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Grote Bickersstraat

Amsterdam

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Housing Development Westerdokstrook / Bickerseiland

From the 1950s onwards, several neighbourhoods in Amsterdam are in urgent need of renewal; plans for their redevelopment are presented to the state in the context of the Redevelopment Act. Bickerseiland is one such location.

A considerable portion of the island is demolished around 1960. Four large office blocks are scheduled to be built. The first, known as ‘De Walvis’ is completed in 1964. However, when work begins on the second block of offices, the ‘Narwal’, the local residents, who have banded together to form an action committee, the Actiecomité Westelijke Eilanden, fight to retain the original character of Bickerseiland. They insist that it must be a mixture of residential and office building, all low-rise.

It is one of the first residents’ action groups in the Netherlands to resist the local council’s plans for large scale urban redevelopment based on notions of the ‘functional city’. Starting in 1970, Paul de Ley and Jouke van den Bout, who are then students at the Academie van Bouwkunst in Amsterdam, work with local people to design a new zoning plan. The zoning plan valid at the time dates from 1953 and aims to prioritise offices and car access in the inner city, to the detriment of the old residential areas. The people of Bickerseiland vehemently resist the plans to demolish their homes and argue strenuously for the renovation and improvement of their neighbourhood.

However, they are unable to prevent work starting on the Narwal (designed by the firm of architects Zanstra, Gmelig Meyling, De Clerq Zubli). The residents feel betrayed by their ‘red’ city councillor Han Lammers, in whom they had placed their confidence. The residents and De Ley and Van den Bout join forces and come up with a plan of their own. This leads to changing the zoning plan in 1972. The neighbourhood is given back its combined residential/commercial function. It is the first tangible result of local people coming together to fight the advancing urbanisation policy.

Given that the land on Bickerseiland was in private hands, the municipality is pushed to purchase the land for the construction of social housing. Paul De Ley: 'It was all private land and the plan was to extend the office block as far as the railway line. To throw a spanner in the works, the municipality had to purchase that land and build social housing. The council was far from keen on the idea – they said it was impossible to build the number of homes needed. We carried out volume studies to show that a social housing development would be cost-effective, which is why the zoning plan had to be changed.’

The dwellings and the situation do not entirely meet the ‘rules and regulations’ for residential development. Achieving a high residential density called for parcels of land that are narrow in width, and of considerable depth. The city council doesn’t come around until the locals build a model of the project in the three-dimensional laboratory. The project falls under the state predicate ‘experimental’ housing, and that means an additional subsidy. Paul de Ley comments: ‘It is sad that construction has become so impoverished that normal things are call experimental...’. Phase one of the project on the Bickersgracht and the Grote Bickerstraat concerns the construction of 18 dwellings and 2 office spaces between 1972-1975, based on a joint design by De Ley and Van den Bout.

The design contains 158 residential units, seven studio apartments, ten commercial spaces and socio-cultural spaces. In 2003-2004 Paul de Ley is involved in the renovation of the residential complex, in which another layer is added to the structure.

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