Space and Compromise

Although all of our assigned authors this week discuss the Dutch use of space, David Winner particularly focuses on space as it pertains to soccer. As a result, I have decided to use this framework to discuss how the Dutch have utilized space to accommodate another sport (cycling) throughout the Netherlands.

In the video explaining junction design for safer cycling, the narrator explains that the Dutch utilize a bicycle waiting area to allow cyclists an independent right hand turn as well as an independent waiting area for left hand turns. As a result, bicyclists are not forced to mingle with traffic to the degree that cyclists in other countries are. This results in safer, as well as a more efficient, roadways. Cyclists also have their own traffic signals (I’ve noticed these here in Poland and also in France and Germany). At first I thought that it was odd for the space savvy Dutch to devote so much space to bicyclists, but upon further examination I saw that this small use of space creates safer roads and prevents cyclists from obstructing traffic. Therefor it is another example of a logical and well thought out use of space. Winner does not emphasize utilizing small amounts of space as much as he discusses smart use of space. The two are not mutually exclusive, as is the case here.

Without Winner’s analysis, I might have missed the cultural underpinnings of this clever layout. Just as the Germans are known for their efficiency and the Japanese for their precision, it seems that the Dutch excel at using space efficiently. I suppose the only conflicting point here is the extra space such bicyclist lanes take up. Winner does indeed mention that the Dutch tend to be obsessed with preserving space, even mentioning that every square centimeter in Dutch cities are carefully considered. As I mentioned before, however, I think the roadways here simply highlight the premium placed on bicycling by the Dutch. It’s very important to them so they are willing to sacrifice their most valuable commodity to accommodate it.

Aaron Betsky notes how in many Dutch cities traditionalists and modernists compromised their respective architectural styles. Notice how the building below uses the nostalgic material of brick and at the same time has modern curved walls. Looking at this building I immediately thought that it appeared incredibly modern, but upon further reflection I began to think of a castle. The small circular extensions remind of an old style castle. That being said, their layout does not resemble a castle in the slightest. Without Betsky’s analysis, I would surely have never considered this. I’m looking forward to looking for these combination buildings while we are in Amsterdam because it is something I have never considered before.

new building

Amsterdam School of design for a residential building

As a side note, here in Warsaw the opposite has been true. The Nazis obliterated the city and citizens took extensive photographs and sketches of all buildings so they could one day rebuild. Most buildings were recreated as exact replicas, and in some areas you truly feel as if you’re walking through 1939 Poland. There is one major exception, however, and I’ve included a photograph I took of what was the tallest building in Europe at the time of its construction. It was Stalin’s “gift” to the Polish people (it’s now referred to by many Poles as “Stalin’s dick” as he is understandably despised in modern Poland). Soviet architect Lev Rudnev was a fan of modern American architecture (particularly the architecture of Chicago), but because everything American was frowned upon in the USSR he subtly combined this passion with traditional Russian design. The result was a beautiful compromise of both traditional Russian and modern American architecture. It’s also believed that he was a political idealist who, if only a personal level, hoped the building might symbolize the coexistence of the Soviet Union and the United States.



2 thoughts on “Space and Compromise

  1. Hi Aidan! Great post – I really enjoyed your analysis of the Amsterdam school of design building. I completely agree that it looks like a castle with a modern take. One thing that stuck out to me about your post was when you said, “At first I thought that it was odd for the space savvy Dutch to devote so much space to bicyclists, but upon further examination I saw that this small use of space creates safer roads and prevents cyclists from obstructing traffic”. I’m wondering if they also devoted attention to so much space for bicycles due to pollution, traffic, cost of gas, or other environmental factors. I like how you compare the readings/videos to urban planning in other cities. I’m also wondering if there is a reason they prioritize bicycling paths more than NYC urban planners.


  2. Nice application of Winner’s ideas on soccer to cycling. You’re right–small bits of space are being thought about quite carefully and managed and shaped specifically. Do you see Winner doing anything this closely parallel in his analysis of soccer? is it also about carving out or using small spaces to great effect? On the architecture–I hope you’ll sustain this thinking back and forth about modern and traditional and how we might define each, or what kinds of things might trigger one or the other feeling about a building: brick (traditional), but curved (modern)!, but yeah curved like a castle (traditional). What would be “modern” in the materials usage, do you think? How might architects have been thinking about these terms? (I’ve given you very little about this, so I don’t expect an answer, but it’s something we’ll get to more specifically in Amsterdam w/ our architecture profs and students from UWM.


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