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CONTENTS   4 SITES  

SILO

  TETTERODE   DE LOODS   EDELWEIS   APPENDICES   NOTES   SUB-SITES

BOOK:  DAVID CARR-SMITH  -  IMPROVISED ARCHITECTURE IN AMSTERDAM INDUSTRIAL SQUATS & COLLECTIVES

BOOK INTRODUCTION - THE 4 SITES 

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MOTTO  
SYNOPSIS 

BOOK INTRO part 1 - IMPROVISATION, OR ART, OR KITSCH  
BOOK INTRO part 2 - AMSTERDAM'S SQUATS & COLLECTIVES
BOOK INTRO part 3 - FOUR SITES OF IMPROVISED ARCHITECTURE

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MOTTO

"Designer ! - if you need something, enable it to become real in as many centres of human functioning as you can, only then will it be truly economic - all necessities should be fulfilled as wonderfully as possible."

"If the definition of 'Needs' was based on the techniques of experiential actualising and on the value 'Do work in order to realise', then both the 'artistic' and the 'practical' would be seen to extend across the whole range of forming from the most physical to the most intangible. And certain innate experiential qualities: attention, insight, beauty, wonder, joy - usually denied formulation in 'pragmatic' solutions except as sentimental embellishments - would be physically actualised as aspects of the 'necessity' of such forms, and as significant components of (even) data-structures."

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SYNOPSIS 

Inside Amsterdam’s industrial squats and collectives are some of the largest and most complex ‘peoples design initiatives’ in urban Europe. These abandoned factories and dockland buildings host an astonishingly rich variety of self-invented domestic and 'live-work' architecture: apartments, workshops and even whole houses are built inside their huge and simple or labyrinthine spaces, their familiar domestic provisions bizarrely confronting redundant industrial structures. Improvised from the detritus of their sites and the surrounding city they develop from simple plastic-screened encampments to elaborate family homes.

The surprising opportunities and demands of the industrial sites challenge domestic conceptions and compel their users to invent expedients unrestricted by mass-taste, ready-made products, or design-training. The results demonstrate a mode of design rare in our culture, a kind of accretive forming of an individual’s needs on all levels from the shape of their home-enclosure to the casual positioning of their coffee cup. In consequence of their mode of growth such apartments often display an extraordinary and characteristic beauty: a degree of integration and visual interrelation, a formal and functional unity of structure and use, a completeness and complexity of conception, necessarily beyond the scope of those designed for clients.

They reveal the variety of a modern urban-vernacular based on re-cycling of rich-city refuse, improvisational intelligence, and individualistic self-interest enabled and sustained by collective co-operation.
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                THE 4 SITES: Clockwise - SILO / TETTERODE / DE LOODS / EDELWEIS
                (pics 1994/95)
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     THE 4 SITES' LOCATIONS
     (map [www.falk.nl] c1994)

     [Click on pic to enlarge]

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BOOK INTRO - part 1:  REALISING ONES HOME VIA IMPROVISATION, OR ART, OR KITSCH

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AMSTERDAM'S SQUATS AND COLLECTIVES 

Amsterdam's industrial squats and collectives may well be the largest and most ambitious 'peoples design initiatives' in modern Europe - huge social, economic and creative interventions collaged into the city's impersonal fabric.

They necessarily [1] (alas!) originate on the fringe of legality, outside 'normal behavior', worryingly 'anarchic' - as social aberrations within the well-regulated, well-behaved, gainfully-employed city life. Indeed, transforming usless hulks into practical, social, cultural generators [2] requires an investment of energy: moral, mental and physical; and an exercise of virtue: daring, persistence, vision, hard-work, and self-reliance, well beyond the spare resources of commuters or depressed unemployed.

The struggle to save the mortgage, to retain ones unit place in the city hive, is incommensurate with prizing open a huge forbidding hulk of industrial building, cooperating with others to secure and sustain it, clearing tons of rubbish, forming the very shape of ones private space within it from scrapped materials and demolished houses, utilizing the detritus of the surrounding city for structures and furnishings, cutting and welding abandoned machines into fires and fittings; adapting ones life and experiences to these most undomestic of interiors, the bleak, huge or tortuous spaces of factories: 'les maisons qui sont des machines inhabitables!'

NOTES:

  1. This "necessarily" is 'double-edged': squatting is necessarily illegal in a situation where every city site is already owned and convertable into/via money; however this very illegality is 'necessary' in the sense that the energy that empowers these originations (at least in their early stages) would not be of the same quality of innovative vigor if they were legal. The 'familiar', the 'denying factor' in the creative process - against which the quality of innovation must be measured - would not be so sharply focussed. 

