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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

November 2004 Issue

Amsterdam Opens a New Culture Park
Kathryn Gustafson transforms a Dutch brownfield into an amazingly complex landscape.

Amsterdam Opens a New Culture Park Courtesy Gustafson Porter Ltd.

By Mark Hinshaw

In 1991, when Evert Verhagen stepped into the post of project manager for Westergasfabriek, he also stepped into a mess. The old factory, which had made gas for streetlights in Amsterdam since 1883, had been closed for almost 25 years. It sat as a ghostly reminder of the ravages that nineteenth-century industrialism had inflicted upon cities.

The neighborhoods surrounding the park were clamoring for the remnants of the plant to be removed so that they could have a much-needed neighborhood park. The existing Westerpark—a pleasant if uninspired 12-acre green space—was inadequate to meet the needs of a dense urban population. They coveted the 34-acre industrial property located within a wedge bounded by the Haarlemervart Canal and the multitude of mainline railroad tracks leading to Amsterdam's Central Station.

The city wanted to create some sort of public use in this wasteland but was constantly being buffeted about by varying interests who all demanded access. Because the municipal government was in the process of devolving many of its functions to district councils as part of a neighborhood empowerment policy, it did not want to dictate a direction.

Residents who lived around the site wanted a peaceful respite from the density and commerce of the city. Artists and performers, some of whom had even begun to squat in the vacant structures, wanted active venues for music and theater. Environmentalists wanted to clean up the site and protect natural areas. There were plenty of ideas to go around. The trouble was that they could not all be accommodated on one site, even one as large as 34 acres.

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