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The Story Of Bijlmermeer, A Historicist Experiment

Vandewalle J端rgen

The Story Of Bijlmermeer, A Historicist Experiment. !Once we realize that human knowledge is fallible, we realize also that we can never be completely certain that we have not made a mistake" Sir Karl Raimund Popper (Popper 1994, 4)


Queen Juliana on a balcony at Bijlmermeer (source:



For my parents. The opportunities I have are shaped through their hands. !



Introduction 5 Chapter 1: The planning of Bijlmermeer 7 Chapter 2: Life in Bijlmermeer 18 Chapter 3: Changing Bijlmermeer 28 Chapter 4: Analysing Bijlmermeer 36 Conclusion 47 Bibliography 48




In the years after World War II and especially in the beginning of the sixties the European economy began to flourish. New technologies lead to new possibilities while big investments became fuel for booming markets. This evolution had its impact on the European Cities. Where most of them where battered during the war, only two decades after that they became centers of attraction what lead to overcrowded and sometimes destituted neighborhoods. In a period of a rising economy political institutions made plans to improve the conditions of the European city. They began to make use of a standard of living when dealing with problematic neighborgoods. Because of that some neighborhoods endured giant transformations to improve them to the new standard of living while in other cities new neighborhoods were established. Consequently many European cities began to grew beyond their former borders. One of those booming cities was Amsterdam, a city which attracted a vast amount of foreign investments and absorbed a big part of the dutch migration from the countryside to the city. In a country where they used the adjective ‘golden’ when they refer to the sixties urban renewal began to play a specific role. In making the same observations as the modernist movement did, the officials in Amsterdam began to see their old city as chaotic, as an insufficient place to live in. As a result of such observations its planning institutions proposed an enormous plan for a satellite city that would allocate one seventh of all the people living in the city of Amsterdam. This project became known as Bijlmermeer. It was designed as a new high standard neighborhood that would become a pilotproject to show how future cities should look like. Instead of becoming the city of the future, Bijlmermeer became one of the most problematic neighborhoods in Europe. With high crimelevels, a huge amount of illegal immigrants and high numbers of unemployment the people who began to live in Bijlmermeer where those who had no other place to go to. Where it was announced as an example of how urban planning should look like, it became just the opposite of that. In examining why an urban plan that was brought to the people with such confidence could fail so hard, most people observe it as a failure of its modernist principles. But that is only one part of the story, because the causes of Bijlmermeer’s failure are more profound and an analysis in dept is necessary to understand its complete circumstances. Consequently the analysis of Bijlmermeer in the following paper will focus more on its sociopolitical circumstances, rather then its modernist principles. Although it is an examination that originates from an observation into Bijlmermeer’s specificity, many of the conclusions and ideas discussed here are not casespecific. Observing Bijlmermeer is dealing with urban planning in general, in which way this analysis should be useful for anyone who is involved in urban planning. In the following chapters the complete history of Bijlmermeer, from its design untill the latest changes to its urban fabric will be considered, ending into a general observation in which Bijlmermeer’s process will be analysed together with alternative methods of urban planning. !


Above: Bijlmermeer in the seventies (source: Below: High speed public transportation network in Bijlmermeer (source: Baart 2003)



Chapter 1: The planning of Bijlmermeer 1.1 Urban planning in Amsterdam In 1935 the Public Works institution of Amsterdam proposed a plan called ‘algemeen uitbreidingsplan’ (English: ‘general extensionplan’) for the further planning of the city. The plan, one of the first long term commitments in Amsterdam’s cityplanning, formulated some possible expansion-areas where new housing could be developed. All of these areas where positioned close to the citycentre, because one of the principal decisions was to preserve Amsterdam as a compact city with a recognizable border between urban and rural land. Althought the plan covered some qualitive long term strategies, it was based on an inaccurate prediction about the future growth of the city. In that way there was already an official shortage of 28.000 houses around 1950 whereby the citycouncil decided that some exeptional changes to the urban strategy were necessary. (Van Gaalen 2005) After all, the city became overcrowded and some laborer neighborhoods were in dreadful condition. The latest city expansion that was formulated in the ‘algemeen uitbreidingsplan’ was the construction of a series of garden cities in the west of Amsterdam, started in 1951. Even with this notable amount of new houses, there was still a remarkable scarcity. A new project was on its way and to accomplish that, the city and its planning institutions looked to the southeast where big lots of land were available. Although the ‘algemeen uitbreidingsplan’ did not described this area as desirable for housing, the need for new houses was big enough to reject earlier considerations. There were two ideas that were present before City Development, an important component of the Public Works department accountable for Bijlmermeer, started with drawing a general plan. On the one hand the new cityexpansion would be designed as a satellite city, mainly because of some of the standards of the ‘algemeen uitbreidingsplan’ (for example the clear border policy). In that way Bijlmermeer was already in the beginning of its design process considered as a new city in itself, breaking apart with the evolutionary process of Amsterdam’s previously expansions. On the other hand the new satellite city was defined as an antithesis of the garden cities in the west, since these neighborhoods differed with the expectations of City Development because of several reasons. This remarkable positioning was significant for the design of Bijlmermeer, so it is necessary to regard the specific characteristics of these garden cities. Since 1951 four new neighborhoods (Slotermeer, Slotervaart, Geuzenveld and Osdorp) were build up in the west, all based on the principles of the garden city, a concept elaborated in 1898 by sir Ebenezer Howard. Even though not all of Howards principles where considered in the design, these neighborhoods had multiple similarities with the green cities in Britain. J.J. van der Velde describes them as follows in his ‘stadsontwikkeling van Amsterdam 1939-1967’



‘The new town parts are penetrated with green that branches itself as a vein scheme from the large parks and public gardens into the greenness around the rows of houses. (…) One has not wrongfully spoken of it that, whereas in former days a park in the city was been laid out, in these new extensions a city in a park is achieved’ (van der Velde 1968) Though most of these principles were qualitative in their intention, the ultimate town was accepted with less enthusiasm. When A. de Gier of City Development made an assessment of these neighborhoods in 1966 he had several critical remarks. The main remark was concerning the poor urban character of these towns, they were too open and delivered to less social ‘warmth’ and social control for an urban environment. (Mentzel 1989, 63) In addition the green areas where too much designed in different pieces thus there was a lack of meeting places whereby individualism appeared. Last but not least the houses itself were in a poor condition, not suffice for the high standard demands of families in the fifties. The observation of these towns influenced the planners of Amsterdam in such a way that they considered Bijlmermeer as an antithesis of the garden cities. Thus the way to a new utopian approach, differing in all its parts with the suburban garden city, was open. This proces is best explained in a speech by Gijsbert van Hall, mayor of Amsterdam, after striking the first pylon for the first flat of Bijlmermeer in 1966: ‘A calculation that takes into account errors and losses must nonetheless never keep us from heading in new directions, giving shape to revolutionary ideas and testing new insights against reality. Building a Bijlmermeer according to the clichés of other garden cities would be a massive undertaking indeed, but in doing so we would not be forging a way toward the future, we would not be delivering the proof that this is a city set firmly in the midst of the development of our times. We must not seek to repeat history; we must write it’ (van Hall 1966) These words make clear that the garden cities were regarded as historic and that Bijlmermeer should become a new approach, as a city for the future. It was mainly because of the failure of the extension in the west, that a whole different plan came onto the table for the satellite city in the southeast, a total utopian concept, that could make the Amsterdammers forget the errors of the past. 1.2 An utopian neighborhood with ‘future value’ Around 1962 a special team of City Development, responsible for the new satellite city, started making a first plan for Bijlmermeer. In the beginning of the planning process there were some internal conflicts about the main points concerning the plans for Bijlmermeer, but City Development, that had a hiërarchical and bureaucratic structure, came into public with a well arranged and uniformely represented approach. Bijlmermeer would become a neighborhood based on, in that time, wellknown modernist principles delivering qualitative housing for 17.000 middle class families. It would become a district with ‘future value’ a term that was frequently used during introductions of the project. This would all be erected in the Bijlmer, a !


Above: General extensionplan, Amsterdam 1935 with position of later Bijlmermeer (source: Joles 2003) Below: Slotermeer, one of the western garden cities (source:



polder in the southeast of Amsterdam, between Diemen and Weesp, as a satellite city recognizably seperated from the city of Amsterdam. Because City Development could introduce Bijlmermeer as a total integrated and complete project there was almost no dicussion, also because internal criticism was already cleared from the beginning. The institution obtained total control over the designing process, so nothing would stand in the way of the utopian ideas of the orginal plan. This was one of very little projects that was barely checked or criticised by other political or social institutions and that is propably the main reason why the utopian ideas where presented and accomplished in their full clearness without intervention of critics. The marketing of City Development was thus remarkable, especially in the acceptance of the project by the citycouncil. After almost no questions or critical remarks in the designproces of Bijlmermeer from the side of the council, Van Pol, one of the members made the following remark in 1966, when the complete plan was presented. ‘In this plan for the Bijlmermeer Amsterdam has tried to put a social standard to living and to the district, which far anticipates towards the future (...) Participant (Van pol) wants to underline once again that his fraction believes, that from the social standard concerning living and transportation as well as the separation and the consistency between them, the advanceness of mayor and aldermens proved to be, what its fraction wants to support’ (Mentzel 1989, 199) Apparently, even the opposition was convinced of this ambitious project, whereby in 1966 the citycouncil voted to give permission to the plans with an enthusiasm not often seen. The Bijlmermeer project, as presented by City Development was after all a project based on some well identifiable and distict modernist principles and the fact that they broke completely with a historical past of citydevelopment, that people would rather forget, exemplified its popularity. And even when the marketingmachine of City development sputtered they could always rely on the strenght of representation of the ideas of CIAM, who’s marketing was as good, if not better, than that of the Bijlmermeer project. Actually; the influence of CIAM in this project is so vast that an analysis of where its ideas originated and how the planners of Bijlmermeer picked them up, is necessary. 1.3 Bijlmermeer; CIAM at its fullest In June 1928 some young architects and architectural theorists founded an organization called Congres internationaux d'architecture moderne or CIAM. It was an architectural movement that organized events and congresses around the world with the objective of spreading the Modernist principles in the domain of architecture. The ideas of CIAM proponents, as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Siegfried Giedeon were revolutionary in the way they broke with the past and with the ideas of architects who supported historical styles. There was also a notable and influential Dutch delegation attached to the organization, containing architects and designers as Henry Berlage, Huib Hoste, Gerrit Rietveld and Mart Stam. In that way it is no coincidence that the CIAM influenced the designers of the Bijlmermeer project, mainly because its ideas became general accepted after WO II. We !


