A City Made of Old and New

by apenkava

While reading the first section of False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good by Aaron Betsky with Adam Eeuwens I kept in mind my reading of chapter 4 from Delta Urbanism: The Netherlands by Han Meyer. Amsterdam has a very long history tied to its cultural identity, architecture, and city planning.

The integration of old and new is something that is very special to Dutch design, as made evident by Betsky and Eeuwens. As I learned from Delta Urbanism: The Netherlands, the urbanization of the Dutch delta modernized cities such as Amsterdam and created new urban spaces for Dutch citizens to flourish. The limitations presented by the physical landscape of the Netherlands forced the men who designed these cities to be creative in ways never before seen. False Flat provide us with wonderful examples of how the combination of the old and the new create a wonderful infrastructure.


The first image I have chosen is not from False Flat but I believe that it does a very good job of showcasing not only the verticality of the city of Amsterdam but also just how integrated the old canals are into the now modern city. The city was forced to expand upwards because of the limited space available and has forced architect to truly value space and always consider functionality.

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 9.16.13 PM

Another image that caught my attention in False Flat was one of the Nescio Bridge. To me, the bridge is a symbol of the modernism that has infiltrated the city, a reminder that water travel is no longer the primary importance of the city, roadways have brought new life into the Netherlands.

Aaron Betsky says in False Flat, “It is not a beautiful sight, but it works.”, but I would disagree; I think that there is something truly beautiful in the sight of Dutch design (16).

Aaron Betsky with Adam Eeuwens, False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good (New York: Phaidon, 2004)

“Amsterdam bird’s eye view,” wallhaven. Web 30 May 2017. <https://alpha.wallhaven.cc/wallpaper/247259&gt;.


7 thoughts on “A City Made of Old and New

  1. I really like what you have to say in this post. The images are great. What I think you should do is expand upon the idea of beauty of Dutch design. What makes it beautiful? What can you point to besides a few salient examples. How can you get into the weeds of this and demonstrate beauty and still balance your essay? Looking forward to reading what you have to say.


  2. After reading the architectural records I find myself going back to the Aaron Betsky quote I used in my original post, “It is not a beautiful sight, but it works”. Although originally I disagreed with this statement, and I still do to an extent, I must say that in regards to the extension of the Stedelijk Museum I must agree with Betsky. Unlike the Kraanspoor the Stedelijk does not try to blend old and new. There is a very obvious distinction between where the old red brick stops and the glossy white synthetic-fiber begins. In False Flat a common theme I found was the insistence that one of the many things the Dutch were good at was seamlessly melding the old and the new and creating a structure where the model and traditional style created an infrastructure that worked. I believe that Justin Davidson would agree with me in saying that the awkward bathtub that has been placed in the Museumplein, a lively city plaza, does not work. But, then again, it is in the name of Modern Art, something that I am not an expert on nor do I claim to be. However, if I was to say that the Kraanspoor was a perfect example for how to honor to old while still working towards the new, I would also have to say that this bathtub is a perfect example of what not to do.
    In Mark Wagenbuur’s bicycle blog I found the video excerpt about the play street in the Pijp particularly compelling. I thought it was wonderful to see the children speaking up for something that they believed in and a lot of adults supporting their cause. I think this video really shows how bicycles have helped to shape the culture and history of the city and have played a major role in the urban design of the city. I enjoyed seeing how so many people believed that bicycles instead of cars could positively effects 40,000 peoples lives and how much change there has been since 1972 because of these people.


    1. So much hate for the bathtub! (haha!) To be honest, I don’t even remember seeing it as that shape when I was there–I was struck by this massive overhanging wall that cast a great cool shadow across the blazing sunny plaza! But maybe I didn’t see that street side in the pics with that review. One complaint I might have is that it might get dated in about 10 years. But then again, in about 30 years it will be retro cool again! Don’t forget–everybody in Paris hated the Eiffel Tower when it was built. But yes, let’s see how it “works” as architecture and as a museum when we get there!


  3. Interesting to pick up on verticality. How has this idea changed over time with new building technology? The boggy ground meant they had to drive piles deep into the ground to create stable platforms on which to build even three- and four-story canal houses (which were perhaps fairly tall for their time, even by broader European standards). Has new technology led to the kinds of skyscrapers we see in New York, Dubai, etc.? Or is there something else going on in what you can see, say, as you search for images of Amsterdam modern buildings online? I think a lot of the mod stuff in the Eastern Docklands (which you’ll read about for today) emphasizes the horizontal more so than the vertical, but it’s interesting to see where and when and how the vertical might be something highlighted in some architecture. Do Betsky/Eeuwens deal with this? How so?


  4. I agree with a lot of what you said, but am curious as to the reasons behind why Amsterdam succeeds in this prospect to the extent that other cities do not. Many cities are built on the foundation of previous eras, but are not as architecturally recognized as Amsterdam. What do you think are the reasons that put allowed Amsterdam to succeed where others do not in the sense of integrating old aspects of the city in with the new?
    In my opinion, I believe that one of the reasons that sets it apart is due to their ability to cooperate. As I wrote about in my post, the authors argue that this is an ability the Dutch are great at, which is public compromise. In the second part of the book, the authors point to The Villa VPRO, a building which was created and designed after much public debate and controversy. The authors comment that “this quality of complexity that results in, and sometimes even results from, self-criticism, is perhaps that final inward turn the Dutch have taken” (Betsky, 204) Whether or not the Dutch are truly great negotiators, or whether this has any impact on their architecture is up for debate.


  5. First off, I love your first image. It shows the color and versatility of Dutch design and life in Amsterdam.
    I agree that Dutch design is beautiful but WHY? Is it because it shows the versatility and creativity of the Dutch? Does it emphasize the land around it? I believe what Betsky was saying was that not ALL Dutch design is aesthetically pleasing; Dutch design shows creativity and use.
    I too learned a lot from Han Meyer. It was interesting to see how much thought and struggle went into creating more land for The Netherlands. This shows how important design is to the Dutch. Because the land itself was planned, the buildings that went on top needed to be just as planned. As you said, water transportation is not as popular or necessary anymore in the Netherlands, but it is still a huge part of their culture and history. This waterway culture is shown in tourist recreational marinas and tour boats, as well as in houseboats (much like your title picture).

    For your paper, maybe look into the city planning of Amsterdam and the creative building that was done in order to achieve livable, workable buildings in delta cities. Because everything is planned, from the ground to the buildings to the water ways, how does this change the nature of The Netherlands? Is it all man made or is there a balance?


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