  2. Of the four sites shown in this book the most obvious example of such value-enhancement is the development of TETTERODE SQUAT/COLLECTIVE from abandoned factory to a city nexus of homes and small business enterprises. [Ref: TETTERODE - p1: INTRODUCTION]

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IMPROVISATION, ART, KITSCH 

We seldom have the opportunity to see significantly large complex examples of objects made in a way that is alternative to either art/design, or kitsch [1]. 

Improvised (Latin: 'unforeseen') objects have the immediacy of events - at the scale of whole living places they can be overwhelmingly present, active, and rich in associations [1]. This sense of 'immediacy' is also an aspect of realized architecture/art works whose 'presence' manifests their maker's experience of the advent of their discovery. I am not claiming for these improvisations the status of resolved innovations - they fulfill provisional and personal needs rather than working to transcend them, and thus lack the scope of art's transformative potential. However they do occupy the same 'working spectrum'; they are experientially active - like innovative works they actualize content, mediate attention, confront as events - even the most humble or slight of them has/is an experiential presence ... an architecture that simply illustrates ideas of quality is kitsch [2] and however aesthetic and expensive can make no such direct claim. 

From the professional designer's point of view (designing for others) improvisation is a design-process tool: all the 'try-outs' short of serious attempts at the solution; stabs against dullness and habit, attempts to 'stimulate originality'. It cannot define a repeatable product - from the point of view of someone designing for production improvisational results are completely provisional.

NOTES :

  1. Improvised objects are rare in commercially dominated ('developed-western') cultures; architectural scale group/individual initiatives are anathma in such complex/controlled societies, and personal ad hoc improvsations (tools, etc.) have the quaintness of 'poverty' or 'ethnic-craft'. 
    Public displays of practical improvised products are confined in museums; tolerated as one-off short events; stored and purveyed via info-media (whereby they can be experienced vicariously and physically unobtrusively); or allowed in a few designated spaces on 'marginal' city sites where, for instance skate-boarders may build ramps or gardening enthusiasts may rent 'allotments' and (as long as they dont live in them) make architectural improvisations up to the scale and complexity-level of tool-huts and potting-sheds [Re: ALLOTMENT IMPROVISATIONS].
    If they are sufficiently unpractical, 'officially-unsolicited' architectural-scale improvisations may become defined as 'art', however - only a few famous 'follies' have became protected 'monuments' quicker than they could be officially destroyed (the Watts Towers, etc.).
    Improvising an allotment hut (under a mantle of 'practicality') is for most the summit of legal public architectural creativity. All the rest - the mostly hidden architectural works of squatter-collectives; the public but ephemeral proto-homes of 'rough-sleepers', the adornments of graffiti - is unseen, unregarded, and/or illegal.

  2. Kitsch objects pretend to actualise experiences - instead however, via mass-mnemonic stereotypes, they convey mere ideas of content. Kitsch attempts to mimic art's resolution by dumping its disparate quotations into a 'unifying container', such as some overriding style-quote that distracts from the muddle, or it adopts visual cleanness and clarity that in the language of mass-mnemonics signifies 'origination' and 'unity'. These are comfortable substitutes for the disconcerting strangeness and presence of innovated solutions and the 'insecurity' of provisional improvisations!

  3. Note however - if such an impulsive, provisional action is 'fixed', preserved, copied, it becomes kitsch - as does any unresolved work that pretends definitiveness (which defines much so-called "Art" and "Design"!).

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IMPROVISATION AND ARCHITECTURE

The improvised objects shown in this book are of a scale, complexity and crucial usefulness that challenges description/catagorisation. Though, like traditional art-works, they are personal and directly expressive of the individuals who made them, to a degree that only hand-made objects can be, they are compelled at the same time to be seriously practical, encompassing the necessities as well as luxuries of a functioning living-place.

However they cannot be adequately described in terms applied to finished/provided Architecture [1]. Firstly their experiential vitality results from the immediacy of provisional solutions. Secondly their formal aesthetic unity is not a discovered result, but a correlate of the accumulated expressions of a person's ongoing living-needs, which in these circumstances of relative isolation from mass-taste or design-training, form harmonious patterns of astonishing completeness - the resultants of all the practical and mutually modifying acts of convenience, of doing/making from building the walls to dropping a cig-end - a comprehensiveness of unity (though of course not of originality) that inevitably transcends provided architecture [2]. Thirdly, they are adaptations to/of environments whose pre-defined, sometimes bizarre characteristics hardly ever constructively engage professional architects [3]: indeed they focus that aspect of architectural content 'the relation of the building to its site' at an extreme and crucial level: a relation of physical dependency, yet in other respects of a surreal discontinuity [4].

