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TEXTBOOK KEES CHRISTIAANSE COLLECTED TEXTS ON THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT 1990–2018 Edited by Jessica Bridger NAI010 Publishers ISBN 978-94-6208-442-1





01 Creating Conditions for Freedom 02 In Search of Lost Urbanity 03 Fuck the Programme? 04 Housing in Harbours in Holland 05 A Green Archipelago 06 The Open City and its Enemies 07 A Smouldering Fire Gleaming in the Dark 08 The European Urban Condition  Drawings 09 Remote Control 10 Traces of the City as Loft 11 The Train and the Plane 12 Urban Design (Because We Need a Vision)  Watercolours 13 Scale 14 Green Urbanism. Models of a Dense and Green Urban Context 15 The Future of Logistics and Production in Dense Urban Areas 16 Inverse Urban Design: Inversion and Subtraction in the Airport Region 17 The Bike 18 Porous or Porridge City? 19 Global Feldis 20 Lifestyle Exercise 21 Living in the City: A Resident’s Career  Sketches 22 Interview

9 17 28 33 45 61 79 89 100 110 116 131 145 152 160


256 5

162 178 184 193 197 204 211 217 229 243


A version of this text appeared in World Architecture 6 (1990).

Creating Conditions for Freedom Planning [ 1 ] The modern cosmopolis shown in a randomly chosen illustration from a French-Canadian magazine shows modern Western European cities superimposed on the area of medieval Lotharingen in northeast France. [ 2 ] In the Dutch book Op zoek naar leefruimte (In Search of Space for Living), published in 1966, the population density of Europe at that time is depicted: [ 3 ] The Netherlands is black with dense settlement, and a dark outline moves along the Rhine to the south. The Eurocities in the Lotharingen of tomorrow form a kind of Milky Way, where the distinction between town and countryside slowly fades out. [ 4 ] Solitary pulsars like Paris, London, 1 I guess I mean here: Contemporary Urbanisation. 2 Still absorbed by OMA and its 1980s career in France, I made Francophile references (in 843 Lotharii Regnum spanned from Holland to Rome). 3 This manifesto actually made me decide to study architecture. Written in 1965, it envisaged the Netherlands in 2000 in a futuristic way, illustrated by the genial renderings of the Das brothers of whom I was a great fan. 4 See list of “urbanized landscape” inventors: it was not coined by Thomas Sieverts or Paola Viganò, but discussed throughout the twentieth century. The best, of course, is my coin: “Plancton.” Moses Ginzburg/Magnitogorsk Leonidov: The Green City, 1930; Siegfried Kracauer: Berlin hat Wesenszüge einer Landschaft, 1931; Frank Lloyd Wright: Broadacre City, 1932; Walter Christaller: Die zentralen Orte in Süd-Deutschland, 1933; Constant Nieuwenhuis: New Babylon, 1959–74; Fumihiko Maki: Investigations in Collective Form, 1964; 2e Nota Ruimtelijke Ordening, Gebundelde Deconcentratie 1966; Cedric Price: Potteries Thinkbelt, 1966; Superstudio: Endless

→ 9

→ Monument, 1967; OMA: Parc de la Villette, Plancton Melun-Sénart, Inversion 1983/7; IBA Emscher Park 1989–98; Terry McGhee: Desakota, 1990; Willem Jan Neutelings: Carpet Metropolis, 1990; Peter Connolly et al.: Landscape Urbanism, 1995; Thomas Sieverts: Zwischenstadt, 1997; Kees Christiaanse: Living in the Landscape, 2000; Franz Oswald, Peter Baccini: Netzstadt, 2000; ETH Studio Basel: Portrait of Switzerland, 2005; Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid: Planetary Urbanisation, 2012; Milica Topalovic: Architecture of Territory, 2012; Paola Viganò: Horizontal Metropolis, 2014; Stephen Cairns and Kees Christiaanse: Archipelago Cities, 2014.