can even consider Bijlmermeer as one of the projects where these principles were established in their most complete form. Two specific congresses of the CIAM were important for these principles and in that way for the design of the Bijlmermeer. In 1930, the CIAM came together in a congress in Brussels that was all about rational land development. The most important event within this congress was the presentation of Ville Radieuse, a project of Le Corbusier, which was a proposal for a whole new city existing out of high-rise buildings with 15 to 20 storeys. Le Corbusier stated that in this way 80 percent of the land could be used for recreation and even that this model was safer for aerial bombardment and gas attacks. Together with this project a discussion between the CIAM architects started around the question whether CIAM should propose low-, mid- or high-rise buildings. Boehm and Kaufmann proved in a lecture that 5-storey high buildings were the most economic solution to solve housing problems, while Walter Gropius, one of Le Corbusiers followers, stated that the psychological and social demands were as important as the economic demands. (Mumford 2000, 49) Gropius proposed 10 to 12 storey high apartments and introduced this idea together with images from his award winning competition entry for Siedlung Haselhorst in Berlin. He also showed with support of some diagrams how taller, more widely spaced slab buildings could house more people per hectare. Richard Neutra completed this argumentation with a lecture about construction and organizational methods for skyscrapers. In the congress paper the agreement was that the apartment house of the future would be high-rise set in greenery. The economic ideas of Boehm and Kaufmann were not even mentioned, apparently because Gropius and Le Corbusier were the main proponents in that period of CIAM and criticism was not allowed. Siegfried Giedeon published the conclusions and images in a book called ‘Rationelle bebauungsweisen’, so these ideas were spread around the world together with the images of Ville Radieuse. It would not be remarkable if the designers of Bijlmermeer had an exemplar of the book and that they in this way were influenced by the ideas that came from the CIAM congress in Brussels. But that is something where there is no certainty about. What is indeed certain is the fact that most of the examples used in the lectures about high-rise buildings were Dutch projects, such as Merkelbach and Karsten’s skyscraper proposal for Amsterdam and Duiker and Wiebinga’s high rise city schemes. Those ideas of cities with high-rise buildings set in greenery were very popular upon young Dutch architects. The ideas of the CIAM congress in Brussels lived further in the nearby Netherlands and it is not outstanding that the designers of Bijlmermeer based their design on these principles. Tree years after the congress in Brussels CIAM came once again together in a congres in Athens, that dealt with the concept of ‘the functional city’. Even more than the congress itself was significant, was the charter that Le Corbusier published ten years thereafter, known by the name ‘Athens Charter’ and untill today one of the most influential textes in architectural theory. The Athens Charter is based upon observations and discussions that were made at the congress in 1933, but Le Corbusier added a large amount !


of his own corrections and removed the urban plans upon which the original text was based, what resulted in a text that did not presented the orginal observations. Although, the ideas displayed in the charter were not supported by all of the CIAM-members, a major part of them considered the Athens Charter as a sufficient framework for the CIAM movement expressing the ideas were it mainly agreed on. One of the more important ideas presented in the Charter was the division of functions (living, working, transportation and recreation) in well defined areas: ’the chaotic conditions of present cities do not correspond to the primordial bio-logical and psychological necessities of the population’ (Le Corbusier 1973, 44) The city should therefore be organized according to the four functions and city plans should conform with these biological and psychological needs. Under the theme of transportation there were some remarkable findings; it stated that most cities had street patterns that had become unsuitable for modern means of transportation, such as streetcars and automobiles. It proposed that rigorous statistical methods should be used to establish rational street widths, classified according to the speed of different modes of transport. Le Corbusier further believed that the industrialization would lead to a new social community that was in need of a new sort of cities. Just like the society these cities should be harmonious and orderly what resulted in uniform and standardized architecture and city planning. These are some of the major points in the Athens Charter that contained more than 90 articles and it is most likely that the designers of the Bijlmermeer considered all of these articles, given that we find most of them as principles in the original concept for the new satellite city. Mainly all of the decisions made concerning the Bijlmermeer plan can be brought back to the ideas formulated in the two considered congresses. The similarities between the original plan of Bijlmermeer and projects of Le Corbusier, like Ville Radieuse or CitÊ Radieuse, are striking. For example; in the Bijlmermeer plan there was a clear division of functions like stated by Le Corbusier, since the resident zone was planned separated from the offices zone. Also there was a clear division of slow and fast traffic; while pedestrians and cyclists used the streetlevel, motorized traffic operated on level streets attached onto big parking garages. On top of these fast traffic streets there was a metro network foreseen that connected Bijlmermeer with Amsterdam. The choice for high-rise building and big open spaces refers to the principles formulated in the CIAM congres in Brussels. It is remarkable that the designers of City Development used the same argumentation like the CIAM-proponents in defending their decisions concerning this specific layout. Furthermore the planners of City Development proposed symmetry and regularity, uniformity and largeness of scale, the use of modern materials and building methods and communal services that would cultivate a new society of inhabitants. With al these specific decisions Bijlmermeer was actually designed as a CIAM blueprint, with an almost unquestionable adoption of its principles.



Above: Ville Radieuse, Le Corbusier (source: Below: CitĂŠ Radieuse Marseille, Le Corbusier (source:



1.4 Progressive in all its facets The original proposal for Bijlmermeer was not only notorious because of its CIAM-principles. It had various other ideals that made it completely different than any other city development or neighborhood at that time. For example, Bijlmermeer was the place where the first oecumenical church was establish, named ‘the new city’ (Van Gaalen, 2005) Where everywhere in the Netherlands the churches loosed their visitors, Bijlmermeer became the pilot project for a new secular and multi-religious society. Also, like pointed out before, the set-up of Bijlmermeer was totally different than usually in Amsterdam. From way back Amsterdam always expanded from out of the centre to the outside. So far, all town parts connected in a certain way with each other. The Bijlmer on the contrary was a district that had to be entirely built up from nothing, with no connection to the existing (city) network. This was an urban strategy that was never used before at such a scale in the Netherlands. The satellite city would as well keep on relying on Amsterdam for its centre services, covered by a new metro network that created a high-tech linkage between Bijlmermeer and its centre city. The group of inhabitants, City Development wanted to attract for Bijlmermeer, were middle class families with an average of 3,3 persons. (Van Gaalen 2005) City Development decided that there were enough small cheap houses in the city, and with a new amount of qualitative apartments that a flow would arise from out of the city, so there would become space available for a reconfiguration of the slum- and poor laborer neighborhoods. This visionary strategy was also new compared to, and mainly because of, the urban concepts developed in the past. Last but not least the original plan of Bijlmermeer contained a series of community places, as the elaboration of the collectiveness concept of the CIAM. There was a difference between the head centre, with primarily stores, institutional buildings and offices, the block services, where small activities could take place, and the sub centers, that in its function was situated in between. These collective services would create a neighborhood society based on harmony, equality and collectivity. Bijlmermeer was thus not only progressive in its physical layer, but in al its facets. Although this project was received with a large enthusiasm because of its progressivism, some theorists made critical remarks regarding the excessive futurism of this project. Already in the sixties, before its construction, it was an often-used idea to state that the planners of Bijlmermeer had imagined a new, well-urbanized human that was in need of a totally new urban environment. Such a new human did not exist! The idea of an environment with a total new human came at a point of skeptical mockery when people like Constant Nieuwenhuys, creator of the utopist project New Babylon, in 1965 noticed: ‘Soon I see in this Bijlmermeer, with its lack of sociable crossing points, an intensive rowdiness arise, where I have absolutely no objection against, as a creative phenomenon then’ (Nieuwenhuys 1965) Where reactions as those of Niewenhuys where mainly satiric, some specialists delivered well calculated critical remarks. It is noteworthy, and vital to the image of the project, to point out how these mostly internal comments were received. !


1.5 Aldo van Eyck and Jakoba Mulder, a more humanist approach It is almost odd that the designers of the project in Bijlmermeer designed the plan with a more or less unquestionable adoption of the CIAM principles. It was designed in a period where most of these principles were already challenged and it becomes even more remarkable when we see that most of the criticism against the theoretical framework of CIAM originated from the Netherlands, with Amsterdam even functioning as central point. In the fifties a group of young architects, who called themselves team 10 and diverted from CIAM, formulated a fundamental and critical redefinition of modern architecture’s chief premises. This redefinition amounted to both the continuation and the transformation of the tradition of modern architecture. (van den Heuvel, Rissalada, 2005) It meant taking a different view of the relationship between the individual and the larger whole; it meant a shift from universal solutions to specific solutions for local situations, and a shift from an outlook on urban planning driven by technological rationalism to one inspired by society and culture. One of the core members of this new movement was Aldo Van Eyck, an architect from Amsterdam. He criticized the sociologically driven soulless modernism that had blighted his country, thus challenging Amsterdam’s inert and selfcontained enclaves, what Bijlmermeer would become. Van Eyck was in service at City Development until 1951 and it is noteworthy to witness that not more of his ideas were considered in the designing process of Bijlmermeer. Further in the text we will come back onto this specific point, at the moment it is adequate to point out that Van Eyck’s architectural principles did not fit into the goals and ambitions of City Development because they can not be transformed into large scale projects like Bijlmermeer. Actually, some followers of Van Eyck’s theories formulated criticism on the original plans of Bijlmermeer. One of them was Jakoba Mulder, an architect and high ranked official of the institution of City Development, who worked together with Aldo Van Eyck for years in the designing of numerous children playgrounds in the centre of Amsterdam. When City Development started with the design of Bijlmermeer in 1962, Siegfried Nassuth, a Dutch cityplanner, took the lead in the design process. He and his team proposed two building types: high-rise apartment blocks of six to eight storeys and low-rise patio houses. They discussed that high-rise was the best option for privacy and in that way most of the buildings would be in this typology. In this first stage of the design process, Jakoba Mulder already made critical remarks about the high percentage of high-rise buildings, because in that way the plan had too much green space and was not urban enough. She proposed to look for a more urban model. But the plan of Nassuth did not change after the comments of Mulder, so in 1964 she decided to ask one of the head-architects of City Development, Ouwekerk, to make an alternative plan. Ouwekerk’s plan was more smallscale, more designed as a garden city and it had a lot of mid-rise buildings so the layout had more variation. However, the ideas of Ouwekerk were never seriously involved in the design process. One of the reasons is that the !


