WORKSHOP: Forever Young


For the exhibition Volksvlijt 2056, curated by Zef Hemel and which the results of the workshop Forever Young form part of, the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (AMA) is divided into different subareas, each with its own character and role within the region, such as: Velsen (Steel), Hilversum (Media), Schiphol (Logistics), Westpoort (Port) or Zaandam (Food). Of course, one of the AMA subareas is the city centre of Amsterdam, the part of the city within the Singelgracht. During three workshops in the Amsterdam Public Library (Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, OBA), Jarrik Ouburg (head of Architecture at the Academy of Architecture and co-founder of HOH Architecten entered into discussion with residents, administrators, knowledge institutions and companies in order to collectively reflect on the innovative power and the future of the city centre of Amsterdam.

The results of these discussions formed the basis for the workshop Forever Young, in which all students of the Academy of Architecture participated for two weeks. The ultimate word, thought and action were given to a new generation who will take care of the city. In total, 180 architecture, landscape architecture and urban design students from all over the world throw themselves wholeheartedly into answering the question of how the old historic city can continue to adapt in order to play a significant role for current and future generations.



The Winter School entitled Forever Young begins with lectures on a winter evening in the Oude Kerk (Old Church), the oldest surviving building in Amsterdam. We were warned in advance that it would be colder in the church than outside. It can freeze inside. We find ourselves in the heart of Amsterdam, albeit a heart that we need to warm ourselves up.

It’s not too bad when entering; the cold. However, the church has difficulty moulding itself as a place for lectures in our modern era, with a beamer and a screen. It quickly turns out that the Oude Kerk is a place for the spoken word, and less so for images. And if there is one image that sticks in one’s memory from the evening, then that is the image of the church itself, as background that always remains in the foreground. A big, friendly giant.

Jacqueline Grandjean, director of the Oude Kerk, welcomes everyone. She ensures that the technical department dim the light in the church and ‘turn on’ the works of Germaine Kruip. Suddenly out of nowhere, a thin marble column becomes visible in the dark church. A sculpture of light, entitled Column Untitled, stretches from the floor to the wooden roof. Or the other way round. A new line is drawn in the space. The tone is set. This new addition should never be lost. Not only in one’s memory, but also in reality. The optimism and belief that the present can be as holy or even holier than the past is made beautifully clear.

This is also precisely the reason why we start the Winter School at this place. The idea for the Winter School Forever Young arose on the roof of the church six months ago. Or actually in the garden of this church. The Garden Which is the Nearest to God was a work by Taturo Atzu from the summer of 2015 at the Oude Kerk. He had made a snow-white plateau on top of the roof of the church, with a small white house on that plateau. This white house enclosed a weather vane, which thus became part of the interior of the house. The vane had found a perfect spot on the coffee table and appeared to enrich the remaining Ikea furniture there as a vintage object. The power of the work lay not so much in the beautiful view that could be seen from the ‘garden’ or the quality of the abstract space that the artist had created on the roof. The power lay in the weathervane. The weathervane that had already stood at the same place for centuries and was never seen. Now everyone saw the vane like it had always been there, but in a completely different way. Atzu had given a context to this crown of the building. The new context made the vane immediately functionless. It is difficult to indicate the wind direction in an interior. But due to the new context, the form and beauty of the vane became clear: an angel that was blowing on a trumpet. Any way the wind blows.

‘Creating context’ is the overarching theme in the Architecture department at the Academy of Architecture. Atzu makes the essence of that clear. It is not the first time that the fine arts have outstripped architecture.

Then publicist Fred Feddes has his say. In connection with the risk of freezing among the students, he was asked to keep his story, about 1000 years of Amsterdam, short. An impossible task and fortunately he does not stick to this. The clever things about Feddes’ story is that he manages to break up a time span of 1000 year into five periods that are characteristic for the spatial history of the city. The first period from 1000 to 1600 is that of a free expansion of the city. The second period from 1600 to 1850 deals with the glory years within the city boundary.

