The 2016 edition of the Week of the Empty Buildings (Week van het Lege Gebouw) was organized by Hogeschool van Amsterdam in collaboration with the research group Bouwtransformatie. The monumental Municipal Energy Power Plant located at Hoogte Kadijk 400, Amsterdam was set as the case study for this year’s edition. During the week of May 19th to May 23rd several dozens of students joined various interdisciplinary lectures of experts and exchanged innovative ideas about how to redevelop this vacant building in a sustainable way. On the last day in particular the participants divided into seven groups gave presentations about their results. All of those outcomes and lectures are valuable, as they allow us to think about the role of the heritage in spatial planning in the Western Europe.
History of the Power Plant & Redevelopment as a future proof
The power plant building was built in 1903 by decision of the City of Amsterdam to provide electricity to the town tramway. At that moment, there was only the eastern part of the machine building, but the plant was expanded and doubled in size with the construction of the western wing building in 1908. This was due to the rising demand for electricity according to the rapid industrial development. However, since 1946 this plant experienced partial demolition such as the destruction of its boiler room and coal storage, as the function of this plant as a power producer was transferred to the other new power plants. The building now still has its eastern and western building with the big central hall situated in the middle. Nevertheless, only the engine room still is in function as a substation of 150,000 volt electricity of Amsterdam. There have been outstanding efforts to reuse this monumental building, among them, using this building as the Energetics Museum, but low ticket sales lead to its closure. Considering the above mentioned history of this building, it is clear that the power plant building had a function as an electricity provider in the early 1900s, which was changed and reduced as the current function of a substation of the Amsterdam area. This fact serves as a starting point to reflect on the ways to conserve this historical building through development, and to re-use it in a sustainable way. To do so, what interventions and arrangements in this vacant building should be made to re-create it as a future proof and ready for the “Next Economy”?
Next Economy & Heritage values
In his Curator Statement, Maarten Hajer asserts that our urban planning has been near-sighted and the old arrangements no longer work in the Next Economy. To clarify his argument, Hajer contrasts the old economy and the Next Economy. He points out the failure of the old economy. He states that the theme ‘growth’ has dominated urban planning since the Second World War, and the priority in making cities has been creating the high – functional ones. People have pursued lofty auto mobility and have consumed massively the abundant fossil fuel energy in densely populated places. These developments were accompanied by population growth. Meanwhile, cities have to manage a variety of problems such as incidents like floods, water shortage, air pollutions, power outages, and so forth. In this regard, Hajer urges that now we should admit the failure of the old economy and we need new perspectives for the Next Economy. He adds that from the city – as the test site for the Next Economy – we can creatively confront the fearsome challenges we face throughout the entire world: climate change, social inequality, resource shortage and continuous unemployment.
In a similar vein, in his essay, Back to the Future, Frank Suurenbroek claims that global population growth, urbanization and shifting geopolitical relationships lead to new challenges for the Western European city. Suurenbroek believes that population growth specifically threatens the continuous availability of food and energy. He hence postulates that the basic structure of the city must get out of an industrial linear mode of production and consumption and seek for a more sustainable practice for its development. Suurenbroek gave a lecture entitled as The Art of Redevelopment on the occasion of The Week of the Empty Buildings. In his lecture, he elaborates on what will be the more sustainable way. He declares that the city should be self – sufficient in the basic needs of food and energy. He also gives various examples of self – sufficiency, among them, reusing raw materials, renewable energy sources and local food, etc.
Considering that the building at Hoogtekadijk 400 was completed in the midst of rapid growth of the city during the periods of the old economy, should it be demolished, admitting failures of the past? Or will we be able to re-use and re-develop the building in a sustainable way to supply energy to the city and its surroundings? Energy represents not only physical, but also as social element, making the surrounding areas more vividly and actively involved. If the building will be reused instead of being destructed, what historical values will be continued and what new values will be added on this empty building to make it future proof? In this manner, can this redevelopment serve as a substantial way to bring the Next Economy to fruition?
Redevelopment: Sustainable form
The answer of most lectures of this event on the above question – should it be demolished due to its symbolic meaning as a ugly result of the old economy? – is “NO”. In his Introduction lecture of this event, Leo Hendriks expresses his idea on: “you can demolish heritage but once you do it, you will completely lose identity and authenticity and these values never get back to us.” In his lecture, The Art of Redevelopment, Suurenbroek holds that the art of redevelopment of a building is to build it on the past. Suurenbroek adds that we should consider what the strengths of the place and the building are. In his lecture, All of Monuments, Hans Jacobs as well says that all of the monuments are not burdens but delight for us. Explaining about Revolving Fund for Dutch building owners in order to conserve them, he compliments the quality and authenticity of the monumental buildings. He furthermore illustrates the social and economical values of the structures. The re-use and redevelopment of them offer diverse social values: they can be a remedy for its vacancy, contributes to revitalize the livability of the space and the building, and maintain the identity. As its economic value, redevelopment of the monument can increase values and property of itself and its surroundings.
