TOFUD # Amsterdam Zuidas

Urban Research Model

My project on the Zuidas was realized in TOFUD: my ‘Temporary Office For Urban Development’. I set up this office every time a concrete situation presents itself. This time it was in the Sint Nicolaas chapel, part of the Sint Nicolaas complex in the Beatrix Park that has been confiscated by Amsterdam’s Zuidas – an environment that is inversely proportional to the area for which the monastery and the accompanying secondary school must eventually make way. TOFUD is a long-term project that examines the development of cities and urban areas. Starting with a situation that is undergoing development, it creates a completely different picture for the future. It looks at how a particular city district could grow in a situation where spatial conditions are not delimited by financial and political considerations. It even defies the laws of gravity. In particular, tofud provides models for spatial planning that can act as a catalyst for the thinking on a certain area and the actions ensuing from this. It does not present any final pictures; rather, it offers ideas and guidelines along which a city can develop.


year: 2010
location: St. Nicolaas Kapel Zuidas, Amsterdam
artist in residence: October 2009 – March 2010
project: Vrije Ruimte Zuidas
on invitiation by: Mondrian Fund, Amsterdam
exhibtion: March 2010
coordination: Meinke Horn
© photography Ron Zijlstra, Amsterdam

On display at
2011  Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch
2015  Hilvaria Studios, Hilvarenbeek
2018  Burgerweeshuis, Amsterdam, Cityscapes Foundation

Lieven de Boeck, Frank Havermans, Sachi Miyachi, Shinji Otani, Tom Tlalim

These models can be the foundation for an alternative urban design model. In the first instance, however, they constitute matter for discussion. It is not easy to form an opinion about a place like the Zuidas. This is an area in the midst of development, where many spheres of influence are at play. The most important of these is the financial sector, which planned the project at this location against the will of the city of Amsterdam. This already indicates who actually has the power in this process. Despite the fact that the project is by no means finished, its initiators have presented us a picture of what the area will look like when everything is completed in 2035. These plans have been laid out in a view of the future that in addition to having been written up in print is represented by a large scale model on a table in the Zuidas Project Bureau in the WTC building. This has been presented to us as the ideal, finalized picture of a desired future. The current credit crisis or other changes that have come up during this process not withstanding, this ideal view has been adamantly upheld – against better judgement or not. I am struck by the fact that the table with the scale model looks like an island.



Little is mentioned about the larger picture, the area in relation to the totality of Amsterdam. Any connection with the city is carefully avoided. The area is preferably presented to us in subdistricts that fall under the responsibility of different project managers. This diverts attention from what the plan actually should be about – namely, the interaction of the area with the rest of the city and in particular its relation to the immediate surroundings. In presentations to the outside world, the power brokers of the Zuidas are very selective about what they want it to be associated with. Very little is said about the immediate surroundings in situations where they do not represent success. The Zuidas does seek a connection with Schiphol, the built-up area of western Holland, the centre of Amsterdam, the Amsterdam stock exchange, the expensive shops in Amsterdam Zuid, the Museumplein and other cultural highpoints. However, the powers that be in the Zuidas actually feel most connected to other business centres in the rest of Europe and the world. Success is for the taking, or so it would seem. ‘Just be there and it will all come to you.’ This might be a reality that appeals to people who work in the Zuidas, but there is also another reality. Almost no one to whom I have spoken in Amsterdam thinks that the Zuidas speaks to the imagination. They encounter the same sort of abstraction that I have experienced during my stay here. People indeed more or less know what you mean and approximately where it is when you talk about the Zuidas, but it is not ingrained in their experience of Amsterdam. In fact, it is just like the table model in the Zuidas project bureau in the wtc building, an island in the city – and at night and in the weekends, it is an uninhabited island to boot. There is literally no one there. People who arrive at Station Zuid make sure they take the shortest possible route to the ‘real’ city. Get out of here, quick. This is a pity, of course, because my criticism of the way in which the area is now being developed is not motivated by the fact that I am an opponent of having a large urban project at this location. On the contrary, I am a proponent of urban densification, and quite honestly, Amsterdam could use an area where people ambitiously sink their teeth into things. A city has to change and evolve. It seems to me that building a large multifunctional station in the Zuidas is a legitimate mission. The Noord-Zuid connection also cannot be completed fast enough, as far as I’m concerned. Only then will the area have the potential to become what the planners have in mind, namely an important urban area in Amsterdam. I would rather not talk about a new centre. That has to come by itself, that is not something you can plan – and besides, the real centre of Amsterdam is much too nearby for that.