NOTES :

  1. However there is a mode of architecture which could be called 'Temporary-Architecture' that is intermediate between self-initiated pragmatic-improvisation and provisions designed for strangers or finished art [ref: TEMPORARY-ARCHITECTURE].

  2. Even the architecture of such a genius of relational-complexity as Gaudi cannot include thoughtless informality!  When photographing a Mila courtyard I felt compelled to remove a sweet-paper dropped by a tourist, it so intrusively disrupted the complex vast design ... in the Silo however I would step gingerly over fluffballs, afraid to move a detail of/in the harmonious completeness of the place. Unlike a resolved art-work an improvised environment is in a state of change or potential change, it is a temporal cross section - the problem with my moving a fluffball is that my action would not be 'innocent' - the only way to preserve such an environment is to use it, but in a visually unconscious practical way - anyone who is visually-aesthetically aware will make qualitative visual choices when they add or reposition an object and such aesthetically considerate acts will destroy its relational completeness as surely as unconscious littering in a Gaudi.

  3. The usual way of changing the function of a recalcitrant building is to gut it and treat the shell as external decor (as the proposed Graan-Silo conversion intends [ref: APPENDIX 3]). An architectural example of expressed reciprocation between the subject-matter innate to an industrial site and that proper to an imported function is Ricado Bofill's dramatic cement-factory conversion ("La Fabrica", Avenida de la Industria, Sant Just Desvern, Barcelona - 1973-75) [ref: APPENDIX 5].

  4. The confrontive shock of discontinuity forced into a unity of reciprocal significence is experientially similiar to the perceptually shocking conjunction of mental meaning and physical object that was presented in the form of "tableau-objects" collages by Picasso/Braque from 1911 (subsumed under the pretentious/silly title of 'Synthetic-Cubism') and via later developments of this experiential potential by Max Ernst et al [ref: 'CUBIST'-COLLAGE].

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THE STATUS AND 'INVISIBILITY' OF IMPROVISATION

In the 'product-consumption' based cities of northern Europe improvisation is a very rare mode of actualizing/achieving/acquiring major objects [1]. The sites examined here are rich-city versions of impoverished 'shanty-towns': no less inventive and pragmatic, but able in their lavish environment to realize a wider portion of the spectrum of living, a more complex functionality and self expression ... however, as 'products of the people' they share their lack of status.

Indeed, these wonderful and rare objects of great social/experiential potential and cultural significance can be destroyed without being seen, recorded, regarded because they occupy a category that is assigned no public value. The 'personal work' of untrained anybodies ('us') has no public status beyond hobby, eccentricity, self-indulgence, or 'criminal damage'. The opinion that any productive nobody who succeeds in working/making for themself outside the bondage of mass-endorsement and the pathetic toadyings of taste is inherently a sophisticated realiser of practical beauty, intelligence, and joy, seems absurd in a culture that defines significant personal inventions as 'Art' or 'Craft' and perceives 'Design' as 'professional'.

Their own makers rarely indicate an awareness of the beauty and experiential power of their works; they seem not to realise that they surpass the petty indulgence of much so-called "Art" and "Architecture" whose objects are however ratified by inclusion in publicly acknowledged categories. Though the domesticators of these huge monuments are obviously proud of their achievements it seems they rarely see the quality of what they've made. This 'blindness'/unselfconsciousness is however probably necessary if the directness of action and consequent experiential vitality essential to such works is to be sustained.

No one has been told to value them and few seem to wonder what's inside these huge 'Squat-Castles'; palaces for the realization of individuals dreams: not in the manner of those often limp 'Art-Installations' that decor abandoned buildings, but with the rigor that requires solutions measured by the reality of living in them ... by the personal necessities of Home.

In spite of their physical bulk, their city-center locations and (sometimes) longevity, their fame and status as the live achievements of a mass social movement; in spite of containing sophisticated elaborate in-progress examples of a 'school' of modern urban vernacular architecture - these extraordinary sites have been almost completely ignored by professional noticers and analysts: designers, architects, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, city-planners: none seem to have been professionally moved by the quality of their beauty and productive vigor [2] ... why they have remained 'invisible' for so long is itself a subject for study!

NOTE :

  1. [In fact this 'book' is the first comprehensive visual-textual recording of these places - motivated by astonishment at their beauty and experiential richness.]

