will enhance the vitality of the IJmeer 4. IJburg will integrate the experience of city and nature 5. IJburg will be leading in cooperation and innovation 6. IJburg promotes safe, coherent and open communities 7. IJburg does not waste anything


Elaborating on this issue exceeds the purpose of this booklet, but IJburg has made significant progress. It has excellent public transport, an advanced rainwater system (retention, filtering, preventing pollution), and scores well on the reduction of greenhouse gases. This is due to a combination of high insulation standards (exceeding those required by law) and the re-use of cooling water from the nearby electricity plant for the heating of homes. There is no gas infrastructure on IJburg. In the near future IJburg is aiming to achieve full climate neutrality, by using more thermal storage (heat and cold), even better insulation and solar energy installed on roofs.


Social The social component is crucial in sustainable development. For example, some form of elitist gated community of wonderful eco villas could be exciting from a technological or design point of view, but has nothing to do with sustainable development. A sustainable city provides housing and opportunities for rich, middle-class and working-class people. IJburg accommodates many types of housing: small apartments and studios, penthouses, small family homes and villas. About 30% of the homes are inexpensive to rent, about 40% are fit for an average income, and 30% will appeal to those on a high income. Special attention had been given to groups with special needs, such as physically or mentally challenged people and groups of old age people who want to share some care and facilities.

Cooling water from the nearby electricity plant is used as district heating in IJburg. In combination with the well-insulated buildings, this energy system ensures about 50% reduction of CO2 emissions. 49

9. Resilience

The first building phase of IJburg was by and large completed in 2009, one year after the onset of the worldwide financial crisis. The crisis had a deep impact on all urban plans in the Netherlands. Despite the fact that planning activities for the second building phase of IJburg were temporized in 2013, the municipality decided to make land for the future Centrumeiland anyway. Since the beginning of 2015, there have been strong signs that the real estate market is gaining momentum again. Planning activities for the remaining part of IJburg have been picked up again.

The multiple-island concept makes it possible to develop IJburg step-by-step and immediately respond to changes in the economic climate. Along the way plans can be adjusted, without destroying the overall integrity. The ground motives of the design are resilient to changes in time: the awe and respect for the water, playing with the dynamics of rough versus lee on each island, creating urban streets, and the use of ‘trump cards’ on a local and regional level. Simultaneously, these ground motives offer much freedom and footholds for change and adaptation. This gives the plan considerable elasticity and resilience. It grows with time and promises to become a cheerful patchwork, strongly rooted in the common ground of the city and the water landscape.

Colophon Publisher: Cooperation between the City of Amsterdam and Bureau Palmbout Content: Frits Palmboom, Henk van Veldhuizen, Ton Schaap Editor: Woordkracht 10 | Endre Timรกr Translation: EdenFrost Communications Lay-out: WisselWerking | Vanessa Rutgers

May 2015

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