I would rather not talk about a new centre. That has to come by itself, that is not something you can plan – and besides, the real centre of Amsterdam is much too nearby for that. What’s more, a centre is for everybody, and from all the plans that have been presented, I don’t get the feeling that the Zuidas is intended for everybody. I think that what is actually lacking in this project that was launched with such bravura a decade ago is a real, focused ambition. The ing headquarters was one of the first buildings to be erected. I admire that building every time I see it. That standard should be ambition for the entire area. Now, a plan cannot only consist of highpoints, but in general, I think that the rest of the buildings that have been put up so far are pretty boring. And I’m still talking about the best part of the area to date. I think that the urban design quality of the plan is minimal, the linkup with the city is bad and the public space in some places is horrific. Nobody wants to be there. Of course, the area is by no means completed and that might very well take quite a long time. But even so, what has already been built should be part of the urban structure. In short, the project seems to be getting bogged down for all sorts of reasons, and the objectives appear to have been scaled back considerably. You cannot plan a city; a city has to grow, as has so often been shown. Although I don’t believe that you should design a city, you do have to provide a number of motivating factors, a number of guidelines along which a city or urban area can develop. The fact is, you can’t overlook a period of 30-odd years – that’s been proven time and again. What’s more, when this period has elapsed, the first buildings that were erected will be due for renovation or structural alterations. A city is an organic whole in which every planning decision functions as an intermediate level in its overall manifestation. No one determines what a city will look like; we all do that together. Actually, the city directs itself. In order to achieve this, you first have to build good infrastructure. That will function as a framework for the area. Roads, trains, trams, metros are the arteries of the city. This provides life. By putting a large section of the A10 below the ground, you make the area lifeless, as it were. I think this decision would be disappointing. Right now I think that one of the most exciting elements in the area is the motorway that cuts through it. This is where things grate and wrench, and that’s precisely what an area needs in order to make it feel like a metropolitan district. By covering that up, you create a boring and sleepy area that might indeed be in keeping with a dormitory suburb like Buitenveldert, but does not do justice to the ambitions of a large city. The motorway is in fact the pivot. You have to intensify this; businesses should be stimulated to build pedestrian and bicycle bridges across the motorway and even offices and residential buildings, so that the area can be experienced from different perspectives.
From my office in the chapel, which has taken on the appearance of a fortress, I am also building a scale table model that refers to the wtc original. This model is growing out of my office, as it were. The scale model takes into consideration the matters discussed above. It does not represent any final or ideal picture, but indicates directions and possibilities for growth, not only for now or for the next 35 years, but possibly for a much longer period. For it is certain that if we follow our human nature and continue as in the past to build upon our ossified monocultures for many more centuries, many strata can arise that will result in a completely different and much more complex cityscape. This is a perspective that I believe is much more interesting than the overly controlled cityscape that appears to be manifesting itself now. For me, the Zuidas as it is now, or as it proposed to be 30 years from now, is only a situation from which to start, on top of which many more physical and mental strata will be added. I can imagine a Zuidas in levels that float one above the other, to and from which many traffic arteries come and go. Not a new centre, but a concentrated, high-density area where true urban dynamics hold sway.
TOFUD #Amsterdam Zuidas Studio Frank Havermans
The area model as presented in the information centre of de Zuidas.
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