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ONESELF AS ONE'S LIVING-SPACE  

The initiatives whose products are depicted in this book are of a type scope and potential that is commensurate with the city - neither isolated colonies of 'alternative living' (like the squatted village Ruigort and its neighbouring encampment [1]), nor diversions within the mass-mediated tribal life of urban-suburbia (like 'eccentric' hobbies or clubs) - they demonstrate, with an energy and scale of achievement that should be impossible to ignore, an alternative and complement to the system of 'passive' consumption and production of resources directed not by their users but by manufacturers, marketers, financiers, and 'elected' officials. 

The mass-market mass-taste home is a ready-made mould which limits behaviour to/via certain distilled symbolic 'spiritualized' forms, whose signs and significances constrain the practice of common domestic living, burdening us with the stress of distorting and trimming our individual needs to fulfill these social endorsements (and of pretending satisfaction because they've cost money and considered choice!) [2]. These environments not only fail to fit individuals' needs, but are more mental than practical [3]: their representations have been generalised and socially averaged by the collective media, marketing and manufacturing [4], with their need to sell at maximum cost that cheapest of commodities: mnemonics of value rather than its substance, since the latter either depends from riches or issues from that least generalised of activities: invention/discovery!

To separate oneself from the drudgery of conformity to the urban majority by ones own initiative is to realise a vector of freedom in ones being. To prove - by actualising no less a fundamental than ones own living-space including finding or making its material means, that one can exercise this dimension of freedom constructively, that furthermore ones products and those of ones companions are naturally beautiful, apt and sufficient, intelligent and not wasteful; that a (if not the) normal human state is one of expressive innovation [5]; further that each person's home can be an image of their self, realised in reciprocation with the experiential/expressive potentials of a place, that it need not resemble any other (as it competitively must in 'suburbia'); finally that 'self-indulgence' is not necessarily incompatible with actualising social/collective resources - effectively reclaims a large and important portion of the city's mass-culture back into the domain of citizens' personal initiatives [6].

So - insulated by choice from mass-behavior/taste, with 'creativity' relatively released and no constraints on satisfying their needs but the invention-stimulating problems of their environment and their own resources of intelligence and work - they inevitably form around themselves a very economical and precise embodiment of the pattern of their lives; a living-place that includes the satisfaction and understanding of inventing and finding its means!

NOTES:

  1. Ruigort, about 15km WWN of Amsterdam Central Station.

  2. [For a short account of such mass-market mass-taste homes ref: "HOME"]

  3. Except with respect to 'comfort of the body when in repose': of all the kitsch-home's 'furniture-tools', beds are probably the best engineered for practical functioning (for inducing and prolonging sleep!).

  4. Mass-market/mass-taste product-lines are necessarily limited on the basis of manufacturing ease, publicisable styles, and profitability - abstracted from within the unknown limits and infinite graduations of personally expressed needs. This is the gravity of 'consumer-society': once clumping starts it's self-increasing - except in so far as lines are proliferated or held apart by marketing considerations (competition, maximise novelty, etc.).

  5. Our basic resource is pragmatic innovation/actualising of needs ranging from the most banally practical to the most sublimely insightful and significant - this of course includes designing for machine production when the design process is not diverted into stuffing kitsch 'meanings'. 

  6. The environments illustrated in this book are ongoing (albeit somewhat partial and extreme) experiments in a more experience-based, less consumption-based (market-directed) urban living.

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DEGENERATION OF IMPROVISATION INTO KITSCH

When the 'necessity' stage has passed and practical living conditions are more or less reliably established there often begins a process of improvement: clarification, refinement, and the opening of increasingly subtle 'levels' of needs: of meaning and aesthetics ... (which are only expressed as specialised quests in the homes of the relatively wealthy of this planet - for the majority, available only via voyeurism or the natural 'Arcadia').

At this 'stage 2' in the development of a living-space, a subtle form of qualitative decay often ensues. To stay 'within' the ongoing experience of the forming content, not to see the work 'from outside' and resort to socially available taste-solutions [1], is a problem for its maker, and this 'art-work' is more often than not short-circuited and instead of realising actual experiences many simply substitute socially recognised signs for origination and resolution [2].

NOTES:

  1. Note the consequences when someone becomes 'self-conscious' and their real-time sensations are encumbered with externally sourced taste and diverted into style-modeling. [Re: TETTERODE ... in prep].

  2. For instance: visually-clarifying objects and visually-simplifying patterns of order (and thus limiting the complexity and/or continuity of activities!). Note that visual clarity is a mass-mnemonic for 'newness' and 'finish', further that newness refers to 'origination', finish to 'resolution'.]