From 1850 to 1900, it is about the disorder in the city. Whereupon, we immediately enter into a period of making plans and executing them from 1900 to 1970. The last period is that from 1970: ‘Your order is not our order’, in which the citizens revolt against the building of the metro and other large infrastructural interventions and ultimately manage to stop the demolition hammers. A crystal-clear and inspired story in which the same question keeps coming back: whose city is it? And, who is the city for? A distinctive feature of Amsterdam is that it always remains the city by us and for us.

In the context of history, we can also therefore question if we are now slowly entering a new period. The demolition hammers have been put down, as UNESCO has protected a large part of the city. The pretty picture of the city appears to have become more important than the function that the city centre has for Amsterdam as a whole.

The following speaker of the evening is Michiel van Iersel from Non-fiction, an office for cultural innovation. He takes us on a journey across the world. He is studying cities, heritage and decline for the research platform Failed Architecture. He talks about Athens and the Parthenon, which is being restored to its original state little by little. About the National Museum of Beirut, where a layer of concrete was poured over the mosaic floor during the Lebanese Civil War. This would normally be the wrong sequence in the building process, but in this case it was a method of protecting the floor.

The story about the drawings of the Aboriginals makes a big impression. Year upon year, generation upon generation, these drawings are painted over. As a result, the stories of the drawings and the technique for making the drawings are kept alive. That is until recently. Now the drawings are a national treasure and the current generations are no longer allowed to draw over them, and the Aboriginals are employed as attendants to tell something about a living tradition that has now become heritage. The process of making has died and what remains is an increasingly vaguer memory of the past.

The link to Amsterdam is easily made. The objective of the Winter School is to prevent a future generation walking through Amsterdam and showing tourists how beautiful the protected city from the past is. We must show them the vibrant city of today, upon which each generation adds a new layer.

With the final speaker, we dive into a place where we find ourselves at that moment: the Oude Kerk. Afaina de Jong has conducted research into the Oude Kerk and made an exhibition about that. In the meanwhile, it has become pretty cold and the hip flasks with spirits come out. Afaina herself is enviably dressed in a ski suit, winter boots and a large hat. Prepared for the worst. Her story demonstrates the rich history of the building. But even more important is the history of the Oude Kerk as a place in the city. A covered public space in which there have already been activities for centuries and which is continuously built upon. We see, in a very detailed and extremely beautifully depicted way, how the floor plan of the church has changed over the years. The floor plan starts to breathe, in and out, becoming larger then smaller. Exactly as the city should also be able to do. Otherwise it suffocates.

After the final speaker has spoken her words, I look at a frozen group of 180 students. Huddled closely together. The Winter School has begun.



You could ask yourself if it is not more socially relevant to consider the future of the Nieuw-West (New West) or Zuidoost (South-East) districts of Amsterdam, instead of always looking at the city centre. Is this not a form of navel-gazing? However, just like the umbilical cord is the lifeline between mother and child for nine months and essential to the first growth, the historic city centre is also indispensable to the creation of each city. After cutting the umbilical cord, nothing remains but a scar; the navel, a shadow of its original function. Can we also prevent this from becoming the future scenario for the historic city centre? Or is that actually not so bad?

During the discussions and meetings which were held in the context of Volksvlijt 2056, prior to the Winter School, the central question was therefore: ‘what is the role of the historic city centre now, and in the future, for the body of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area as a whole?’ It became quickly apparent that the historic city centre is no scar, but still the main focus in our reflection about the city. This is not about the physical city, which is photogenically portrayed on websites for tourists, with its beautiful canals and buildings, and UNESCO world heritage status. But it is about what the city actually stands for. The inclusive city. For everyone, of everyone. For the poor and the rich. For yuppie and family. For young and old. A place to work and to live. For entertainment and advancement. A place for amazement. A place for friction. A place for encounters. And a place that inspires.

Just like the navel in the drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of the Vitruvian Man occupies a central place, the city centre still occupies a central place in the corpus of the metropolitan region. Not a scar of an expired physical function, but actually an entity that surpasses its physical appearance. The soul of a city.



