Artificial Towns, Innate Creativity

By J. Streker

The question of why Dutch design is so eye catching and popular is something that has been in the back of my mind since I lived in Germany. The limitations inherent in living in the Netherlands forced designer, architects, and artists to approach everything from a unique angle.  I can’t think of many other cultures that would have decided, or been stubborn enough, to not let nature do her course and instead force their civilization on her.  Yet instead of building monuments to their power over earth, they have retained a sense of respect by letting her breathe in areas and respecting their own boundaries.

I think that the minds of a society that came up with ways to create land where there was once water, and maintain said land, show a balance of creativity, artistry, and engineering that naturally lends itself to design.  I also think the practicality of Dutch design is appealing in a time of excess.  They simply don’t have the space for extra.  Everything must have a purpose and when you’re limited in what and where you can build your creativity can flourish in how to build it.

When looking at architecture in Amsterdam I was struck by the EYE – New Dutch Film Institute building, pictured above.  The word ontsluiten, to un lock or open up, is brought up in False Flat reference how infrastructure can unlock a community making It accessible and opening up what lay hidden before (Betsky and Eeuwens, 104).  The Film Institute building unlocks city around it by framing it in a different way.  The cityscape of Amsterdam can be seen almost like the unfolding of a movie.  The combination of two very different yet interactive and immersive media like film and architecture the building offers a new experience for a visitor/viewer.   Much like how the scholars of last week showed how different methodological frames can affect the viewing of a work of art, the framing of architecture can influence the view and experience of a city.


On an informal side note, the featured/title image of this post is of Qubic, housing in Amsterdam designed by students for students. It is made of modular units of the same size that could be made for cheap and could be stacked and brought together easily and for little cost.  As a poor student, I would love to live in a residence that looked this cool (and is hopefully still affordable)!



Betsky, Aaron, and Adam Eeuwens. False flat: why dutch design is so good. London: Phaidon, 2008. Print.

EYE – New Dutch Film Institute / Delugan Meissl Associated Architects” 10 Apr 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2017. <;


6 thoughts on “Artificial Towns, Innate Creativity

  1. After reading the critiques of the new Stedelijk building and the Kraanspoor it seems like breath and space to respire are important aspects of Dutch design. Justin Davidson uses the Museumsplein and the recent building up of the area to voice his frustration about the changing open space using words like “nibbling” and “muddy.” The tinkering of the design of the Plein and the introduction of new museums and the donkey’s ear no longer give the views eye time to rest and recover. Similarly, the Bathtub seems to be encroaching on the old building of the Stedelijk. By not putting space between the two building, or having a smoother transition, the modern appears like it’s trying to take over and replace the old. On the other hand, there is a 10 foot gap between the original concrete structure of the Kraanspoor and the new glass box, even this relatevly small amount of space allows the eye to rest, relax, and reset for something new, making the change seem less jarring, integrating the two by separating them.
    This idea of space and breaks is similar to how the Dutch have allowed their land to breathe and avoided extending to far out into the country despite being in desperate need of land. Lack of space can lead to the feeling of suffocation, whether it’s the suffocating of a traditional building by a new one, or suffocation of land by civilization, where as planned space (even in an area where space is lacking) allows visitors and viewers to almost feel the placebo effect of space and room to breathe.

    The bike lanes of the Netherlands are seemingly purely practical designs. They don’t add any aesthetic qualities to a town, but they do remove my least favorite part of living in a city, traffic. By prioritizing bikes in built up areas, the Dutch are making a strong statement about how they would prefer their citizens to travel, and making it safer to bike encourages people to use that form of transport. Bikes remove the blight of traffic in a city already clogged for space, while also encouraging an active, green lifestyle


    1. Space, the final frontier! Really nice to pick up on this idea in these reviews–esp. in your creative attention to it in the Kraanspoor review. On the idea of encroachment, maybe one would have had to know the Museumsplatz before to notice the difference. In DC, I thought the location of the new African Amercian museum was terrible–too close to the Washington Monument, coming up out of line with the other museums. But now that it’s there, I see it as right on line w/ the American History museum next door and it just seems to own that space entirely. Maybe that’s what good architecture can do–make it seem like it was always meant to be there. Let’s see how we feel about it when we’re standing in that space.

      Also: on bike infrastructure–yes, I don’t think I thought about its aesthetics at all. I’m wondering now if there is something to notice in that–maybe just good clear design to signal its uses (e.g., that video on transitions).


      1. I was on the same page about the location of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Because they made that extra road that laps around it it feels a little more integrated into the fabric of DC. As a semi DMV native, it almost feels likes it’s been there forever, yet it’s been open less than a year. I still have a small problem with the fact that it messes with the pseudo-symmetry of the Mall, but that’s minor.


  2. Just another thought experiment on Dutch use of nature: we could perhaps look to colonial New Holland (New York) and New Amsterdam (New York City) to see how they–and the enslaved Africans they brought in–reshaped the land when there was no geographical pressure to do so (there were political pressures, of course, including continuing wars with Iroquois).


  3. Nice recap–so what *is* the difference between Dutch domination of nature vs. American domination of nature? Maybe it’s that much of that nature was ocean, but much of it was also bog, stream, marsh, etc., that was completely reshaped. In the DC suburbs where I live (inside the beltway), I’m struck by the fact that nature seems to be about to take over everywhere–Fairfax county leaves the meadians to get overgrown because they don’t have the budget to mow them; the margins along the W&OD bike trail are likewise choked with weeds, vines, volunteer trees that seem to be no man’s land–between the WOD’s parkland property and the private back yards fenced adjacent. I think it because we have more land than we know what to do with, and so development has outstripped our capacity to cultivate it all properly. I suppose a Dutch approach would have been to restrict and manage development within dense spaces & preserving (rather than manipulating) the rest?

    The idea of unlocking is also a great one to pick up on? What does it mean, exactly? How do you think this works w/ the EYE structure & its neighborhood (from what you can tell from afar and on the internet?). Are there local examples you could apply this to? And how does unlocking work w/ a painting? What does a painting itself unlock? (Clearly the methods of analysis unlock things in the painting, too.)


  4. Its interesting that you say that the manipulation of the environment reflects an artistic sensibility. What else does it reflect about human nature? Is that good, bad? We also manipulate the environment in very negative ways. Just something to keep in mind.

    In the essay for this week, perhaps expand on the idea of architecture being able to unlock further meaning within a community. That would be something very meaningful to shed more light on.


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