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BOOK INTRO - part 2:  AMSTERDAM'S SQUATS AND COLLECTIVES  

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QUALITY-ENABLING CONDITIONS 
[Written around mid 1995]

There are probably five more or less local elements enabling/sustaining the high level of development of this Amsterdam improvised architecture:

1.  City tolerance
2.  Rich-city waste
3.  Dutch culture
4.  Legality of squatting
5.  Social-Security payments

1.  City tolerance:
To an unusual extent this wonderful city has been allowed to nurture and value what in most others is unregarded or destroyed by 'authorities': the unsolicited works and participation of citizens. One of its greatest civic achievements (albeit an unconscious one - based not on appreciation of the results [1] but rather resulting from a social value of inclusiveness and a political strategy of negotiation) is its tolerance of citizens' environmental-initiatives [2]: the grandest those of 'squatters', who have been responsible for the development of a magnificently resourceful and economic, socially and aesthetically sophisticated urban-vernacular architecture.

2.  Rich-city waste:
(1) the abandoned buildings themselves and their resources of mechanisms and materials. 
(2) the continual release of raw building materials and components: [a] through city-wide demolition of sinking structures, especially 19thC and early 20thC apartment houses (joists, windows, floor timber, etc., mostly of 'domestic' scale and thus frequently used in internal apt building); [b] widespread renovations of institutional buildings yielding large windows, RSJs, etc.. 
(3) especially important for furnishings, fittings, appliances: the bounty of a city burdened by the flatulence of over-consumed goods, which allows itself the relief of belching the excess onto its pavements twice a week. 

3.  Dutch 'cultural elements':
The most obvious is a combination of pragmatic values with sensation-informed intelligence, and an apparently innate ('cultural') ability to perceive spatially and thus an apparently automatic ability to spatially organise. Why is this?: 'artificial' land structured from its inception whose very being is spatially defined; flatland on which structures are not only seen as solid in themselves but spatially related; boat-design and living onboard: an essential training in spatial economics: in 3-D visualising of close packing and everyday moving about (in a much more dimensionally crucial situation than a house). It appears clearly in some De Stijl and Rietveld objects, is obvious in beautiful recent buildings that continue to display the same pragmatic economy and sensation-informed intelligence as their 300 year old neighbors [3]. It is discernible not only in the most realised works but also manifests in consumer products, info signs, motorway lamps, and not least in vernacular products: gardens, graffiti, the interiors of peoples flats, and of course those large-scale alternatives to 'intentional' architecture: the 'real-time' improvisations in the great squats and collectives.

4.  Legality (and history): [Re: APPENDIX 1]

NOTES :

  1. That was written around mid 1995 - my scepticism was tragically 'well-founded': it's now 2006 and the Amsterdam city 'authorities' seem to have dumped this humane value and 'sold' the city to 'developers'. Many of its citizens' initiatives - which made the central city so personal relaxing and attractive, have been destroyed, paved-over, and are being replaced by buildings and environment of an ethos and standard of design that is fortunately extinct in many European centres! [Re: APPENDIX 2-2]

  2. [Contrast the following c1995 observation with NOTE-1 above]
    An aspect of Dutch humanism expressed in this city is the wonderful informality of citizens' domestic-scale-initiatives in what is usually known as 'the public realm'. This is a city where houseboat dwellers spread onto the pavement and cultivate it over many years of careful planting and complexifying: adding seats and a table, fence it round with rustic wood or even high wire; stealing a patch from the empty because 'public' no-ones space (in fact the 'private' realm of planning committees) [Re: APPENDIX 2-1]
    These 'initiatives arising directly from personal need', add not only beauty, but that essential contribution to the shared domain: the vital sense of individuals' expressed presence - completing the range of a city's public provisions from the grandest: engineering/civic/financial; through the range of commerce and public pleasures; to the justification and underpinning of the whole edifice: this enabling of individuals' initiatives for themselves. Far from being theft of 'my public space' these garden-plots enable me to share a participation in its use that is never conveyed by plots 'properly assigned': the rows of "private-gardens" boxed beside suburban streets. How different these Amsterdam individual initiatives are from the british suburban rows of assigned boxed patches, one before each house (whether wanted or not: most expressing the embarrassment of stage-fright, the strained pretensions of ego, or neglect and guilt) - the street's edge is defined by this row of 'food dribbled house-bibs': the allowed degree of intrusion of the 'child' on the space of 'authority'; exhibited-privacy: a painful lobotomy-scar signalling, not so much compromise as a suppressed impedance of initiatives [Re: PICs ... in prep].

