The Almere Experiment

This extra-long hiatus in Holland (and surrounding environs) is coming to a close.  It has been a non-stop inundation of functional public space case studies, collaborations with other designers and researchers looking at/working on new cities and experimental urban developments, and ground-level fieldwork in the Dutch new town of Almere.

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Twenty-five years after construction started on the city of Almere, Rem Koolhaas retroactively designed a new city center, known as Dutchtown.  This revision is illustrative of the unpredictability of urban development, particularly for changes in the Randstad (conurbation of Western Holland) as a spatial reflection of an “un-clotted” to a “re-clotted” society.  Instead of a peaceful suburbia of 50,000 inhabitants, in which the middle class could live in houses with gardens, Almere developed into an archipelago of 200,000 people with ethnically dominated neighborhoods and streets with prostitution.  In this way, the city became an inseperable part of the hierarchic Randstad, from “bundled- de-concentration” to “carpet” metropolis, a patchwork of identies.
-Kees Christiaanse, Curator 4th IABR

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Almere’s new city center are the striated, or stacked, public spaces.  If new cities are said to lack the layers of existing cities, then this design is a literal response to that prevailing critique.  I can’t help but wonder if any of these layered sections subconsciously or consciously derived from Eastern models (esp. those from outside of Hong Kong).  Perceptions of the new city’s success fluctuate substantially…depending on who you ask.  What shouldn’t be neglected; however, is that this city’s destiny/fate is being dictated by a 20 year plan.  (Projections = Almere 2030 Plan)

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Almere 2030 Model at the International New Town Institute


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Almere housing block competition model, MVRDV, Rotterdam


A discussion with Marit Geluk of the International New Town Institute based in Almere was instrumental for understanding the social and economic forces that have spawned the need for this new city….in the Netherlands where land is very scarce.  Cities in the south of Holland are shrinking, yet Almere is growing.  This is basically based on a policy decision from existing cities like Amsterdam which are not willing/or are unable to expand at a rate and scale that would accommodate this rural to urban migration.  (The number one case for the creation of new cities.)  Existing cities are concerned with density thresholds, historic height limits, infrastructural capacities, and unemployment numbers.  And according to Geluk, trends in the Netherlands are changing.  The current population is moving out of their parents’ houses earlier than previous generations.

Willemieke Hornis, PHD candidate, Spatial Planning and Development, helped differentiate the new city of Almere from other large developments, specifically Leidsche Rijn – the largest urban development in the Netherlands, just outside of Utrecht.  While Almere is an example of “bundled concentration,”  Leidsche Rijn is a model of a “compact city.”  I owe you a diagram for this one, but it will have to come later.  In conclusion, Almere is a new city (independent politically and otherwise), LR is a dependent growth/parasite of Utrecht.

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Leidsche Rijn (2 images)


While I ask the question, How do you create functional public space in new cities, I am continuously amazed by the amount of new public space happening/being re-appropriated in their nearby, existing city counterparts.  A group from the 4th Annual Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam is attempting to categorize, map, and define public space around the world via interactive web interface.  (Open Places)  While this monumental task has just begun, it represents the trend of awareness and intervention that cities around the world are taking on.  It is the time to move beyond the public think-tanks, dialogues, and conferences on what should be done to revitalize and renew cities and act to realize concrete examples.  The relationships among public space and public buildings can create the openness and co-exhistance that cities seek.  The newest cities have the opportunity to reinvent those relationships.

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