mayor and aldermen were really charmed with the honeycomb shape and already at an early stage agreed with the main principles of the planNassuth. Moreover promises had already been done to industrial construction companies so it was not possible to change the plan. Just like Van Eyck, Mulder bases her criticism always on social arguments: according to her the human aspect is going to be pushed aside in the plan of Bijlmermeer. But it appears that this is never an actual concern: time and money were the dictating factors in the shaping of the plan for Bijlmermeer. Beside the need for houses it was the, in a financial way favorable ground exploitation of the plan-Nassuth, that formed a main argument to rapidly start with construction. Already in 1964 two major construction companies got promises for the building of 13.000 of the houses. In that way, Mulder stated, it was more a political process then a real design process and she repeated her remarks in a lecture in 1966 close after she broke up with City development: ‘A fact is, that high-rise construction influences the town picture in a particular manner; that it is as a form spectacular and it has the refreshing of something new. When this form of living after thorough sociological and psychological research is for the one group indeed and for the other group not to recommend, then a complete application of high-rise for a district is in my opinion wrong and so it is obvious to me that the higher form and the lower forms should be both employed in the city map. Because with this a larger diversity is obtained, regarding to the choice for living. Choosing a high-rise typology out of purely form and prestige considerations is in my esteem incorrect’ (Palstra, Van Kessel 1994) Although her ideas originated form a theoretical framework that took a prominent spot in the architectural debate, they were never really considered. Where Mulder debated with well-calculated social and functional arguments, Nassuth and his team looked mostly at the form. Opinions and observations not supported with research dominated the discussion. In an interview in 1984 she finished with the following remark when they began talking about Bijlmermeer: ‘A nail to my coffin… I was not with it once. The design was of a young, very good architect… Industrial construction was in rise and made it more profitable to work in high-rise. But ninety per cent high-rise and ten per cent low-rise was a wrong proportion. I suggested forty per cent high-rise, fifty per cent mid-rise and ten per cent low-rise construction. Living in highrise is unnatural’ (Palstra, Van Kessel 1994) 1.6 The department of City Development; a bureaucratic machine With all these remarks its possible to explain that the decision of City Development to accept the CIAM-principles was a deliberate choice, especially because these principles were already on its way back and many alternative theoretical frameworks came into existence in the sixties.



All these annotations were made at the beginning of the building process but they had no effect because there was no brake on the ambitious plan of City Development. After the land was made ready for construction in 1963, the first plans were presented in 1964 and the permission to build was given in 1966. Already in 1968 the keys were handed to the first inhabitants of Bijlmermeer and two years thereafter 2400 apartments were inhabited. Ronald Janssen (Labour party) in 1987 alderman for spatial planning in Amsterdam explains how this process could be so monotonous and rapidly constructed: ‘The problem with the Bijlmermeer was that it was unchangeable, uncompromising. The Bijlmermeer had been designed from above in the 1960s by a bureaucratic machine, the department of Public Works (the institution were City Development was part of) This has been a state within a state.’ (Baart 2003, 12) The planning of Bijlmermeer was supported by a big cooperation between the team of Nassuth, the citycouncil and big construction companies. In that way time and money were the dictating factors in the shaping of the plan for Bijlmermeer and critical remarks or long lasting participation of other social and political institutions were not incorporated. This formed a framework wherein it was possible to implement the CIAM-principles at their fullest and to accept the plan like it was designed by a small group of planners lead by Nassuth. As we shall see this did not all happened as planned and it is noteworthy to state that some of the problems that occurred regarding Bijlmermeer, were exactly because of the framework wherein it was designed.



Chapter 2: Life in Bijlmermeer 2.1 Bijlmermeer, a neighborhood that needs attention On the 22th of march 2007 Ella Vogelaar Dutch minister of living, neighborhoods and integration published a list of 40 problematic neighborhoods that needed specific attention because of the stacking of social, physical and economic problems that appeared in this places. In that list we find Bijlmermeer together with the Garden cities in the west. None of the two utopian concepts, the one designed as the antithesis of the other, seemed to worked out well. It has to be said that in this Bijlmermeer was valued much worse than the Garden cities. Bijlmermeer became known as a neighborhood with a high level of criminality, drugs abuse, unemployment and a congestion of poor families. In a report presented in july 2009, it seemed that only 126 people out of 1000 inhabitants had a job, where the average number for Amsterdam was 595. The crime numbers presented in that report were much higher for Bijlmermeer than the average in Amsterdam, even in itself not a safe city. These problems were already occurring decades before the presentation of the reports, what explains that for example in 1995 the police of Bijlmermeer had an all time record of 20.000 complaints by inhabitants. And even in 1982 research showed that a person who lived in Bijlmermeer had 15 times more chance to be robbed than other Amsterdammers. (Van Tillo, 1998, 84) But it was only after 1992 that the Dutch government and its institution had full interest in the problems of Bijlmermeer. In October of that year a big cargo jet crashed in Bijlmermeer, killing 43 people (most of them crew members and residents) and partly destroyed two apartment buildings. Because of the media attention the whole world suddenly was a witness of the Bijlmermeer problems. The disaster chocked everyone, especially because it proved difficult to ascertain who exactly lived in the buildings that were damaged. Outside the 43 registered deads there were possible also victims to regret under the numerous illegal inhabitants but they never found out there exact number. Instead of a high ranked middle class neighborhood, Bijlmermeer was become an unattractive and problematic neighborhood congested with the poorest families of the country. The causes for this evolution can be put under tree major denominators; 1 external socioeconomic circumstances that affected Bijlmermeer, 2 the incomplete implementation of the project and 3 internal physical and social problems. It should be pointed out that these problems are situated in a large reach of issues, besides problems with the physical layout, also social issues that already were projected by Aldo Van Eyck and Jakoba Mulder. This specific case is the reason why most of the issues noted in the following chapters are additionally brought back to their social implications and are also discusses from out of their political ground.



Above: the results of a cargojet crash in Bijlmermeer, 1992 (source: Below: Bijlmermeer was in a degenerated condition in the nineties (source: Baart 2003)



2.2 External socioeconomic circumstances, the lack of data When the plans of Bijlmermeer were made there was a huge need for a rapid completion because of different circumstances. In that way there was almost no participation of the several social, economic and political institutions that are mostly consulted in the design process of urban projects. Therefore a lack of specific data and information appeared what in time resulted into situations that were not projected at the beginning. It is not so that social and economic differentiations in society can be completely detected years on forehand, but the planners of Bijlmermeer even lacked data that could made them be prepared to some frequently appearing social issues and to the normal tendency of the market. That Bijlmermeer was designed in the sixties, a golden period in the Netherlands, lead to a range of expectations that were too positive according to normal macro-economic expectations. Nassuth and his group designed a project for a high middle class with 4 to 5 room apartments characterized with improved facilities and a luxurious finishing compared to the houses in that time. (Van Gaalen, 2005) These apartments would be expensive and, like explained in chapter 1.4, that idea should be situated in a specific strategy of the planners. When in 1973 a global oil crisis lead to a period of stagflation, the target group for the project decreased immediately. Former high middle class families were now treated by unemployment and a lower purchasing power, what made that they could not afford the expensive apartments in Bijlmermeer exactly in a time were most of these were finished. Besides that the middle class families who still could afford the apartments seemed to have different preferences than the apartments in Bijlmermeer delivered them. On the one hand those families where not as movable as the officials of City Development expected and most of them kept living in the neighborhoods or houses they already inhabited. On the other hand a wave of suburbanization appeared wherein families preferred low-rise houses in suburban areas close to the city of Amsterdam on top of apartments in the satellite city of Bijlmermeer. These suburbanization waves were significant mainly because local governments, like those of Purmerend, Almere and Lelystad planned a huge amount of single-family houses whereas 60 percent of them where meant for Amsterdammers. Bijlmermeer was, as a result of a lack of diversity in its housing offer, very sensitive for these developments in the housing market of Amsterdam en its surroundings. In addition the specific expectations of the planners included a projected growth of the city of Amsterdam. Bijlmermeer was designed because of a shortage on the housing market and the planners thought that just because of this shortage the apartments in their project would be very desirable. In 1963, the year before Nassuth completed his plan, 870.000 people inhabited Amsterdam. Everything looked like this city would grow to over a million in the coming decades, a population increase that would be accommodated by projects like Bijlmermeer. However with the introduction of the anticonception pill, an increasing death number and several other circumstances, the population of the city decreased to 680.000 in 1984. Just in the period wherein City Development expected that most of the !