The monumental Municipal Energy Power Plant at Hoogtekadijk 400, Amsterdam indeed holds its own monumental and architectural value. It shows the history of Dutch industrial and urban development, explained by its own expansion, demolition and the change of its functions over time. As the first power plant of Amsterdam, this represents the monumental values. This construction is located at Hoogtekadijk 400, included in the UNESCO –designated area of the seventeenth century canals of Amsterdam. This means that this building is within the conservation area. The building additionally has Romanesque style windows with architectural value. In this aspect, it is very interesting to look into the result of the Group 3 participants, Do whatever you want to in the world in one building. They wanted to emphasize the most important qualities or values of the building. They subsequently focused on its large central hall. The hall is a unique and authentic conserved piece of heritage, as it was used in the early 20th century. The participants thought the hall space does not need to be interrupted a lot in its transformation. The old cranes – which are still in active use – will also be used after the transformation, as they show the unique, historical and aesthetic values as the beauty of the old and historic patina. As shown previously, minimizing the new interruption in the process of the redevelopment allows the monumental building to keep its historical values and its authentic forms and beauty. However, how can this transformation finally get the sustainability in the function of the building as an energy provider?
Redevelopment: Sustainable function
In her lecture, The Challenge of the Changing Energy, Pallas Agterberg, suggests a solution to maintain the functional sustainability of the power plant building at Hoogtekadijk 400. As a strategy manager at Alliander, she urges that we need to change the old energy perspectives – based on one generator, one grid and one control room – into the new perspectives of the decentralized energy system. She explains about the decentralized sustainable system which is cheaper and more efficient than the centrally produced fossil energy. She adds that what we used to do was to add energy capacity in order to adapt the rapidly rising demand on energy. The old energy approaches yet have become too expensive, insufficient to solve all the reliability issues. The grid defection additionally gets more and more accelerated, while the energy decentralization is going too fast to keep up. On this context, she argues that the challenge of the changing energy from the old ways to the new decentralized energy system also demands us to seek a new type of managing system. She then declares that the consumers will take participate actively in optimal use of existing energy capacity, by enabling the energy management and energy exchange at local level.
Agterberg’s argument has become ideally materialized in the result presentation of the Group 7 participants under the title, Energy Company. They made a suggestion of transforming the substation room of the power plant into a fermentation room. In that room, organic biogas from waste materials will be processed as a sort of the decentralized energy system. They also recommended that the basement of the western wing building of the power plant can provide parking space, especially for the cars powered by alternative materials. In this way, they found an appropriate answer to the question: How can this old energy building sustainably function as an energy supplier in the future?
Furthermore, they did not forget Chris Tweed’s advice in his lecture, revealing the latent affordances of space and their capacity for comfort and delight. Tweed assures that ‘what people need to get’ should be primarily considered in the process of transforming and redeveloping. This is due to that people represent the cultural group and regenerate the cultural force. The group 7 participants therefore proposed to connect the western wing building to Artis Zoo by constructing a bridge between the two places. They expected that this bridge would help the neighborhood of the power plant to come and go freely to the Artis Zoo, the center of Amsterdam (Kadijksplein, Nemo) and the booming districts Dapper Market. It is also predictable that this increased connectivity will be supportive to transform this area near the old power plant into the neighborhood with full of vitality and energy.
After a mixture of lectures of experts and seven result presentations of the participants, the 2016 edition of the Week of the Empty Buildings (Week van het Lege Gebouw) was finished. The monumental Municipal Energy Power Plant located at Hoogtekadijk 400, Amsterdam – as the case study for this year’s edition – was transformed into a redeveloped and reused building in a range of realistic and innovative ways. Every suggestion on how to transform this building is valuable, as it allows us to think about the role of the heritage in spatial planning in the Western Europe. In short, the transformation should be made as a preparation for the Next Economy and as a future proof. Not only the form but also the function of the monumental building is supposed to be continued in a sustainable way. In addition to this, ‘what people need to get’ ought to be primarily considered in the process of transforming, as the people are the regenerator of the cultural force. We expect to see the newly transformed power plant building before long, and look forward the next year’s Week of the Empty Buildings (Week van het Lege Gebouw). It is not easy to wait until then.
Agterberg, Pallas, ‘The Challenge of the Changing Energy’, lecture in Week van het Lege Gebouw, 21 May 2016.
Bruijn, Pi de, ‘City as a Tool’, lecture in Week van het Lege Gebouw, May 2016.
Gelder van, Ronald, Aiofe Wullur, Jeffrey Hoofs et al, ‘Energy Company’, presented as a group result in Week van het Lege Gebouw, 23 May 2016.
Hajer, Maarten, ‘Curator Statement’, International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam -2016- The Next Economy, 2016.
Teunisse, Harald, Caroline Bultman, Bas Visser et al., ‘Do whatever you want to in the world in one building’, presented as a group result in Week van het Lege Gebouw, 23 May 2016.
Hendriks, Leo, ‘Introduction’, lecture in Week van het Lege Gebouw, 19 May 2016
Jacobs, Hans, ‘All of Monument’, lecture in Week van het Lege Gebouw, 21 May 2016
Suurenbroek, Frank, ‘Back to the Future’, in Week van het Lege Gebouw Official Site, <http://www.weekvanhetlegegebouw.nl/back-to-the-future/> [June 2016]
Suurenbroek, Frank, ‘The Art of Redevelopment’, lecture in Week van het Lege Gebouw, 19 May 2016.
Tweed, Chris, ‘Revealing the latent affordances of space and their capacity for comfort and delight’, lecture in Week van het Lege Gebouw, 20 May 2016.
Week van het Lege Gebouw Official Site, ‘Van kolen- tot elektriciteitscentrale’ <http://www.weekvanhetlegegebouw.nl/kolen-tot-elektriciteitscentrale/> [May 2016].