Moscow, Berlin and Mexico City [ 5 ] are undergoing an explosive expansion of their peripheral zones, for instance as can be observed around La Défense in Paris. In these modern cities the utopian schemes of the avant-garde have long been realized: Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin and Melnikov’s parking garage across the Seine have in fact been built. [ 6 ] At the beginning of the century, Malevich adopted the concept of New York through fixing one of his architectons on a postcard, and proclaiming—along with many others starting in the 1920s—that the image of the city can no longer be perceived as a harmonious organic totality, but rather as a chaotic accumulation of a thousand different cultures. [ 7 ] In the context of everyday life, and with the exception of some urban planners and architects, [ 8 ] this has become—perhaps not always consciously—an accepted reality. In the city, buildings are sometimes more important as communicators of information than as architectonic objects. Between cities and peripheral zones, and at a certain distance from inner cities, suburban monocultures of Anglo-Saxon [ 9 ] domesticity are arising in every urban agglomeration; for example in SaintQuentin or Milton Keynes. [ 10 ] Nobody can even really say whether particular photos have been taken at Saint-Quentin, Almere or Milton Keynes. [ 11 ] Sub-centres in the periphery and suburbs have taken over the functions of the city and lead to uncontrolled decentralisation and spread. The edges of the inner cities, dating from the nineteenth century, become impoverished and congested with traffic, with belts of infrastructural decay. [ 12 ] The problems of large agglomerations demand new visions and concepts, ones that also leave the 10

Creating Conditions for Freedom

old, rural landscape intact. [ 13 ] There is no longer a place for harmonious centralist Beaux Arts top-down design, nor for deliberate laissez-faire urbanisation. [ 14 ] Randstad Holland is both a positive and a negative example. The concept of “concentrated deconcentration,” where rural life (farms and meadows with cows) exists alongside urban areas of the highest density is, as we see here, a delicately balanced affair. [ 15 ] Although it is a challenge to theorize about practicing urban design in complex agglomerations, the following statements are an attempt to reveal my vision. 5 I actually visited Mexico City with W. J. Neutelings around that time. 6 These lines try to say that the city is the fragmented result of continuously invented, used and discarded visions. 7 Here I mix up Malevich with Mayakovsky. Malevich’s collage postcard, described by Rem Koolhaas in Delirious New York, is a kind of “Fuck the context” and “Fuck the programme” avant-la-lettre. 8 Here of course I mean the Post-Modernists‚ the Beaux Arts and Retroarchitects. 9 This also anticipates Dutch Vinex housing—in the end, the house of one’s own wins. 10 Again a Francophile example. 11 Stefan Zweig, Die Monotonisierung der Welt. 12 This was before the giant gentrification wave of the nineteenth century neighbourhoods in the 1990s. 13 This is the problem with naive futurists, they always think something should be new. 14 Until today, I have always stated this: urban design is about creating overarching robust frameworks and guidelines within which development with a certain freedom and adaptability can flourish. 15 Already a clear acknowledgement that an approach of control & laissez faire is the best and that cities should be considered polycentric with concentrated centralities.

Urban Design and the Modest Attitude Above everything else, the urban landscape needs to be selfevident. Its underlying organizing structures are the result of functional zoning and cultural-historical tradition. The explosive and partly uncontrolled developments over the past 50 years have put an abrupt end to this. Structures have been pasted over structures; developments have been started and then abandoned. Razor-sharp divisions have been generated between different areas. Therefore, the modern urban designer needs to balance the remnants of different societal 11

and physical structures: between a refuse dump of urban ideologies and an archaeology of valuable elements. From a careful inventory and identification of urban characteristics, the urban designer extrapolates a dynamic balance in which freedom and flexibility exist without the loss of context. Good urban design therefore often looks as if it is almost “doing nothing.” [ 16 ] 16 Or: good urban design is hardly noticeable as its self-evidence makes it blend into the context.