apartments would be delivered, sold or rented the population of Amsterdam looses more than 20% of its population what in itself solved the problems concerning housing shortage. Still, this evolution was a catastrophe for the Bijlmermeer project that had a lot of apartments that were not inhabited and had to lower its prices extensively. People and investors lost their interest in the project what lead to a degeneration more specific clarified in the following chapters. Next to the shrinking population, the amount of singles in the city increased to half of the population, leading to a big group of people that were not interested in an apartment with tree bedrooms and high rents. However there was one group of singles that came to live in Bijlmermeer. Because they were discriminated in Amsterdam, gays searched for an apartment outside the city and they mostly found it in Bijlmermeer, what unsatisfactory lead to a further stigmatization of the neighborhood and to specific apartment blocks with too few children. A statement by the inhabitants of Bijlmermeer made in the seventies reported that their only lived half of the children in comparison of what was expected. (Van Gaalen 2005) When in 1975 the colony in Suriname became independent, a large number of Surinamers came to the Netherlands and were automatically housed in neighborhoods where the original Dutch inhabitants no longer wanted to live. It was a big coincidence that just when this large amount of poor migrants arrived, Bijlmermeer was finished and a lot of apartments were uninhabited. René Grotendorst, president of the Nieuw Amsterdam housing cooperation until 1996, explains the consequences of this migration wave for Bijlmermeer: ‘The high rent was no obstacle because rent subsidy had been introduced. After the Surinamers and Antilleans came groups of refugees from all over the world. This created management problems. When people moved out, the flats were left in terrible condition, and vandalism costs millions every year’ (Baart 2003, 11) Those who could not bring up the rent choose for over-habitation, living with numerous families in one apartment, so they could pay it together. This led to congestion and a further negative image of Bijlmermeer. In the year 2000 more than 70 percent of the inhabitants were of non-Dutch origin forming a multicultural scene where most of the Dutch people were not familiar with but also meaning a congestion of poor people without high opportunities. (Bodaar 2006, 178) For example, until the mid-1990’s less than 5 percent of the total population worked in the adjacent business centre, which provided employment for over 65.000 people at the time, and is amongst the most profitable business districts in the nation. This shows the enormous gap between the people that lived in Bijlmermeer and the people that lived in the city. It also shows the complete failure of the ideas of Nassuth and his team because the business district that was meant for the people living in the apartments of Bijlmermeer became a district that did not wanted to deal with the people that lived in the nearby neighborhood. Or how the separation of functions eventually leads to a separation of people. !


Most of these processes were not predictable but these are normal scenarios that a planner should incorporate in his design process. However; if you block every comment to your plan that originates from out of the possibility of this scenarios, you are not prepared for the major changes that occur in the social, political and economical dimension concerning big projects like Bijlmermeer. The analysis of the expectations regarding Bijmermeer was paper-thin mainly because of the uncompromising attitude of its planners. Where Jakoba Mulder proposed a more diverse offer of housing, the officials rejected her comments because they did not fit into the ambitious total project they wanted to create. It lead to a situation wherein the uniformity of Bijlmermeer was very sensitive for changes in preference of the people of Amsterdam and economical changes in general. A total project must succeed in its total or else it is doomed to degenerate rapidly in once altogether. 2.3 The incomplete implementation of Bijlmermeer During the implementation of the plan problems arose often because there was too little cooperation between the different services. For example, the department of greenery did not care much about the program of requirements that City Development had established for the planning of the interior gardens. In that way the planned children playgrounds at the entrances of the flats were never constructed. Instead the department of greenery ensures rapidly growing trees because from their opinion the highrise buildings seemed ugly and they wanted to hide them for the view from the provincial way between Schiphol and Gooi that passes next to Bijlmermeer. Nevertheless the biggest problems occurred with higher financial costs due to expensive groundwork and specific decisions made by the construction companies. There is the example of Intervam that together with IndecoCoignet got a guarantee for the construction of the major part of the apartments. Intervam received this guarantee because they used a specific industrial assembly system that promised a fast and cheap construction process. For the company this opportunity was important for the representation of its new system while City Development appreciated the rapid construction because of the financial opportunities it brought. In this cooperation the construction companies gained a lot of power and they could even propose some changes to the design, changes they presented as necessary for the use of the new building methods. Consequently the elevators were reduced for each apartment block and the number of storey’s increased from 9 to 10. Before the beginning of the building process Intervam presented that the average construction price for an apartment would be around fl. 35.000. (Van Gaalen 2005) In 1965 this price even increased to fl. 44.000, something City Development had not expected. Because the construction companies were so much intertwined into the process (even the plans were changed according to their building methods) they could not be replaced by other companies so City Development and the companies had to come up with some major reductions of the original plan.



For example the number of elevators was reduced from 1 for 25 apartments in the original plan to 1 for 45 apartments in 1966 and even 1 for 86 apartments in the later buildings. In that way the galleries became connected with each other what lead to serious problems. First of all there was a large congestion and when the elevators were broke, what happened all the time, there were many transportation problems. It also lead to social problems because when more than 300 people use the same elevator one cannot know everyone by face so a feeling of insecurity appeared also because social control was not possible anymore. Another problem was the delay of the construction of the parking garages. And even when these garages were erected they did not have the security systems, the kiosks and the laundry places that the original plan suggested, just because of the financial problems. Last but not least there was a serious reduction of the collective functions at the ground floor; less stores and services, no caretakers on the beginning of the street and public transportation that was poor because there were no night busses and almost no internal connections. All of this lead to a feeling of ‘unheimlichkeit’ because of the empty ground floor and a lack of social cohesion, so people stayed in their houses without participating in the collective activities. Because the plan was designed as a whole it was important that all the different components were established. Just because the distance between the different buildings was so big and the whole plan was comprehensive in all its aspects, some specific elements were necessary to transform the plan into an interconnected entity. The different collective parts played a big role in this process, but because of financial problems they were too late or in some cases never accomplished. In that way Bijlmermeer missed a social layer that was crucial for a cohesive society. It is remarkable that City development made this decision to reduce the social layer of its plan, certainly because it was its most important part. This occasion can be explained by the relation City Development had with its construction partners. For the reason that all of the different parts of the plan, like an apartment block or a metro station, were offered to several different companies some of the connecting parts were omitted. Because of the rapid process City Development preferred there was no specific consideration to establish a set of norms and judicial rules. The idea of who was responsible for the different connecting parts was rather vague and it lead to a situation where nobody had the need to build those parts of the plan. It is remarkable that for such an elaborate plan there was no sufficient framework of rules that kept the construction companies to their commitments. The enormous power of the construction companies who almost served as independent of the rest of the institutions together with the fact that the plan was already changed in the beginning by their influence can explain why their was a lack of such a framework. In this we can make the same consideration as in the last chapter; the financial problems were not predictable and it was a complete surprise even to City Development when the apartments seemed to become so expensive. But the problems occurring here were mainly due to the specific design of the plan and the activities of City Development. First of all just because of !


Above: One of Bijlmermeer’s apartment blocks, with a big open space in front of it. (source: Below: Bijlmemeer’s specific urban fabric (source: Hommels 2005)



the utopian aspect of the plan City Development considered a construction method of the future that was in that time very risky regarding financial stability. Because such methods were barely used in the past there was a sort of uncertainty relating to the building cost. On the other hand, the totality of the plan made it very unstable in a way, just like a house of cards that collapses if you remove one of the more important cards. The problems with the lack of the connecting parts occurred mainly because the design needed these parts to function. In that way the remarks of Jakoba Mulder about the big open spaces and the low level of urbanization were correct. If the original plan had in itself a more urban and diversified outlook maybe then the connecting parts would not be so important as they appeared now. 2.4 Internal physical and social problems: the functional city revisited Even more than the incomplete implementation of the plan, it was the realization of a number of its parts that had tremendous consequences for the social dimension of Bijlmermeer itself. This was mostly the case with some of its modernist principles. The modernist principles, like presented in the time by CIAM, were contested in the debate about urban theory and even in the practical dimension of urban planning because an empirical analysis lead to the observation that almost all buildup projects based upon these principles failed in some parts of its design. Charles Jencks had already classified March 16, 1972 as ‘the day modernist architecture died’ (Evers 2003, 802), when another modernist project failed so hard that the officials demolished it completely. In that consideration Pamela Neville Sington and David Sington made the following remark in 1993: ‘Real cities do not remain as static as the ideal cities must to retain their status … Therefore the schemes of men like … Le Corbusier can never be fully realized; yet their partial implementation has had a tremendous impact on our landscape. We live surrounded by the fragments of their utopian dreams’ (Hommels 2005, 138) Rem Koolhaas, a dutch architect who was consulted for a redevelopment proposal for Bijlmermeer in 1986, was very intrigued by the esthetical layer of the project but he and his team also made critical remarks concerning some of the modernist principles in their project paper: ‘At the same time we considered this monotonous beauty the very basis of a problematic; on the scale of a provincial town, urban living had been reduced to such completely innocent activities like fishing, walking and bathing … the spectrum of urban activities produced by the actual Bijlmermeer is too poor. It doesn't match the potential of our culture of congestion and is anachronistic in view of modern urban pluralism’ (Koolhaas, 1986) or furthermore in Koolhaas magnus opus S, M, L, XL; ‘The Bijlmer offers boredom on a heroic scale. In its monotony, harshness, and even brutality, it is, ironically, refreshing’ (Koolhaas, 1976) !


