The Amsterdam canal district is the result of an innovative 17th-century town expansion, spurred by an emerging civil society. In the past four centuries Amsterdam’s inner city changed continuously. In 2010 the area was added to Unesco’s World Heritage Site.
As one of the effects of this inscription, the area is now under even more scrutiny from preservationists. With Tussen–ruimte, we want to challenge the static state of affairs that comes with preservation. As part of Amsterdam’s year long celebration of the 400th anniversary of Amsterdam’s canal district in 2013, Tussen–ruimte popped up in the smallest cracks of the inner city: residual and hidden spaces that arose due to historical transformations, but that still offer possibilities for new urban development.
According to our definition, ‘Tussen–ruimtes’ (or ‘In-between spaces’) could be described as outdoor, open-air spaces that exist in-between and behind buildings and are connected to one of Amsterdam’s main canals or connecting streets in the part of the inner city that is on Unesco’s World Heritage list: the 17th Century canal ring area inside the Singelgracht.
These spaces emerged, often unintentionally, from following centuries. Originally, the spaces gave direct access to the servants’ quarters, stables, workshops and other functions that were hidden from view in the many alleys and courtyards behind the houses and shops that lined the canals and side streets.
Over time most of them were closed off with doors and fences, keeping unwanted guests outside and detaching the space from the public sphere. Being an early example of the detrimental effects of privatised space, creating gated communities avant-la-lettre, these passages were cut-off from the city for a very long time.
Now we want to reconnect them. Despite their small size, or maybe even because of it, they provide much needed space.
Tussen–ruimte might have started as an investigation into undefined space in Amsterdam’s canal area – and addressing this by opening up semi-private alleys – but during this process, our narrow definition of Tussen–ruimte moved in unexpected directions, as if the narrow alleys were trying to tell a bigger story.
Once you know there are already 56 Tussen–ruimtes in the Unesco zone, you start spotting more possible in between spaces. You notice that those pretty facades have flaws too, and that behind those doors are traces of change, neglect, life. Tussen–ruimte invites you down the rabbit hole. It asks you to slow down from your daily Amsterdam bicycle routine and look up and around you again.
It offers the thought of a carte blanche, celebrating the possibility—by not filling it in. It’s Amie Dicke measuring a Tussen–ruimte with a rope
and then throwing it on the floor somewhere else. It’s the neighbour who decided to paint the opposing wall only around the border of his window view in a bright white. It’s locked doors, lost keys, but at least knowing that there is always a way to get in…
“The French philosopher Marc Augé has coined a term to describe anti-planning: non-places. He basically meant neutral, generic areas such as the highway, the airport, the grocery store. The Tussen–ruimte project gives new meaning to the concept of non-places. These are not PLOAPS, ‘places left over after planning,’ but places left over during planning. Their research shows us areas that we did not know existed, real non-places that we suddenly experience very strongly as places thanks to, for example, white gravel and long flowing cloth, or sound. No matter how well you know the city, these gaps provide a completely new urban experience.”
—Tracy Metz, during her Tussen–talk that took place in the Tussen–ruimte at De Duif church.
Article on www.archined – 9th of September 2013
Article on www.nrc.nl – 2nd of August 2013
Article in De Groene Amsterdammer – 29th of August 2013