Islands and Corridors The cities themselves increasingly become conglomerates of islands of different urban character dating from different epochs, separated by corridors of residual space and infrastructure. [ 17 ] These islands, for example the post-war centre of Rotterdam dating from the 1950s, should be considered “positive ghettoes;” [ 18 ] in other words, just as a “Chinatown” in a modern Western city is more or less an autonomous island, so are many districts more or less explicitly autonomous in activities and in urban form. The identification of the characters of these islands, their reinforcement and change leads to their polarisation. Therefore, specific planning concepts and building regulations can be formulated for every type of district. [ 19 ] Rich combinations of areas of different character are generated, in which modern urban dwellers choose their favourite ambiance. [ 20 ] Between these islands lie corridors, which often have originated from the presence of water, railway tracks, defence walls, etc. in the past. These spaces increasingly call for our attention. They are the only places in the city where an exchange can take place between growing large-scale functions and the smallscale activities of city life. In these corridors, new forms of urban spaces, new forms of buildings with new programmes and eventually new forms of city life will arise. The recently 12

Towerslab building Rotterdam by OMA, image by Kees Christiaanse and Madelon Vriesendorp


A version of this text appeared as “Stationsgebieden. Europa per Spoor” in De Architect 6 (2013).

The Train and the Plane [ 1 ]

The spread of high-speed railway networks across Europe and the complementary use of road and air networks induce new visions for railway-station areas. In inner city zones, transformation is more complex than in the countryside. Additionally, in many places in Europe, rail tracks and motorways are encased or relocated underground. Railway station areas are increasingly redeveloped into high density, mixed use quarters that form new nodes in the city. Contemporary airport development can also help to establish these nodes, and when rail and air networks are combined and integrated into the urban context, they open the chance for new routes of travel and logistics also deepening the intensity of urbanisation between these nodes at the local, regional and international scales. Amsterdam Central Station is an ingenious intervention in the history of Dutch mobility, symbolised by Pierre Cuypers’ beautiful station building, which I used to confuse with the Rijksmuseum as a child. At the same time, it is one of the biggest mistakes in the planning history of Amsterdam, 1 This text appeared in different versions in De Architekt and Topos and reflects my own experience with travelling by train and plane in Europe in different mobility regimes and infrastructures. As I don’t like cars and taxis, I have become an expert in displacing myself using alternatives, sometimes via unexpected routes and means of transport.


as its construction irretrievably destroyed the connection between the city centre and the waterfront. Consequentially, Amsterdam Central Station embodies the unique combination of being both a transport hub and a waterfront location. In 1991, OMA, KCAP, Neutelings Riedijk, UNStudio, and West 8 proposed the project Amsterdam Waterfront, in which the station forms the main island of a necklace of islands and peninsula docklands for which a comprehensive master plan was conceived. The station island lies like an ocean steamer in front of the medieval city and the adjacent Oosterdok and Westerdok islands, which were extended with a high density mixed-use development and public space, which created a porous condition by covering tracks with a pedestrian deck as well as underpasses between the city and water. Even though the project was never realised, a lot of urban design concepts it presented were re-used in later developments. Oosterdok Island is developing into a fully-fledged European railway quarter, combining high density residential, hotels, cultural venues, a library, conservatoire, ground floor uses, and offices. The tracks, contrary to the original 1991 scheme, have not been covered, which unfortunately maintains the separation between city and waterfront. [ 2 ] 2 I think we have to be fair today and acknowledge that the new station-hall on the waterfront side with double-level shopping, bus-and taxi-terminal and drop-off zone, and with the through roads now underground, is a very good solution. It is further connected to a couple of new pedestrian underpass galleries that combine shopping and amenities with access to the platforms. It really has helped reconnect the city to the waterfront.

Covering Remains a Delicate Issue The decision not to cover the tracks at Oosterdokseiland is exemplary of the delicacy required in the consideration of the transformation of infrastructure by covering tracks and motorways or relocating them underground. To cover tracks with a deck and possible built volume is a great challenge for many cities, in terms of associated costs and stringent 132


A version of this text appeared in Lehre und Typus (2011).

Living in the City: A Resident’s Career 1953–58 Valeriusstraat 22, Amsterdam, Netherlands Year of construction: 1917 Quarter: Amsterdam Oud-Zuid, nineteenth century neighbourhood typified by five storey brick walk-up buildings. The quarter, which used to be rather mixed in social sense, has gentrified in the meantime, becoming kind of a Dutch Greenwich Village.  Type: Row house, subdivided into a double maisonette, on top of a single storey ground floor apartment. It was so-called “Revolution Construction” with individual front doors and staircases for each of the apartments.    