In this last work Koolhaas defines a few weaknesses of the Bijlmermeer project; like monotony of materials, only housing, hidden collective facilities and the neglecting of the car. The most important weakness was the separation of functions. An idea that the designers presented as most important and renewing became the biggest barrier to the livability of Bijlmermeer. The strict separation between live, work and recreation resulted in the fact that some parts of Bijlmermeer after the falling of the evening changed into abandoned ghosts cities. Just because the designers of Bijlmermeer approached it to much as a satellite city that would still be depended on Amsterdam for its centre functions there was an enormous lack of facilities. Instead of the usual congestion of facilities as stores, institutions, recreation and culture centers, etc, ‌ for a city of close to 100.000 inhabitants, Bijlmermeer contained enormous open green spaces that, like Koolhaas stated, only accommodated innocent activities as fishing, walking and bathing. In some drawings Koolhaas and his team projected other fragments of urban fabric (well known for their urban interest) on the same scale over a typical part of the Bijlmermeer. ‘One quadrant of slabs alone already covered an area as large as central Amsterdam’ (Koolhaas, 1986) in which way they showed the capacity of the surface to suggest an interesting built structure in place of the big open structures of the original plan. This lack of facilities resulted in a city without a heart, a city that could not render the social dynamics necessary for a livable urban structure. Where the designers of Bijlmermeer, in imitation of the CIAM proponents, thought that the use of a harmonious big scale structure would lead to a perception of a communal atmosphere, it lead to just the opposite of that. The large but abandoned open spaces, the long galleries in the towers and the large dimensions of the buildings lead to a feeling of insecurity and alienation. This large-scale approach resulted in specific problems when considering the multi storey parking garages. The size of the car parks was based on the expectation of increasing car ownership, projecting 1.5 cars per family. Because most of the apartments were empty and the average of 1.5 cars per family was never reached, most of the parking garages were unused. (Hommels 2005, 135) In that way they became a crossing point of drug dealing and criminality, what made Bijlmermeer to the center of the Dutch drugs problems that were occurring since the seventies. When the city council of Amsterdam decided to keep the drugs traffic out of the city center they established a tolerance-policy in neighborhoods as Bijlmermeer, making the problems even more worse. Where it was in its beginning considered as a city with future value, Bijlmermeer became the dumpingplace for problems where the City of Amsterdam could or would not deal with. Of course all crime is not attributed to drugs dealing and drugs use alone. Because of the large-scale set-up of the satellite city and the anonymity, which dominated there, it had some specific conditions for criminality in general. The concept of the separation of functions made control and supervision very awkward. Mutual supervision of shops and houses was nearly impossible. Moreover the semi-public spaces, the large concrete constructions, the underground railway stations and the car parks formed ideal shelters for criminal activities. The consequence of this misery !


is that the inhabitants did rather not let their house behind unguarded in which way they did not longer go out and certainly not at night. Particularly the depositories, which are situated outside the houses, formed an easy prey for burglars. The feeling of insecurity that arose because of all this carried out the negative image of the Bijlmermeer even more. With a concept that is based on a strict line between collectiveness and privacy, it is obvious that the last became dominant when problems occurred even more because of an increasing individualization in society. It is remarkable that so much of the CIAM principles that characterized the Bijlmermeer design diverted with so many of the in that time occurred evolutions in cities and their planning. Where Bijlmermeer was characterized by a large monotonous layout, cityplanners in that time were reconsidering the organic evolution and the importance of a heart for the city. In the time Bijlmermeer was designed as an example of the separation of functions, the merging of functions became a new approach in city planning. Aldo van Eyck described this specific attitude in a remark in 1955 already predicting the problems of Bijlmermeer before its design process started; ‘Modern architecture has been harping continually on what is different in our time to such an extent even that it has lost touch with what is not different, with what is always essentially the same.’ (Smithson 1986, 22) 2.5 The failure of a political framework It is possible to consider the failure of Bijlmermeer as a design problem because there are certainly enough reasons to state that the principles used for the design lead to most of the social en economic consequences of Bijlmermeer. But looking at that alone would be an incomplete observation. The ultimate design of projects like Bijlmermeer always comes after a political process where it originates. As important as the design problems were the problems with the political framework wherein Nassuth and his team operated. In this it is remarkable to see the complete turnover that City Development made when they started with the Bijlmermeer project. Before that, City Development and especially Jakoba Mulder and Aldo Van Eyck, searched for ways to improve the urban structure of Amsterdam with small interventions like for example the children playgrounds. The Bijlmermeer project, that wanted to solve most of Amsterdam’s housing problems with one big intervention and big flows of citizens, completely broke with the smaller scale approach of Van Eyck and Mulder. This turnover was mainly pushed by the political class and continued by City Development.



Chapter 3: Changing Bijlmermeer 3.1 The different scenarios to change Bijlmermeer. Bijlmermeer became a satellite city completely differing with the expectations of the planners, politicans and the first inhabitants. Already after some years, especially due to the financial problems, changes apppeared necessary as discussed in chapter 2.3. In the first years these changes were mostly driven by political institutions, like City Development and the citycouncil, since there was a great need to make Bijlmermeer to the expactations presented by its planners. The first major changes, because of the financial circumstances, were loudly discussed and they were in all cases confronted with the original plan. In these first years, synchronized with the building process, there was still the momentum of the original plan, so the political institutions tried to preserve its main ideas. After that period there was a range of changes proposed by the inhabitants theirself, mostly small changes to improve the abominable situation they ended up in. The major part of the inhabitants did not care about the rules and principles of the original plan, and so most of their proposals were not meeting the requirements of its planners. It lead to first discussions whether Bijlmermeer should be finished as it was planned or if changes to the original plan would be possible. When Bijlmermeer became wellknown as a problematic neighborhood and especially after the cargo jet crash, yet again political drivers felt the need to discuss the situation. There was a big debate about the question in which framework the decisions to change Bijlmermeer should be made. The preservation of the original plan was not as much an issue anymore for the political institutions responsible for Bijlmermeers renewal so major changes like the demolishing of the appartmentblocks were proposed. The only consideration they were interested in was whether it would be a complete renewal with a new urban plan or a renewal in smaller parts, keeping some of the original appartment blocks. In this whole evolution it is remarkable to see how the relations between the political institutions and the inhabitants changed completely over a short period of time, because when the planners decided to change Bijlmermeer intensely it were the inhabitants that now referred to the original plan and how to preserve it. A profound analysis of this process, from the small proposals of the inhabitants shortly after the buildingprocess to the major changes in the last decade, is necessary to understand the drivers behind this evolution and the relation between the political institutions and the inhabitants. 3.2 The improvement of Bijlmermeer, changing doorsteps and painting walls When the first inhabitants moved to Bijlmermeer they noticed some serious problems with the usage of their appartments and its environment. Most of their considerations were pratical problems and they thought that some small changes could solve them. Pi De Bruijn, architect and one of Bijlmermeers residents, was one of the main figures in this process. He !


established a group called Bijlmer Drempelvrij (Bijlmer without Doorsteps) to criticize and change the great number of doorsteps in The bijlmermeer apartment buildings. (Hommels 2005, 141) He lived on the eighth floor, and when he needed to go and get something from his storage space in the basement he had to cross twelve doorsteps, each of which he saw as a disturbing obstacle. Another of his initiatives was the proposal to set aside parts of the large areas of green space for smaller private lots for gardening. De Bruiijn mostly succeeded in his initiatives because they proved to be a lot more practical than the original intentions, something even the planners would agree on. In that way also the huge, empty, freely accesible multi-storey car parks began to be used for commercial activities, such as restaurants and shops. Furthermore the originally planned footpaths diverted by frequent use, and balconies and other public spaces were used for the dumping of garbage. In a later stage, around 1983 the changes appeared more drastic when additional elevators were placed, pieces of the grey concrete walls became coloured and the big flats were devided into smaller flats. In this first decade after the completion of Bijlmermeer the changes were mostly proposed by inhabitants and seemed to be practical issues concerning the housing problem. There were no proposals for an overall change, because when some people wanted to change the outlook of the buildings, by placing more windows or by establishing apartments on the ground floor, they were prohibited to do that, since for some reason this did not comply with the overall design’s egalitarian principle. Their seemed to be a notable struggle between the wishes of the inhabitants and the conditions of the planners. The planners were still convinced by the ideas of the original plan and searched the problems of Bijlmermeer in its incompleteness, where the inhabitants, not or less schooled in urban planning and architecture, wanted to divert from the original plan in several ways. A few arrangements were made between the planners and the inhabitants, but when Pi De Bruijn left the Bijlmermeer management group (established to discuss Bijlmermeers problems) because he felt the problems had grown too complex and wide-ranging, this would be characteristic for the difficult relation between inhabitants like De Bruijn and the original planners. The planners and architects who designed the Bijlmermeer were against all proposals that did not comply with their view of the Bijlmermeer as a modernist town district based on a socialist-egalitarian concept. More over the Planning department legally consolidated the existing layout in a zoning plan that was ratified in 1974, pointing out that major changes to the original plan were not tolerated. 3.3 Urban renewal: diverting form the original concept In the eighties the problems with Bijlmermeer became so precarious that other strategies than the preservation of the original concept were proposed. In 1986 different governments, including even the national government, established a working group called Toekomst Bijlmermeer (Future of the Bijlmermeer) In a report, Toekomst Bijlmermeer presented five scenarios, four of which proposed replacing some of the large !


Above: original buildings of Bijlmermeer that were demolished until today (source: Below: new buildings in Bijlmermeer (source:



apartment buildings with new housing. The reports major concern was ‘that the improvement of the Bijlmermeer could only be achieved by changing the housing supply’. (Hommels 2005, 146) The demolition of buildings became a heavy debated issue in the end of the eighties. The consideration to change the original layout were driven by the urban renewal principles in that time, gearing towards attracting the middle and upper classes to the problematic neighborhoods, or the dispersal of low income groups over city regions. In order to attract middle-income residents to disadvantaged neighborhoods, new marketing strategies had to be developed. The demolition of some of the high-rise buildings and the construction of new houses was considered as one of those new marketing strategies. In 1992, this consideration leads to a proposal for a large-scale urban renewal of Bijlmermeer. This proposal, made by the city of Amsterdam, the southeast district council and the housing corporation, was strongly supported by the adjacent business district, which was affected by the negative image of Bijlmermeer. It existed out of a demolition of 13.000 units, approximately 50 percent of all the houses, between 1992 and 2010. These will be replaced with 15.000 units in low-rise or four-storey blocks. Before this proposal 92 percent of the apartments in the Bijlmermeer were in the social rental sector, after the renewal operation this number should be reduced to 55 percent, reflecting the ambitions of the city to attract middle class residents to the neighborhood. The plan was remarkable if we consider the conservative approach of the institutions in the first decade after Bijlmermeer was build. A complete turnover that was fastened by the Bijlmermeer crash in 1992, or like Koolhaas said; ‘One day a jumbo jet fell from the air and made a start with the destruction’ (Koolhaas 1995) William Kwekkeboom, involved in the project as Urban Renewal manager, states how the choice for such an intense proposal was made; ‘The underlying question was: do we continue with the Bijlmermeer with only starters and no middle-income groups? Ninety percent of the new tenants in the Bijlmermeer were starters in the housing market. Do you accept the huge mutation and the additional police deployment and management or do you create an area that can compete with Amsterdam Noord or the Westelijke Tuinsteden (Garden cities in the west), … , There is no market for this many high-rise gallery flats, where everyone walks by your bedroom. That is something people do not want’ (Baart 2003, 12) In order to compete with the popularity of other suburbs around Amsterdam, the political institutions decided to propose a complete transformation of the original plan, demolishing more than half of the original apartment buildings. The great need to make changes to the original plan is illustrated by the fact that the demolishment of the buildings was not the only big decision they proposed. In the plan of 1992 they also choose to create a concentration of buildings, less open space and more controllable open space, a car centered public space instead of a car-free public space, differentiation of the buildings instead of egalitarianism and the mixing of traffic types and functions instead of their separation. (Hommels 2005, 150) In almost all the aspects of the new proposal it !