  3. Examples in the late 1970s and the '80s: Aldo van Eyck's Hubertus Huis, the "Pentagon" flats of Theo Bosch, the domestic 'infill' buildings and factory-conversions of Hermann Zienstra, Budding and Wilke, Fenna Oorthuis, Sjoert Soeters, Jan Arie Broersma. [Re: APPENDIX 4]

BOOK INTRO - part 3THE 4 SITES 

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FOUR SITES OF IMPROVISED ARCHITECTURE

"GRAIN SILO" SQUAT - WESTERDOKSDIJK: grain-storage silo.  
"TETTERODE" SQUAT / COLLECTIVE - DA COSTAKADE & BILDERDIJKSTRAAT
: factory for making printing-type.  
"DE LOODS-WESTERDOK" SQUAT- WESTERDOKSDIJK & WESTERDOK: commercial warehouse, its quay and dock.  
"EDELWEIS" SQUAT / COLLECTIVE - KNSM EILAND: dock-workers' restaurant and theatre.  

Those who choose these industrial sites to live in (rather than squatting ready-made housing) are undertaking a very comprehensive self-provision, physically and socially - presumably strongly motivated by the impulse to realise a unique life in the acts of forming that fundamental expression of existence: ones living-place/home [1]. In the all too consumer-bountiful urban context this experience can be focussed by making ones 'shanty' on plots of 'abandoned' land [2] ('fragments of countryside in the city' - eg: DE LOODS-WESTERDOK quay houses) or using buildings that oppose or do nothing to convey mass-conceptions of 'home' - which simply isolate a space in which to form ones own, or which provide the stimulus of unimagined possibilities and problems [3].

Shown here are four sites that had nothing to do with domesticity and thus challenged the invention and resourcefulness of their occupiers on all levels more specific than that of shelter and (usually) floor-support. Except for debris and rubbish, and in situ structures and service-connections, they were found stripped of furniture, machines and installations (except the incompletely emptied SILO). 

All four now display architecturally dramatic confrontations between the original building and the invasive improvisations; between professional design expertise and personal ad hoc inventiveness; between the simple forms of the host buildings and the inherent complexity of dwelling places.

The different characteristics of the sites conjoined with opportunistic individualism has ensured living-space formations of great diversity - tempered however by common contextual conditions: 1: the most available materials (the most frequent types of skipped building-debris and the cheapest basic construction products); 2: the ubiquitous Dutch tradition of commonsense space-design; 3: the accumulated crafts and pooled experience of the 'squatting movement'.

The different ages of the occupations provide developmental cross-sections. The clearest comparison is between the SILO and TETTERODE: the youthful vitality of the five year old SILO squat's magnificently resourceful transformations of inhospitable environments and scrapped machinery, and elaborately designed 'yuppie' apts in the secure and sophisticated 26 year old TETTERODE Collective.

Their different originations and subsequent histories reveal themselves in contrasts such as that between DE LOODS-WESTERDOK's unorganised diverse accretions and the synchronised administration and design assurance of the EDELWEIS artist-group.   

NOTES:

  1. Of course these industrial sites, with their large open floors and huge windows, also attracted those needing work-spaces (usually artists). The most extreme were EDELWEIS and TETTERODE's Daostakade buildings - both initially almost exclusively studios, most of which later became or included homes.

  2. City 'waste'-lands (eg: the large improvised village at Gargoyle Wharf, Wandsworth, London, 1996 [Re: IMPROVISED VILLAGES]), or more isolated sites (eg: Ruigord village about 12.5km WWN of A'dam centre), support self-made dwellings from 'benders' to 'shanties' to large communial structures - their elaboration proportionate to availability of construction materials.

  3. Eg: Milou [SILO - GR-FLOOR SOUTH] chose a difficult apt building site, saying of an already 'domesticated' option: "... it's not enough of a challenge ...".

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THE FOUR BUILDINGS: SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

The host buildings represent 4 very different physical environments - each subjecting the formation of living-spaces to different limitations and opening different possibilities.

GRAIN SILO

On the site are two connected grain silos - huge single envelopes, enclosing complex arrangements of volumes dedicated to the intake storage and re-distribution of grains, and the inevitable processing (drying, de-bugging, etc.) associated with this simple industrial function. Only the older building is significantly occupied - its domestically usable space (found cluttered, and in two locations almost filled, with machines and installations) is around the periphery of the central grain-storage cavities - now a strangely shaped apartment-edged route of 'streets', stairs, and galleries.

"TETTERODE" FACTORY

A multi-building complex surrounding a courtyard. Low workshops and two huge blocks, conventionally divided into layers of large open floors, which easily lent themselves to apt building and studio use. The whole site is now multiply sub-divided and densely occupied and used.