Each generation of residents and users of Amsterdam leaves their own mark on the city. The generation of the 1970s and 1980s saved the city from physical decline on the one hand, and the demolition hammer on the other hand. In the 1990s and the first decade of the new century, Amsterdam citizens helped the city to grow and flourish. Many people currently think that the popularity of the city centre has reached its zenith. They are beginning to complain: the centre of the city is too full of people and traffic. Its development is ‘frozen’ and it is treated as if it is a museum piece. It has become a theatre of loud entertainment and is too much the habitat of the fortunate happy few.

At the same time, a young generation actually sees the opportunities, instead of the negative sides. They are using the city in a new way. They are sharing existing spaces, thus adding an extra layer of use, exploitation and programming. They are using different (virtual) spaces to meet and exchange knowledge. They are discovering hidden places in an unexpected way and they are reusing existing buildings and structures. They celebrate moments of stillness and slowing down, flora and fauna – elements that appear impossible in the busy city centre, but which are indeed present.

This new generation transforms undesirable developments into welcome additions. Amsterdam can remain forever young if a new generation is given sufficient space to interpret and use the existing space anew.

During the Winter School 2016, we give the new generation free rein. Students of the Academy of Architecture design and research spatial possibilities to adapt and innovate the city centre of Amsterdam, so that it can remain significant for current and future generations. To quote the writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: ‘Everything must change, so that everything can remain the same’.



The Winter School took place from 18 to 29 January and was organised as a competition in which students work together on one design in studios of no more than 10 students. In total, 18 studios took part in the competition. Each studio was composed in an interdisciplinary way, consisting of Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape Architecture students from the first, second and third years. These students formed, as it were, one design office during the Winter School.

The city centre of Amsterdam was divided into 18 puzzle pieces with the assistance of Fred Feddes. Each piece was carefully cut out and contained unique qualities and, thus, potential for a spatial intervention. Each studio concentrated on one part of the city centre and projected their future vision on it. All 18 puzzle pieces came together in a joint scale model and thus jointly formed a future vision for the Amsterdam city centre.

The teams of students were supported by various supervisors. The supervisors all had a different background and they provided extra input and motivation to the students as a result of their specific knowledge and experience. They worked in pairs and served, as it were, as the catalyst for the teams.

Ronald Janssen and Ivar van der Zwan are going to set up the Hidden Amsterdam Festival, in which they look at the spatial opportunities in front of, between and behind the existing buildings in the

historic city centre.

Ricky Rijkenberg and Anne Dessing both graduated from the Academy with plans in which buildings are painstakingly added to the existing situation, as a result of which they are given a new impulse.

Marthijn Pool and Willem van Es have made plans for the 9 Stegen (9 Alleyways), in which the alleyways between the Nes and the Rokin are upgraded with extra programmes, thus perhaps gaining the same allure as the 9 Straatjes (9 Streets) neighbourhood.

In their publication The Flexible City, Tom Bergevoet and Maarten van Tuijl have carried out studies into transformation assignments on all scale levels and on a European level.

Mark Minkjan and Arna Mackic combine a critical eye with a proactive design approach. They approach the city more from a sociocultural perspective than from an architectural perspective. Donna van

Millegen Bielke and Steven Broekhof examine the phenomenon of tourism in the city and its impact on the buildings and the residents.

In addition to the ‘glasses’ of the supervisors through which the students could look at the historic city centre, they were also visited by various consultants. These consultants visited the students and either gave a quick recommendation or asked the right question. Consultants from all ranks of the cultural community who ask questions and give answers: Floris Alkemade, Pieter Bannenberg, Marieke Berkers, Maurice Bogaert, Felix Claus, Zef Hemel, Hein van Lieshout, Jeroen Lok, Tracy Metz, Aart Oxenaar and Jouke van der Werf.



No lack of input therefore. But what should be done? How should one begin? And where should one finish?