When my parents were newly wed and graduated from university, they rented the upper floor of the upper apartment from a Jewish widow and her daughter, who had been prisoners in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia. The widow became my “aunt” and later a famous author. I was sometimes pushed in the baby carriage through the Vondelpark by Karin Staal, the daughter of famous Dutch architect Arthur Staal, the architect of the Overhoeks Shell Tower opposite the Central Station—my earliest connection with architecture.


1958–65 Margrietstraat 11, Veendam, Netherlands Year of construction: 1958 Quarter: 1950s village extension, built successively, primarily in small series by various contractors without the involvement of a proper architect.  Type: Semi-detached house with floor-through (double orientation) living room, large (show-)windows without curtains to the street.    

In 1958 we moved from the centre of Amsterdam to East Groningen, the least populated part of the Netherlands. There, my father was issued a new post-war reconstruction house as part of his job when he became manager of the Groningen Dura-Duperfo steel factory. As an architect I later deployed their products in my buildings as balustrades and radiators. My mother’s career as talented Amsterdam interior designer ended abruptly with the move. After it she designed only the posters of the tennis club and decorated our house in a modern way—something between Sputnik and De Stijl—with furniture of her own creation, complimented by pieces from Alvar Aalto and an original prototype by Gerrit Rietveld. 1965–71 Hertenkampstraat 10, Veendam, Netherlands Year of construction: 1930 Quarter: Luxury villas and semi-detached houses in a “Garden City” with a deer-garden and duck-ponds.  Type: Semi-detached in the style of the Robie House or Prairie House by Frank Lloyd Wright, with slender window frames and broad white cantilevered cornices. These houses were built everywhere in the Netherlands throughout the 1930s, and have experienced a contemporary revival in the form of retro-styled garden cities.    

My mother is 95 and still lives in this house, while my father died at 88. Our children’s rooms are relatively intact, with posters of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Pretty Things still on the wall. My high school was four minutes away by foot, so I could stay in bed until the first bell and nevertheless be just in time in the classroom. Under the influence of the Zeitgeist the colour palette of my mother—and therefore our 218

Can you describe what the process of making this book has taught you?  It taught me that this book is only a start, a first step in a more comprehensive formulation of an urban design career or a life in urban design—my life. I explicitly don’t use the term “theory,” because I am unsure whether I am a person to formulate a theory—or whether it is even necessary to have a new theory on urbanisation at all. I see urbanisation in an empirical and pragmatic way. The process of the making of this book made me realise this is a first act of ordering my material and thoughts. Although obviously writing is more difficult for me than designing and communicating, I quite enjoyed making the book, because I didn’t feel pressed to do it; it was more a need that came forward out of myself.

What do you think you leave behind as your legacy? I leave behind an army of people that have been taught in our office and in our chair that process or practice or teach urban design. There is a common approach, which has had quite an impact on praxis and in general. The impact of that should not be underestimated; it is probably bigger than I even think myself. It is an undercurrent established in the field. Another important legacy aspect is the fact that I always supported and worked with the notion that a designer can be a strong designer without being an idiosyncratic designer. A designer can be a process-oriented person, a person that thinks more of society, of civilisation as being in a process of generation—and that this process can be influenced or guided through design. There’s also a consciousness of working with a notion of modesty, but at the same time a focus on being very strong in design. Before I was working as an urban designer, the majority of urban design was oriented more toward social geographers and planners, who are not generally trained in design. Or, on the other hand, it was very architecture


oriented and therefore there was little consciousness about the integrated societal and contextual framework in which urban design has to be done. As one with KCAP and former colleagues at ETH and ASTOC, or early OMA and others, I think our main merit and the main legacy of our work in urban design in the world is that we brought these two, planning science and architectural design, together into urban design as a sovereign discipline. Sometimes I sense that we are in the process of creating a new profession out of it. I’m actually quite satisfied with that. … And what comes next? What comes next is that the urban designer or the urban design discipline becomes a combination of design and science, an urban science with a clear design aspect. This profession could become one of the most important coordinators of planetary sustainability. In that sense urban science will be a discipline of paramount importance. The broad orientation of architects and urban designers, who are often able to moderate between many other disciplines, will be exponentially more strong and important in urban science. That’s a fantastic future—and an enormous challenge.


