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In the Entrepotdok dock, a rusty old crane suggests the lively past of this area of Amsterdam.
And that is not because this large residential complex is now empty or disused, but because the atmosphere on the quayside now is rather different from the hustle and bustle of the port at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.
Studios, offices and residences today occupy the 84 former maritime warehouses that were built between 1708 and 1839, and scenes of loading and unloading, of scrap and of empty crates, have been replaced by briefcases and laptop computers, and the rucksacks and lollipops of children coming home after school.
In the nineteenth century, after the construction of the warehouses, a complex with a total of 98 deposits was formed. At the time it was the longest series of warehouses in Europe and was intended to serve as the general national depot.
Indeed, in 1827 this zone was the site of the General State Customs Warehouse. All ships with cargo on board that entered the city had to dock here and pay the required tax, before unloading their goods elsewhere in the port of Amsterdam.
The warehouses bore names, in alphabetical order, of Dutch and Belgian cities, starting with Amsterdam and ending with Zuthpen. This is because, at the time, Holland and Belgium were a single kingdom that alternated its capital between Brussels and Amsterdam.
At the end of the nineteenth century, a larger warehouse was built closer to the new facilities, and until the Second World War the warehouses were put to new uses including depots for assorted goods such as wine and oil. As they became less important, these sites gradually fell into disuse and manifest increasing signs of deterioration until a fire in 1970 caused serious damage.
From 1980 to 1986, Amsterdam set its sights on the future and the sustainable development of the city through the recycling of spaces and cleaning up of the most deteriorated areas. It therefore introduced a programme to convert the old warehouses into housing.
After the failure of one developer that tried to turn these buildings into expensive owner residences, a local residents’ association proposed that they should be used for subsidised housing, and the Council commissioned the project to the architect Jop van Stigt.
In his project, the facades were left intact in as far as possible, and the warehouses were restored and converted into 538 apartments with very diverse characteristics. Architecturally, van Stigt’s project was noteworthy for the optimum use of light (a real challenge, given that these warehouses had not been designed with this in mind), and for the magnificent functional design of the living areas, the exterior zones and the open-air spaces.
In recent years the Entrepotdok has become a desirable place to live, an example of urban renewal, and has attracted the attention of the international press and markets.
In a world in which recycling and the reuse of space is becoming essential and features in the programmes of all governments, the Entrepotdok is an example to follow. It is well worth visiting to take a look.
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