Of tunnels and green ridges
Central Amsterdam, the historic city with its 19th and early 20th century expansions, is a walled city. What devides the pre WW II city from the post WW II suburbs is an almost perfectly round mound, a 6 meter high dyke body on top of which the Amsterdam ring road has been constructed. Numerous viaducts and tunnels allow for passage between the new and old city.

Most of these tunnels are no-nonsense, robust and efficient. They are spatial, logistical, functional, transitional; even though people use them, the tunnels lack a distinct social dimension. They have no emotional, historical or social value. They are junk space: residual space in the liminal zones of high-speed infrastructure, consequential by-products of high tech and high speed modernisation.

We focussed on the through ways under the western ring road and metro and train railroads parallel to it, in particular the more open ones that, at a closer look, initiate many fantasies on their potential. What is the potential to activate the non-places?


First we set out to read the places. The layers of meaning are not so much a consequence of use, but rather of speed, function and ownership.The ring way is a high way, designed for high speed. That speed has induced a high level of simplicity. Contectuality and complexity has been reduced to rules and signs. The free way is highly systematical and does not allow for too much variation and dissent. But a different speed can be found in the adjecent urban field. A reduced speed makes for more variation, complexity and social interaction. It allows for various directions and activities. Because of the difference in speed and its consequences, free way and city are two distinct worlds. To allow the two to co-excist, tunnels were divised. In general, they follow the simplicity of the free way, rather than the complexity of the city.

The tunnels, the ring road, the city extensions; they are part of the general outline of the post war garden cities with a stiff separation of functions. A grand design, trying to make devisions between the possible use of the area: living, recreation and shopping, work, transportation. Whereas the original design has been slightly tampered with by the inhabitants, making that some of the functions have seen a little bit of overlap since the sixties, the tunnels stay true to their original design and are still highly singular in their functions.

Now, the general plans for the near future of New West, the borough behind the ring road include massive demolition and densification. The modernist ideals of space, air and green are being sacrificed on the altar of the ‘living city’. Separation of functions is to be avoided. The first combinations are sought in combining living with working and recreation; we are curious where and how a social collaboration with the infrastucture will be found.

Apart for speed and function, the area can be read through its different owners and users. We discerned a first level, the government, a second level, that of the borough, and a third level - the level that seems least involved; that of the neighborhood and the people using the passage ways. For the government, in this case the national bodies responsible for roads and train tracks, these residual spaces are literally the gaps in their plans. The unaccounted spaces. To make sure they do not interfere with the larger plans, they rather have them boarded up or fenced. For the borough, one of the means to promote the quality of living is by promoting small scale business. For them, residual spaces could be interesting, for thay could allow new business without taking on the old businesses. Finally, we have the neighborhood, the actual users of the tunnels. For most of them, the tunnels were transition spaces where you don’t linger because there is nothing but the occasional trouble there.


These tunnels are nothing, yet can become anything, everything. In a city as clogged as Amsterdam, we found that the merely pointing out the presence of empty or junk space provoked a cascade of ideas and positive reaction. Therefore, we would like to bring in a fourth level of users, the creative class; the introduction of new ways of using the space can serve as a platform for other potential users to re-assess and develop the tunnels.

The ring road is a rupture. It is a symbolic and social barriere, and as such a rupture in the urban fabric and the social continuity of city life. How to transform a transitional space into a space with meaning? How to make a pasture out of a desert? We saw three ways to proceed. First option was to take away the need for a tunnel by removing the ring road. Second option was to take away the negative consequences of the tunnel by bridging the road through an aleviation of the city along the road. To carry out either of these solution would consume consideral political and financial assets, which we don’t have.

That is why we will be working on option three. Make these tunnels into an attraction, a destination. Amsterdam’s own little Berlin, or Detroit. Key in this transformation proces is a social program; to fill the social vacuum. Through a process of co-creation on different levels, we need to make the city engage with these spaces, so the light won’t be confined to the end of the tunnel, but be brought right in.

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