I see a lot of people who are trained as journalists, who are trying to do the same thing.3 So, I think it’s interesting to see that there seem to be different disciplines converging on how to bridge all the elements that go into one, it is to make urban spaces and to make cities, and to improve upon the cities that we have.  The thing is that everything focuses on urbanisation on the moment, because it’s the physical condensation of being and process, it’s the materialisation of human life. It’s


Jessica holds a diploma in Landscape Architecture from Harvard, but works as an urbanist, journalist and consultant, and often works with language and those who concern themselves with the city—and urban development and design.


true that at this moment journalism focuses on urbanism, consulting focuses on urbanism—I’m not talking about the traditional engineering consultants—but more about global management, financial and policy consultants. You can observe that politics is now also very strongly focused on urbanisation. Here I think for instance of the varied debate about the stock and flow of raw materials, which is informed by the climate and sustainability discourse… It’s fascinating to see how the UN view of urbanisation has changed, since the Habitat I conference in 1976 when the UN first came together to talk about urbanisation across agencies, member states and stakeholders. It’s gone from something that was seen as something that did not necessarily have positive connotations; then at Habitat III in 2016, urbanisation was seen as something that’s lifted a tremendous number of people out of poverty, and it’s seen as a force for good and for tackling climate change, I mean that’s a huge change and that’s happened over the course of your career.  Exactly. I recently was at the Urban Future Conference in Vienna, a substantial event that emerged out of the blue. It started in Graz a couple of years ago as a minor conference on smart cities and sustainability. The second one was a bit bigger, but it was still funded only by the city of Graz and the audience was still rather provincial. Now it’s the third one, and it was a huge event. It wasn’t the size of the World Cities Summit in Singapore, but it is on the way towards it. There were mayors and vice mayors of cities from around the continent, a lot of planners, university researchers on themes like water management, mobility—it was totally full, there were few architects, and the main topics were on urban science. That indicates a paradigm shift is happening. And I think I should not be too modest about the fact that I feel that my work has been instrumental in that shift starting… 254


Author Editor Assistant Editor Design Lithography Printing Publisher Typefaces Paper

Kees Christiaanse Jessica Bridger Joris Jehle SJG / Joost Grootens, Dimitri Jeannottat Marjeta Morinc NPN drukkers Marcel Witvoet, nai010 publishers Media77, Theinhardt and Theinhardt Compact (Optimo) Arcoprint Milk 85 gsm

This publication was made possible by financial support from ETH Zurich © 2018 nai010 publishers, Rotterdam. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed and bound in the Netherlands ISBN 978-94-6208-442-1 Also available as e-book (pdf) ISBN 978-94-6208-443-8

nai010 publishers is an internationally orientated publisher specialized in developing, producing and distributing books in the fields of architecture, urbanism, art and design.  nai010 books are available internationally at selected bookstores and from the following distribution partners:  North, Central and South America: Artbook | D.A.P., New York, USA,  Rest of the world: Idea Books, Amsterdam, the Netherlands,  For general questions, please contact nai010 publishers directly at or visit our website for further information.



ISBN 978-9-4620-8442-1

9 789462 084421

NAI010 PUBLISHERS 978-94-6208-442-1

Textbook spans thirty years of the well-known urban designer and architect Kees Christiaanse’s thinking about cities. He is responsible for large urban projects such as Hamburg HafenCity, Rotterdam’s waterfront revitalization and London’s Olympic Legacy Plan. Christiaanse has been one of the field’s most influential forces over the last half-century, building a career of research and teaching in combination with substantial professional practice and advisory roles. The texts range from charting the personal influence of the bicycle on his thinking about future mobility to the examination of dominant concepts and projects in the contemporary built environment. Christiaanse’s sketches, personal notebook pages, and watercolours complement this unique collection.


TEXTBOOK Kees Christiaanse  

Textbook spans thirty years of the well-known urban designer and architect Kees Christiaanse’s thinking about cities. The texts range from c...

TEXTBOOK Kees Christiaanse  

Textbook spans thirty years of the well-known urban designer and architect Kees Christiaanse’s thinking about cities. The texts range from c...