differed with the original plan of Nassuth and his team. The CIAM principles were left behind in order to attract new middle-income families. Bhalotra, an architect and planner involved in the renewal operations, described it as follows; ‘The utopian ideals behind the building of the Bijlmermeer belong to the past now: It is time people faced up to that. My theory is that you have to shake the Bijlmermeer to its foundations’. (Hommels 2005, 163) 3.4: Inhabitants actions; Bijlmer Museum and Zwart Beraad Where most of the political institutions agreed upon the complete transformation for Bijlmermeer, its inhabitants were not that enthusiastic. Some of them began to appreciate the neighborhood and were opposed to the demolition of several apartment buildings. In 1994, some of the most radical people in this opposition established The Bijlmer Museum Foundation. This foundation wanted to preserve the original ideas on which the design of the Bijlmermeer was based. They argued that the Bijlmermeer was never really finished and that it should be completed and improved according to the original plan. They also frequently referred to the redevelopment plan of Rem Koolhaas and his office, made in 1986. This plan was created on demand of Nan Raap, in that time director of the housing department, who was opposed to the big transformations of Bijlmermeer, proposed by his adjuncts. Koolhaas his plan existed out of a preservation of the apartment buildings and a transformation of the open space in between the buildings. He divided this open space into different strokes and placed different facilities like an outdoor-cinema and sport services in it. Two major streets, one with towers and the other with urban villa’s structured the new plan. Most of the CIAM principles and the other ideas of the original plan were preserved in Koolhaas his proposal, since most of the new facilities were attached to the original framework. Although the ideas of Koolhaas were never involved in the ultimate urban renewal of 1992, it served as a framework and a discussion ground for the Bijlmer museum foundation in its opposition to the demolishment of most of Bijlmermeer’s buildings. Another movement of inhabitants that opposed the urban renewal was established in 1996 under the name ‘Zwart Beraad’ (Black consultation). They pointed out that the white population was in the minority (only 25 percent) in the Bijlmermeer but that the political administration and consultants were white. They resisted the plans for the demolition of 50 percent of the high-rises. The reason for this opposition was a perception of top-down planning by ‘white’ technocrats with prioritized physical renewal rather than addressing the social and economic problems prevailing in the neighborhood. The people of non-Dutch origin realized that the urban renewal for Bijlmermeer was planned to attract a vast group of middle-class families, what would lead to a dictated immigration of the original low-class inhabitants. The urban renewal would not improve the environment of its inhabitants, it would only lead to the dispersal of low income groups over other city regions, meaning that most of the poor families would have to leave their houses in Bijlmermeer. For those reasons Zwart Beraad was !


Above: The projection of other forms of urban fabric onto Bijlmermeer’s structure by Rem Koolhaas (source: Below: redevelopment plan for Bijlmermeer by Rem Koolhaas (source:



opposed to a plan that was not in the interest of the non-Dutch inhabitants of Bijlmermeer. In an interview in ‘De Groene Amsterdammer’ in 1996 one of the members of Zwart beraad notes the following; ‘Their vision, as far as they have one, proves to have absolutely no sensitivity for what takes place in the black Bijlmermeer. And then I still formulate it carefully. The socio-economic renewal is chronically neglected. The current governing board fixes itself on concrete instead of on people’ (Braam 1996) In contrast to the opposition of several groups, the majority of the inhabitants reevaluated the plan of 1992 as positive in 2001 giving the authorities the approval to continue with their demolition and renewal project. However, this position of the inhabitants was not remarkable because of the benefits they received when their house was demolished. In an article about Bijlmermeer Gerben Helleman and Frank Wassenberg explained this specific situation. ‘For example, present inhabitants of the high-rise blocks are given preference for the newly built houses in the Bijlmermeer. If they prefer to leave the Bijlmermeer, they are given high priority to choose from almost every vacant dwelling in Amsterdam suitable to their type of household, instead of waiting years for vacant social dwellings. For many this is a great opportunity. Moreover, in the Bijlmermeer as in the Netherlands in general, residents who are forced to move because of demolition receive compensation for their relocation costs, which varies between ! 3,000 and ! 4,500. Many people consider demolition more of an opportunity than a disadvantage’. (Helleman, Wassenberg 2003) 3.5 Making the same mistakes over again Where the original plan of Bijlmermeer was meant for an enormous transformation of the housing market, the same idea was used for the urban renewal project. The attraction of middle-class families to the Bijlmermeer in the urban renewal project is very similar to the process the original planners predicted as an evolution after the completion of their design. In this we see the same problems arise; where the designers of the original plan were wrong in predicting the demands of the people of Amsterdam, the establishment of movement as Zwart Beraad and Bijlmer museum foundation, showed that their was also a discrepancy between the wishes of the inhabitants and the preferences of the officials. Instead of involving the inhabitants in their decisions they choose to diminish the protests by giving the low-class inhabitants special benefits, something that lead to big expenses for the different governments. Eventually; everything was necessary to erase the shame of Bijlmermeer from the minds of the Dutch people. What the officials did not take into consideration in both of the plans (1964 and 1992) is that people’s preferences evolve in a slow process so they get attached to a neighborhood where they live for several years. In proposing such enormous urban projects, like the demolition of half of the high-rise !


buildings the preferences of the officials break with the slow evolution of people’s demands. Noteworthy in this is that while neglecting the demands of the non-Dutch inhabitants in Bijlmermeer, the officials exploited their circumstances for the new marketing strategy to attract new middle class families. The promotional strategy for the neighborhood was centered on the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, reflected in the slogan ‘The colorful perspective of Southeast’ Whereas ethnic diversity of the district was previously equated with social deprivation, the promotional strategy now focuses on the strengths of the existing diversity like described in a promotional brochure: ‘The Southeast district derives its unique character and dynamics from the exceptional blend of people and cultures. This cultural diversity has injected an enormous wealth of insights, knowledge, skills and talents into the district. It is one of the main reasons why people are keen to live and work in the Southeast district’ (Bodaar 2006, 181) Although this presentation of Bijlmermeer diverts from the real live of the poor families, it was right in one thing, that new insights like those of Zwart Beraad were injected in the district. However, how qualitative this new insights were, the officials kept on demolishing and renewing the district of Bijlmermeer, without taken them into consideration. As we see the changes of Bijlmermeer in the last decades, from the small interventions of the inhabitants to the large interventions of the institutions we witness that Bijlmermeer evolves to a city that began to look as the proposal of Jakoba van Mulder and Ouwekerk. More than four decades after their remarks, they were noticed and taken into consideration. With this evolution one should argue that the new Bijlmermeer is becoming the humanist city that Mulder proposed, but as we shall see it does not work like that. It is no question of the physical layer alone, but a question of how, by who and in what time it would be established. The actual Bijlmermeer indeed begins to have the urban structure of Ouwekerks plans, but it is transformed too late, too fast and with too less participation of the inhabitants. Actually, when one could asked Mulder or Van Eyck to propose a redevelopment of Bijlmermeer in 1992 they probably would have considered to preserve most of its built-up part, because they recognize the slow evolution of peoples preferences in contrast to an all too fast renewal of a neighborhood where people got attached to. The political institutions, in 1964 and in 1992 thought that a better society can be made and that a cohesive community can be established by means of planning interventions, as a physical layer that is used to transform human behavior. The more humanistic approach of Van Eyck and Mulder considers planning and architecture as a framework that should serve peoples demands and should adapt to the functions of, and the actions happening in, human society. In that way Van Eyck and Mulder would not agree with the drastic and top down renewal planned in 1992, just like they were not agreeing with the plans of Nassuth and his team.



4 Analysing Bijlmermeer

4.1 The principles of City Development before Bijlmermeer Like noticed before, the failure of Bijlmermeer was not only a failure of designprinciples, since its main problem was the specific character of the institutions that were responsible for the project. The position of City Development in this process is remarkable, because the design for Bijlmermeer meant a total shift in their strategy used for the development of Amsterdam. The distinction between the projects realised when City Development was dominated by Jakoba Mulder and Aldo Van Eyck and those when Nassuth and his team were the head-designers is elaborate. A short introduction to the designprinciples of Van Eyck are necessary in understanding the specificity of the ideas of the Bijlmermeer project. The analysis and the conclusions that will be made here are not only important for understanding the Bijlmermeer project, but can be useful in analysing general principles in urban development. When Aldo Van Eyck began to work for City Development in 1946 he had some specific designprinciples that he had established in several publications and in his critical remarks at the CIAM congresses. These principles became known as ‘structuralism’, a new approach in urban and architectural theory. Jakoba Mulder was very interested in this new theoretical framework, since she attracted Van Eyck to City Development and was involved in much of the projects that Van Eyck designed for the city of Amsterdam. Two of these projects, the Amsterdam orphanage and the children playgrounds are noteworty because they exemplify the specific principles of the structuralist movement. When City Development noticed that some of the neighborhoods in Amsterdam were in a depraved condition, Mulder and Van Eyck came up with the idea to improve these neighborhoods by designing some small interventions. This is where the idea of the children playgrounds started. For every poor neighborhood where a building had to be demolished, Van Eyck designed a playground instead of a new building. These playgrounds were intended to become centers of attraction that made the neighborhood more dynamic. They also improved the conditions of the childrens because at that moment their was a lack of space for their activities. And last but not least these playgrounds formed a place of identification, so the inhabitants had something to identify themself with. The first playgrounds were a big succes and because of that Van Eyck designed more than 700 of them between 1947 to 1978. So even when he resigned from City Development in the 50s Amsterdam’s communities were still interested in his designs. It was remarkable that with such a vast amount of designs, not two of them were the same. Because Van Eyck saw them as ‘identity devices’ they had to be casespecific in order to distinguish one from the other. This strategy for urban development was certainly a long term strategy because of the fact that the consequences would be indirect. The new dynamical center in the neighborhood and the communityfeeling !