"EDELWELS" DOCK WORKERS' RESTAURANT/THEATRE

Apart from the foyer/stair, kitchen and back-stage rooms, Edelweis was a single glass-walled rectangular space sandwiched between concrete floor and roof - the whole long box raised on rows of girder legs. Squatted for studio-space by an artist-group who later bought, renovated, and segmented it into 8 separate studio-dwellings.

DE LOODS-WESTERDOK COMPLEX

A linear, warehouse-shed whose facades are loading-doors - with a customs-office and a workers-house inserted into its length - fronted by a wide quay and once-busy dock, and backed by a road and railway. A site of piecemeal squatting by boats, caravans, improvised houses, centered on the shed with its interior of improvised dwellings and workshops.

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THE FOUR OCCUPIED SITES: SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

The four occupied sites can be categorised as two types, which may be termed 'Castles' and 'Row-Houses'.

SILO AND TETTERODE: 'CASTLES'

Though the two 'factory' sites, the SILO and TETTERODE, are topographically very different - the SILO a linear edge-hugging sequence of different 'mini-regions', and TETTERODE mostly neatly stacked floors of cubic spaces - they both resemble great castles revealing almost nothing of the riches inside their outer walls.

Because their apts and work-spaces are accessed from within - opening into internal routes leading to perimeter exits/entrances (always locked!) - their host buildings retain (to some extent) their own interiors and thus some of their innate identity (enhanced in the SILO by the intruding ruins of machines).

When living in these 'Castles' I could not help identifying the whole building as 'my safe-haven' ... when penetrating its perimeter and entering its secure interior: with unlocking 'my front-door' and 'coming home'. Even huge dispersed TETTERODE, where one knew few residents and saw more locked doors than apts, seemed - inside its locked perimeter - a single extended 'home' around my 'own (private) apt'. The 'Row-Houses' are different because each apt opens directly to the outside, and thus the building that contains it has no clear identity as 'safe-haven', except externally as a recognised location.

The SILO and TETTERODE (especially the SILO) are experienced as more than 'adaptations to another use' - unlike DE LOODS and EDELWEIS one can enter and explore them as independent buildings - they convey the pathos of huge 'primitive' constructions unable to resist an invasion by physically weaker yet functionally far more articulate needs!

EDELWEIS AND DE LOODS: 'ROW-HOUSES'

The two industrial-service sites EDELWEIS and DE LOODS are a type of that lends itself to 'row-housing': both (almost) singular volumes, long and relatively narrow, prompting division into a line of units (homes or studio-workshops) each with its own exit/entry directly to the outside. The buildings' simple-container forms had fitted their original functions and their character as buildings was animated by use - thus divided they now convey little of these purposes.

DE LOODS was immediately suitable for 'row-housing' - there was no problem of access to its dwellings, its big facade-doors could be filled with individual house-fronts - only the shed's piecemeal occupation and the squat's consequent lack of consensus prevented a planned division of its spaces. However, though EDELWEIS's occupiers coherently divided it, the building - raised on legs with entrances only at its ends - posed a problem for multiple access and the eight new living-spaces required a row of six stairs up through its floor.

There is now no part of the internal volume of EDELWEIS that is not inside one of its separate living-spaces. DE LOODS is less pure: undifferentiated portions used as workshops (and even as yet unsquatted) remind one of its warehouse origin [1].

Seen as whole sites EDELWEIS and DE LOODS differ. Raised on its pillars the EDELWEIS occupation seems isolated inside its building - indeed since its incorporation in a new housing-district even the space beneath it (once junk, bikes and chickens) is alienated, continuous with the public pavement and vulnerable to KNSM's new inhabitants. The squatted site of DE LOODS however is more than its 'shed' (the 'Loods') - the building is the principal and binding feature in a context of loosely meshed environments (which deserve a more inclusive name: "DE LOODS-WESTERDOK").

NOTE:

  1. It even has one living-place [EELCO LEEMAN] whose entry-facade is inside - approached through a workshop and thus perceived as contained in the shed - affording each an active identity and role. In the 'Castles' such reciprocation of site and occupation is the norm (at dramatic maximum in the SILO!).

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HOUSES' OR 'APARTMENTS'

In DE LOODS the dwellings were conceived independently of their neighbors and thus resemble separate 'houses' far more than those of EDELWEIS whose social identity as a shared project precisely balances and is probably sustained by its members' separation into 'house' units. EDELWEIS is a 'collective-housing experiment', DE LOODS a 'fragment of individualistic rambling pre-speculator proto-suburbia'.

