a masterpiece of dutch hydro-engineering

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To me, the Dutch province, FLEVOLAND, sounds like an alternate reality.  It’s either the hidden world within the final level of an action-adventure video game, or the music video setting, record label, and debut album title of the next indie hip-hop superstar.

In this reality, it is a part of the Polder Landscape, land that was reclaimed from the sea around the beginning of the twentieth century (Flevoland was reclaimed around the 1950s and 60s).  Since then, it has become a home to several new cities.  Specifically, I’m interested in Almere.  The question this new city has been facing since it’s inception is: Is it possible to create an identity without a history?  The town created a competition (invites only) for a new town center in which innovation and experimentation were deliberately sought out/after.  After nearly a decade of meetings/briefs/revisions, Rem Koolhaas and OMA were declared the official master planners.  Their scheme called for an extremely image-able break with surrounding fabric, yet connections, links, and a rerouting of existing infrastructure and roads.  The scale of the new city center is substantially larger than the surrounding, existing urban fabric and it skews and twists the fine-grain grid of older Almere.  In comparison and most notably, the design separates pedestrian, bike, and automobile traffic and consists of a radically different (maybe even innovative) building stock.

I’m out to test the edges of the new city center and to face what skeptics and critics have deemed the faults: low levels of ground-level activity at some residential building sites, lack of open space planning, and an overall suburban retail-mall quality of life and feel.  I have seen the you tube home-videos of suburban teenage gangster rap wannabes ambling around the city center’s large plazas and the bright, people-free photographs of the new colorful housing typologies.  I wonder whether this place will be similar to Copenhagen’s Orestad or if it will “fail better” (as Zadie Smith says) because construction was completed before any economic crisis reared its ugly head.

I am anticipating a fruitful study in this ripe, new city atmosphere.  I am in contact with the International New Town Institute (based in Almere), but first, I’m going it alone.  I wonder which city – Amsterdam or Almere – will entertain a greater feeling of alternative reality.

The photos are from my initial, Saturday afternoon derive.

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