The students at the Winter School turned out to be a true reflection of society. Some of them talk a lot and dominate the discussion. Others withdraw a little and reflect on the correct solution. And others meanwhile simply start working, make scale models, commence drawing etc. Each person may talk of happiness when he or she excels in one of these qualities. It is not often that someone masters two of the three.

I have yet to come across someone who unites all three qualities. Collaboration is, therefore, the motto. Knowing what your own possibilities are is important, but knowledge of your limitations is even more important. Then you know that you need someone else.

The question, of course, remains: should we begin with an idea and adapt that to our location or the other way around? Should we begin on a small scale and translate that to a larger scale level or the other way around? When is it time to talk, to think or to make?

In the pressure cooker of the workshop, the answer turned out to lie in the interplay between the abstract qualities of the idea and the specific characteristics of the place. The interplay of the small intervention and its impact on the greater whole. The interplay between talking, thinking and doing. Not through each other, but with each other.

The Winter School not only offered insight into how the city might look in the future, but above all how we need to cooperate in the future to obtain this city. By thinking, talking and doing together, we go beyond individual interests and a short-term vision. It is not, therefore, the individual projects, but rather the collective process of the Winter School that shapes the actual contribution to the Volksvlijt 2056 exhibition.



The moment that everyone had been waiting for dawned on the Friday morning of the final presentation. Each group had made its part of the model on a scale of 1:750. Small houses, canals, all worked out in the finest detail. The intervention of each team was clear, because it was executed in a golden colour. Golden curves could suddenly be found in the Jordaan neighbourhood.

Model for model, puzzle piece for puzzle piece, the city centre of the future was put together in one large model measuring 5 by 7 metres. ‘Shock and awe’. Connections could suddenly be seen between the different teams, between the different parts of the city, between the different visions of the future. Diversity immediately turned out to be the quality.

The panels were hung up, with which the smaller models were exhibited. An overview and an insight at the same time. The richness of 12 days of talking, thinking and doing was visible. Exhaustion gave way to pride and satisfaction. Mutual disputes disappeared like snow melting in the sun when witnessing what the studio and what collaboration are capable of.

A jury consisting of Petra Blaisse from the design firm Inside Outside, Berno Strootman from Strootman Landscape Architects, Arjan Klok (head of the Urbanism study programme at the Academy of Architecture), Madeleine Maaskant (director Academy of Architecture) and Jarrik Ouburg assessed the plans. The Winter School was organised as a competition and every competition has a winner. After a quick tour of the plans and drawings, the students presented their work. Eloquent, full of humour and deadly serious. This generation knows how to translate words into deeds. It was then time for deliberation.

Petra Blaisse and Berno Strootman gave their vision on each plan. Strootman was very thorough and showed great attention to detail. Blaisse had a natural feel for theatre. Twelve days of work by a group was reduced by her to the question: ‘What about shadow?’ The question was the answer and the group knew exactly why.



The plan ‘Diaspora’ was appreciated for its engagement and political argument. It literally and metaphorically offers a different perspective to the Oosterdokseiland and the city’s history of slavery at that place.

The plan ‘Stay for a While’ breaks up existing buildings around the Rembrandtplein and connects them into one large city block, through which all tourists who currently book via Airbnb are given one address. Solving an urban problem with a spatial problem.

The plan ‘Storytelling’ stands out in a positive way, because it does not see the city as a warehouse for space and belongings, but as a warehouse for stories; stories of people. In their proposal, this warehouse is given the form of a database for storing and monitoring, and a square for telling new stories to each other.

The plan ‘Welcome Back Darwin!’ was appreciated most by the jury. The criticism of the current Plantagebuurt neighbourhood is that the design of Artis zoo and the Hortus Botanicus displays an extremely nature-exclusive vision on how humankind and nature can coexist. Away with the fences of the cows and open the front doors of humans. The climate and the ability to change determine which species thrives best in order to coexist with each other.

The subtitle of the plan directly summarises what the Winter School and Volksvlijt 2056 is all about: ‘Those who adapt will survive’.


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