The dwellings in the two big 'Castles' cannot be described as 'houses' - there, grouped in TETTERODE's enclaves or in the SILO's specialised locations, the dwellings have grown embedded in a situation of shared facilities and place - they have more the character of 'Apartments' or even simply 'Rooms': glorified 'Bed-Sits'. Even when independent of communal services it is as impossible for these apts to become 'Houses' as flats in a tower-block. They open onto shared routes through the huge buildings - outside ones private door one is still inside the social 'collective' and its physical boundary, sharing its origin, history, ethos, and space.

In the SILO the bonding into enclaves and within the whole site is more psychologically and typologically//locationally rather than physically//locationally defined. The character of the different locations within the SILO are so distinct and the choices of apt site so free there must have been reciprocation between place and individual psyche: each location chosen as a subjectively-compatible 'homeland' by those who live there - sharing a place that could be said to have 'chosen its own inhabitants'. With less 'Vereniging' than TETTERODE but with a building whose gestalt is so powerful that it almost overpowers individuality ... those who made the great SILO 'Castle' habitable are bound together by their shared will and work, let alone the shared identity conferred on its inhabitants by its own unique and awesome identity as a place.

The coherence of TETTERODE is more subtle, the site is broken into two big parallel apartment blocks. Looking however across the beautiful inner courtyard glimpsing life and inventions in the opposite rooms binds one into a sense of sharing this marvelous site, even if there are locations one never visits and people one hardly recognizes. The apts that face out into the surrounding streets, give one a sense of being part of an inner community 'at ones back' (supported by a familiarity with ones floor enclave) - an identity formed in contrast to the 'without' rather than an identity spread 'within'.

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SEEN FROM OUTSIDE - SITES OF 'DOMESTICITY' ?

Homes interface private with public space via windows, 'styled' facades, 'front-gardens' or if its face is on the street the reddened lip of step. In mass-housing schemes the transition is via 'collective features': murals, 'landscaping', play-areas, 'art', seats, gateways and notice-boards - the transit is graded and signaled.

TETTERODE interfaces with the street through its rows of apartment windows and dissolves its boundary with its commercial street-front of shops, cafe, club, etc.. EDELWEIS looks like one of its spanking new mass-housing-locality's 'design features': a 'domestically-themed sculpture'! DE LOODS charmingly spreads itself via gardens and wild flowers, swings, wood-piles and sitting-places, across the cobbled public path to its skirt of water-fringing living-boats - inventing a transitional form neither 'waste-land' nor garden/park, imported from the farm: a fragment of urban countryside. The SILO simply dominates its locality like a monument.

Of the 4 sites the SILO is by far the most alien with regard to domestic expectations - it looks uninhabitable. The looming blank metal-studded walls convey an inner form that is not for humans. Knowing it's inhabited provokes childhood myths: whose home could it possibly be? - the habitation of a single giant?; the palace of the million-homunculi?; a castle of mad inventors? (or whatever symbol of the hidden live subconscious arises in its incredulous spectator). Noticing the great walls are topped with thin lines of home-made windows and footed with welded and painted vehicles and little social places made from scrap, shifts fantasies into apocalyptic fiction!  In contrast, EDELWEIS looks like an eccentric way of packaging luxury living-spaces or an aspiration-incentive: a demo of attainment-goals for the packaged residents of the surrounding mass-housing. TETTERODE resembles a never-quite-completed scheme of apartment blocks. DE LOODS-WESTERDOK looks almost what it is: an opportunistic mix of hippie-camp, squatter homes and workshop enterprises - though its exterior shabbiness and surrounding muddle belie the sophistication of some of its contained homes (one can never predict the quality of individual's works from the standards of shared exterior maintenance!).

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THE BUILDINGS - 'OFFICIALLY RECOGNISED QUALITY ARCHITECTURE'

The buildings themselves are notable in the sense that three have gained some degree of 'official' recognition and protection as 'monuments'. The SILO, too young (design: 1896) to gain full 'industrial architecture' status is provisionally listed. TETTERODE's 1949 Merkelbach building is noted as an example of International Modern or more precisely 'Nieuwe Zakelijkheid' ('new-objectivity'). EDELWEIS was saved amidst the destruction of the eastern docks by the Council's recognition of it as a rare good example of late 1950's industrial-aesthetic.

Note by the way the typically kitsch bias: the experiential/cultural/design value of the unique improvisations inside the buildings, 'works of the nameless' are invisible to officials/professionals: totally eclipsed by their containers which are endorsed by mass-categories such as 'Architecture' / 'History' / 'Monument'.


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CONTENTS   4 SITES  

SILO

  TETTERODE   DE LOODS   EDELWEIS   APPENDICES   NOTES   SUB-SITES

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