derived from that were a small advantage in the beginning. However, after some years, a network of 700 small interventions troughout the city of Amsterdam was of big importance in the improvement of the poorer neighborhoods. This network also reconnected the different parts of the city that were formely separated by a division of classes. Even how casespecific every playground was, they were recognizable and when every child in Amsterdam was raised with the same infrastructure they all had something in common. The next project of Van Eyck for the city of Amsterdam was not intended as an urban development project, it was an orphanage for children. But with accomodation for almost 150 children and the employees Van Eyck began to observe this project as a city. His idea was that every house was like a city and in designing the orphanage he used the same principles like when structuralism would be used in urban projects. The orphanage in Amsterdam was praised after its completion because it was one of the first orphanages that was designed on the scale of the childrens that it would accomodated. It existed out of several built up components that each had a different scale because it would house childrens of different ages. Aldo Van Eyck designed his projects with a great specificity to the individuals that would use it. The rooms for the children were in this way completely different than those for the employees and for visitors. However; all these rooms were connected with eachother in one big structure. The bigger structure formed a community framework where every individual played its own specific role. Just like with the children playgrounds, Van Eyck designed the different rooms as ‘identity devices’, with specific elements where the children could identify themselfs with. He designed all the playing devices himself, like he also did for the playgrounds. Many observers of this project noticed that Van Eyck thought like a child when he designed this project. Certainly the detailling is remarkable, even untill small mirrors in the ground so grown up boys could look under the skirts of the girls. This detailling did not mean that everything was planned by the architect, and that the built up part of the orphanage would dictate how the childrens would behave. On the contrary, most of the elements Van Eyck putted into his orphanage were very abstract and would only become to have meaning when the children began to use it. He expected a big role for the users of his projects, because they defined what these specific elements were and how they could be used. This was also the case for the playgrounds where the elements were very abstract ideas of playing devices and where it only became to have meaning when children began to use them. This flexibilty of use came along with a flexibility of the building itself. The structure of the building was as such that it could be extended when necessary. So the design was not fixed in time or in use but formed a flexibele framework that could be transformed.



Above: One of the playgrounds of Aldo Van Eyck in Amsterdam, notice the position between two houses in the place of a demolished house (source: Below: Some of the different pavillions of Aldo Van Eyck’s orphanage (source:



4.2 Two different strategies of urban planning In examining Van Eyck his projects we could observe some of the principles of structuralism. In structuralism the role of the user is of major importance. In that way structuralist projects are not fixed projects. They do not dictate how people should act, they deliver a flexible framework so people could act in their own way. One of the later structuralist, John Habraken, even designed housingprojects where a lot of the construction would be done by the user himself, introducing the concept of userparticipation in housing. Van Eyck was not as radical as Habraken but in his interaction with the later users of his urban projects he was ahead of other planners of his time. This strategy of userspecificity lead to projects where users could identify themselfs with. The general framework was mostly only a structuring element where the many parts it contained were all different and existed out of several identification elements. Another observation that can be made regarding the structuralist ideas of Van Eyck is the fact that he was very interested in the existing structure of cities. In that way he was not proposing to transform complete neighborhoods intensely but was interested in small interventions that would drive a process of reconfiguration. His projects would be a startingpoint, the rest would be the job of the users in transforming their own neighborhood. This process was intended as a slow long term process. Van Eyck stated that people get adapted to their built up environment and because of that qualitative interventions could only be made considering the slow process of changes in peoples preferences. A comparison between the designprinciples of Van Eyck and those used for the Bijlmermeer project shows how big the shift was that City Development made over a short period of time. Where Van Eyck designed his projects casespecific and with big attention to the possibility of identification for the user, the design for Bijlmermeer was an example of a uniform project where identification was not possible because all the appartmentblocks and buildings were designed in the same style and outlook. Where Van Eyck tought that casespecificity would lead to a communityfeeling, the designers of Bijlmermeer tought otherwise and used uniformity as a designprinciple to create a communityfeeling. Another example of the differences between the structuralist ideas of Van Eyck and the modernist ideas of Nassuth is the utopian dimension of the latter. Van Eyck saw his designs as a flexible framework wherein the slow evolution of traditions of the inhabitants could take place. Bijlmermeer on the other hand was designed as a fixed project that almost dictated how people should behave. Consequently Bijlmermeer was not designed from out of an observation of the preferences and traditions of Amsterdam’s inhabitants but it was intended to change these traditions. Also the timeline of Van Eyck’s projects and Bijlmermeer were very different. The slow long term process by small interventions of City Development made place for a big intervention that would solve all the housingproblems in once. The designers of Bijlmermeer thought that their project would lead a huge amount of middle-class families out of the city, making space available to reconfigure the city’s layout. This did not happened as planned but when the circumstances would have been positive, !


it would have meant a complete transformation of Amsterdam in a very short period of time. We can end this comparison with stating that the role of the planner that Van Eyck imagined for himself was completely different with the role of the planners of Bijlmermeer. In Van Eyck’s design process their is a big role for the users of the project and in his urban interventions it are the inhabitants that eventually would change the city. Van Eyck only designed the framework or the startingpoint for urban changes. The designers of Bijlmermeer on the other hand proposed a complete design, where the later user was not taken into consideration but was brought back to a simplistic generalization. These different strategies where tested in time and it would become obvious which one was the most qualitative. A lot of the playgrounds of Van Eyck are still present in Amsterdam and they served a big role in the improvement of the city. Ninety percent of the Bijlmermeer project is demolished at this moment and its role in the development of the city was rather very negative. 4.3 Knowledge in society In examining the difference between the two strategies that City Development used in improving its city, we should examine where the human resources for such projects come from. In the project of Van Eyck the inhabitants were an important factor, because their knowledge and intentions would be useful in the process after the specific intervention. Van Eyck only structured the development of specific neighborhoods and therefore he did not had to break with all the specific preferences of the inhabitants to do that. Because Bijlmermeer was a total project, the preferences of the future inhabitants became more important since this specific data was necessary to develop a qualitative project. However, as we have recognized in earlier chapters the designers of Bijlmermeer suffered a huge lack of data, what mainly lead to the problems occurring in the new satellite city. One of the reasons of this lack is that they did not consult the several institutions that one would normally consult in the design process of big urban projects. At one moment in the process they even cleared some qualitative critics on the first design proposal and rejected to discuss alternatives. But, how inadequate this process of data gathering was, one should ask himself if for big projects like Bijlmermeer, which presupposes a vast amount of data, all the data necessary to make the project function could ever be attained. How bigger the project and how more people are influenced by it, how larger the amount of knowledge necessary to design it properly to reach some expectations. In building a house for a family the gathering of data seems quite easy because the designer should only consult the family itself and probably some neighbors or the city council. But even in this small example it is more complex than it looks like since the architect also should be schooled in the specific climate of the place, the conditions of the ground, the materials with which to build, et cetera‌ To reach the expectations of the client is to consider every aspect that could influence these expectations. Taking this into account we should approach Bijlmermeer in a different way. The expectations of the clients (the City Council and City Development) were !


well known and were put into objective criteria. But to collect all the knowledge about the different evolutions that could influence these criteria was hard and probably impossible. A design process that is meant to house 100.000 people and deals with a city of close to 1 million is influenced by so many evolutions spreading over so many areas of knowledge. The most significant problem in this is not that it is impossible to consult every person that is expected to take part in this range of evolutions, but that this aggregate information is more due to change than the conditions of that one family that wants to build a house. But the designers of Bijlmermeer were not as much interested to collect information of its future inhabitants than they were in trying to change society with the introduction of new ideas. Instead of building upon existing evolutions and peoples present preferences like Van Eyck tried to do, they wanted to change these evolutions and establish a utopian neighborhood. Trying to do this has nothing to do with rational decision-making; it is more as a big urban gamble based upon subjective decisions of the planners. Like already mentioned it is probably impossible to gather all the information, expectations and conditions, for a properly design proposal that is expected to intensely change the life of more than 100.000 persons. In that way it is even harder when a design proposal exists out of a complete transformation of the present society by means of an urban intervention. In guessing to future expectations of a group of persons one finds himself on an almost stable ground, namely the present, but in not dealing with the persons and their expectations at all, the design proposal places itself in the future, losing the stable ground of present knowledge. It is thus not more than a complete guess if the people will adapt to the projected design proposal. The impossibility of designing a sufficient framework in big projects like Bijlmermeer, leads to design proposals that wanted to change the society as a whole, based upon an insufficient empiric analysis of society and consequently building upon very simplistic standards. The small interventions that Van Eyck proposed were thus far less complex than the ambitious plans of Nassuth and his team. Van Eyck did not needed to gather a huge amount of subjective knowledge because his projects were not intervening in peoples preferences and traditions. They were only meant as small drivers for change by the people and not as complete transformations like the Bijlmermeer project. The reason why the designers of Bijlmermeer were not completely aware of the complexity of their job is a difficult question. The design proposal for Bijlmermeer is even in an instant empiric examination completely contrasting with the complexity of society. With for example 90 per cent of the apartments in the same outlook, a monotonous physical layer and some simplifications in how people would gather, it is hard to imagine that Bijlmermeer would have served the expectations of such a vast amount of people even when the circumstances were positive. To make a big urban project succeed the design should be at least an interaction between good economics and good social analysis but the Bijlmermeer project was an antithesis of such an analysis. The results are well known. !


