Updating Bike Space; Spatial Conflict & Compromise (for 18 July)

We’ve been reading this week about how limited and valuable space is in The Netherlands; as a consequence, we heard Aaron Betsky describe the Dutch as “masters at reusing the same space for myriad purposes and at putting disparate things next to each other” (p. 24). This idea that there’s only so much space and that the space they have must constantly be reevaluated appears to be critical to an understanding of Dutch culture—what I’ve come away with from our readings is that they will do whatever it takes to make the space work for what they need it for, even if that means transforming it beyond recognition in a completely unexpected way.

Our fellow blogger over on the Bicycle Dutch Blog wrote about the applications of these types of concepts in his post “Cycle route update: it’s all in the details.” Here, he showed us example after example of the redesign of Dutch bike lanes and the associated infrastructure to maximize safety and efficiency. In many of these examples, the amount of actual space that the bikes have available to them has changed very little or not at all—what has changed is how that space is organized. The Dutch have a need and a drive to integrate bicycles into traffic and to make The Netherlands a safe and straightforward place for cyclists, and they continue to re-evaluate and reengineer the use of space set aside for bikes to meet their goals.

An before-and-after aerial shot of redesigned bike infrastructure, courtesy of our friend at the Bicycle Dutch Blog (https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/cycle-route-update-its-all-in-the-details/)

That’s not to say that the decision-making process for use of space is ever simple, or that everyone always agrees about what to do. Betsky gives us some insight into this process with an example from his home of Rotterdam. Heated debate took place after World War II between competing schools of thought on the direction that should be taken with architecture, design, and planning. It was an urgent and important matter—Betsky writes that some 80% of the city center in Rotterdam was destroyed in the war (p. 30). This debate did not turn as ugly as it might in, say, our own neighborhood in Washington; here’s how he describes Dutch compromise:

“This being the Netherlands, these debates were not violent and were solved not by one party or the other proclaiming victory burt through the integration of features from both schools of design into the final plan”   (p. 38)

Instead of going totally modern, or sticking to traditional values, Rotterdam instead did a little of both, and in the process developed a new, unique style. 

A little slice of Rotterdam from p. 23 of Betsky—this is the Francine Houben House by Mecanoo (1991).

This week, we also saw a snippet from a booklet on the Amsterdam School of architecture, pblished by Museum Het Schip, which talks about other fights over architectural style taking place in the capital in the 1920s. The laws governing how new housing would be developed, which had previously allowed great freedom to architects, were rewritten to prioritize function over style. The booklet tells us that, “to cut costs, they developed standard floor plans and tried to leave out ‘unnecessary’ decorative elements whenever possible” (p. 6). This naturally created conflict, and the eventual compromise was Dutch in the way Betsky described: the architects lost control of the interior of buildings, but they could run wild with the street frontage. Just like the mix of traditional and modernist styles and ideals in postwar Rotterdam, this situation gave birth to new priorities and new design principles in the development of public space. 

A good example of the kind of brick detail the Amsterdam School architects were fond of (borrowed from https://www.amsterdam.info/architecture/amsterdam-school/)

2 thoughts on “Updating Bike Space; Spatial Conflict & Compromise (for 18 July)

  1. Hi Joe! Your post got me thinking about how how the Dutch constantly reconfigured the same space — kind of like how players positions change during a football game. What do you think the driving agents of change are? We have read about natural disasters forcing re-evaluation of space, war, dilapidated buildings, etc. I think you touch on some great points, particularly how the decision making process for use of space is never simple. I would be interested in reading more about how you think the change comes about.


  2. The “organization” of space: yes. We’ll get to experience this first hand in Amsterdam. I’m curious about whether it’s happening evenly across other towns, too (we’ll see Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Haarlem). Interestingly, however, pedestrians often suffer in this planning: I experienced places where pedestrian crossings were fairly complicated (like the bike one above) while bikes sailed through. Thank you for bringing out some of the reading on Amsterdam School, and esp. that beautiful example of the carved brick ornament. We’ll learn a lot more about this architecture in a couple of tours, but to be honest I hadn’t really thought much about the interiors–let’s be sure to ask our guide (Joppe Schaaper) about that.


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