This specific designprocess did not only took place in the city of Amsterdam, since much projects with the same characteristics were built all over the world around the same period wherein Bijlmermeer was designed. Poptahof (Delft) for example was another project in the Netherlands that was designed with the same principles, the same outlook and also in the sixties. The designer of the project stated that he wanted to built a city like the functionalist city of the CIAM. Just like Bijlmermeer it became a problematic neighborhood and a renovationplan was proposed to demolish a part of the buildings and renovate the others. Poptahof is well known because it is the most dense neighborhood in Europe since a lot of poor families live there in very small divided apartments. In nearby Belgium some other projects had the same characteristics like Bijlmermeer; Linkeroever (Antwerp) and Rabot (Ghent) were also designed concerning the modernist principles and show appearing similarities with the Bijlmermeer project. Linkeroever was completed in the sixties and Rabot at the beginning of the seventies. Both of the projects became problematic neighborhoods with poor and mostly illegal families. The Rabot neighborhood will be demolished in 2012, making place for 400 new low rise social housingunits. There is not yet a complete renovationplan for Linkeroever but its high-rise buildings are in a degenerated condition. It is noteworthy to mention that the planning of Linkeroever is based on a plan for the area from 1939 by Le Corbusier himself. The projects mentioned here are only a few of many projects built in the fifties, the sixties and the beginning of the seventies with the same characteristics and with the same results. Pruiit-Igoe (Saint Louis) is probably one of the most famous examples and again the similarities with Bijlmermeer in what happened after the project was build, are remarkable, since it was demolished 18 years after it was completed, due to social problems. 4.4 Ignoring individuals Where all these projects were designed in the sixties, this happened in the middle of a process to a rationalizing perception on society. In a time when society and cities became more complex this evolution resulted in a change in the epistemological framework to analyze and plan the society and its cities. It resulted in a major shift in methods, a process that influenced several social planning institutions, like City Development. These institutions did not longer consider the complete range of subjective knowledge that all individuals had but made use of generalizations and objective standards. The whole idea that middle class families could be attracted by the building of a new satellite city in the southeast of Amsterdam and that in that way the city centre could be reformed was an idea based upon simplistic data, an idea that did not took into consideration the vast amount of different preferences and circumstances of the middle class families in Amsterdam. It was elaborated from out of a generalized idea of the average inhabitant of Amsterdam, as of he was a new strong urbanized human being. The design proposal of Bijlmermeer was thus based on the expectations and ideas of the planners, how they saw the future of the city and not on the expectations of the different members of society, because they were not taken into account in the ideas of Nassuth and his !


Above: A part of Antwerpen Linkeroever (source: Below: General plan for Antwerpen Linkeroever, Le Corbusier (source:



team. The following examination of Friedrich Hayek, Austrian economist, onto engineering techniques could be connected with the techniques of the engineer-architect Nassuth; ‘The application of engineering technique to the whole of society requires indeed that the director possess the same complete knowledge of the whole society that the engineer possesses of his limited world. Central economic planning is nothing but such an application of engineering principles to the whole of society based on the assumption that such a complete concentration of all relevant knowledge is possible, …, A successful solution can therefore not be based on the authority dealing directly with the objective facts, but must be based on a method of utilizing the knowledge dispersed among all members of society, knowledge of which in any particular instance the central authority will usually know neither who possesses it nor whether it exists at all’ (Hayek 1952, 97) The confidence of Nassuth, City Development in general and even the city council shows that they were convinced that such a complete concentration of all relevant knowledge, necessary for an urban project like Bijlmermeer, was possible. But they were wrong because their confidence was based upon a neglecting of the existing knowledge, as of the rationalization of it. The methods of Nassuth and his team were not specifically used in the Bijlmermeer project but were obtained in an at that time existing epistemological framework. Many big social reform projects, not only in the area of city development, were proposed in the fifties and the sixties, and most of them failed because of the use of generalizations that neglected the specificity of society. Accordingly it is no coincidence that most of the urban projects from the end of fifties till the beginning of the seventies in the Benelux, (Bijlmermeer, Amsterdam; Poptahof, Delft; Linkeroever, Antwerp; Rabot, Ghent) failed because of a lack of diversity and a distinction with the preferences of low and middle-class families. Their designers all imagined a specific setting for an imagined future society that contrasted with the real valuations and preferences of the projected inhabitants. The fact that almost everything was planned in bijlmermeer and that in a monotonous way shows how confident the planners were in their proposals. But that was only due because individuals were ignored in the design process or as Peter Grennell calls it; ‘The phenomenon of invisibility’. He makes the following remarks about the housing process; ‘People become invisible in the housing process to the extent that officialdom either does not see them at all or sees them only in terms of quantities of stereotype human beings. This blindness is the result of a genuine desire to improve the living conditions of as many people as possible; a fixed idea of what constitutes “good” housing; a recognition of severe limits on public and private commercial sector resources to attain these goals, an emphasis on standardization of design and production efficiency; and a consequent discounting of the role of the dweller in the provision of housing. The latter is based on assumptions that public participation is inefficient and time consuming, that people “don’t know !


what they want”, or simply that trained technicians “know better” about layman’s need as they do’ (Grennell 1972, 97) What Grennell describes is a specialization of urban planning, where urban plans are actually plans from planners imposed to society, instead of a result from an interaction between society and planners. The process of dehumanization in city development was so strong that the only humans that were still involved in the process were the planners self. Using generalization methods in social sciences like urban planning lead to this situation and made it possible. However, one should consider that human beings do not move about like molecules but rather engage in choices and unpredictable actions. They have different values, varied goals and many purposes. Human beings choose among alternatives, they act purposively. Their actions cannot be classified without reference to their subjective (personal) ideas, values and goals. But when the generalization methods, normally used in the physical sciences, are dominating also in the social sciences, men begin to treat society as a laboratory and experiments in the form of major social reforms take place. Where in chemistry the merging of two different components leads to predictable results, in urban planning the merging of elements like for example vast amounts of high rise buildings together with big open spaces leads to a predictable material result but to an unpredictable social experiment. 4.5 A Historicist experiment With its generalizations and the ignoring of the subjective knowledge of the individuals that were supposed to be affected, the Bijlmermeer project became a historicist experiment. The planners of Bijlmermeer had some clear end goals (among others the great immigration of middle class families) and their project was represented as the big and fast solution to establish these goals. In this it is not remarkable that the citycouncil of Amsterdam did not criticized, but rather stimulated, the Bijlmermeer project. Nassuth and his team presented a very complex process as the cities development as rather easy. It must have been very appealing for the councilmember’s to shift from the slow complex process with small interventions of Van Eyck to the all in once problem solving of Nassuth and his team. First and foremost because it delivered them far more representation and its end goals were very clear and easy to sell to their electorate. The observations of the CIAM were in this a welcome given, because their representation of the miserable present state of some European Cities together with the possibility of a bright future was very convincing. However, one of the observations the CIAM members did not made was the process to go from the present state to those future projections. They mainly focused on the material outcome of that process, but changing the built-up environment is only one of many steps that one should take in such a process. Implementing large fixed projects into society is thus an ineffective urban strategy because it does not take into account that such an action breaks with people’s preferences and traditions. What architects like Aldo Van Eyck learned us is that planners should work with complex and real data instead of working with assumptions and statistics. !


That planners should interact with the people that will take part in their projects, instead of using a generalized caricature as design tool. The almost complete failure of Bijlmermeer shows us that Van Eyck his observations were right and that the development of cities should be accomplished in between society instead of from out of an Ivory Tower. So the following quote of Van Eyck about architecture could also be used concerning urban planning: ‘There is a kind of spatial appreciation that which makes us envy birds in flight; there is also a kind which makes us recall the sheltered enclosure of our origin. Architecture will fail if it neglects either the one or the other kind. To gratify Ariël means gratifying Caliban also for there is no man who is not both at once, …, Architecture need do no more than assist man’s homecoming’ (Smithson 1968, 43)

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !


Conclusion The goal of this paper was to extend the common observation of Bijlmermeer’s modernist principles with its more socio-political aspects. Although the built up components of this modernist project were direct reasons of its failure, the socio-political circumstances were in an indirect way more important than was mentioned in some of Bijlmermeer’s common analyses. In searching for the responsibility of Amsterdam’s political institutions we see that City Development and the citycouncil were important drivers in the process of Bijlmermeer. The simplistic generalizations that those institutions used and there insufficient gathering of information lead to what Bijlmermeer is now; a failure of urban planning. With that in mind history should be a learning process. After the failure of several projects that made use of the same urban strategies, one should consider these strategies as insufficient. The problem is that observations of this projects only focused on its built up component instead of taking its methods of generalization into account. The idea came into being that especially the modernist principles and their architectural and urban outcome were inadequate. But Bijlmermeer’s failure is not only a question of style. When looking at organizations as ‘Bijlmer museum’ and ‘Zwart Beraad’ we observed that even a project that failed so hard in its beginning could become, over time and with some small interventions, a qualitative place of living. In a further comparison between the strategies of Nassuth and his team and the proposals of Van Eyck we have seen that the actual urban fabric of a project is not as much important as the way it is implemented into society and how its designers interacted with the individuals of that society. We should thus not only discuss the urban outlook when analyzing urban planning, but rather the methods used to implement it into society. When considering the renovation of Bijlmermeer it seems that history was not at all a learning process because the officials made the same mistakes over again. They rejected plans for small interventions, for example the one of Rem Koolhaas, and demolished 90 percent of the buildings in order to build a new city. It is remarkable that just in the renovation of projects like Bijlmermeer the same insufficient methods that were the drivers for its failure were used again. Charles Jencks observation of the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe when he called this event the ‘death of modernist architecture’ (Evers 2003, 802) covers only one side of the story. Although people became really convinced that modernism was on its way back, they did not realized that the almost complete demolition of Bijlmermeer and Pruitt-igoe was a reconfirmation of just those methods that lead to the failure of this projects in the beginning. It is regretful that the debate on urban planning keeps on focussing on the material outcome of urban development, wherein one does sometimes forget to question the methods to implement this ‘urban development’. This paper should be seen as a small personal step in questioning some general methods of urban planning and therefore in making individuals and their needs visible again. !



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The Story Of Bijlmermeer  

Researchpaper for the course: Planned Communities (University of Cincinnati)

The Story Of Bijlmermeer  

Researchpaper for the course: Planned Communities (University of Cincinnati)