Compromise and Collaboration

Roger Aidan Adams

Amsterdam: City as a Work of Art

Professor Troutman

21 July 2019


Compromise and Collaboration in Dutch Architecture

In Brilliant Orange, David Winner quotes Dr. Michiel Schwartz who rhetorically asks, “How can a small country like Holland, one of the most crowded nations on Earth offer space” (51). The Netherlands is roughly 42,000 square kilometers but houses over 17 million inhabitants. Dr. Schwartz goes on to say that, “the answer lies in the Dutch ability to create new space – not only literally, in the form of new land reclaimed from the sea, but in the form of new political structures, new social compacts and new relationships between society, technology and nature” (51). I intend to highlight some recent examples of what Winner and Schwartz describe as the defining characteristics of the Dutch use of space, particularly in the reclamation of land from the sea through extensive collaboration. I also aim to explain both the literal and cultural underpinnings and impacts of such projects just as Winner does with the Dutch approach to soccer. I will also utilize Aaron Betsky’s discussion of Dutch architecture often resulting from a merger of modern and traditional styles to examine a unique architectural project while simultaneously questioning whether his proclaimed stylistic merger is in fact possible. It seems clear that any combination of traditional and modern style favors modernism as it is, by definition, a new and modern design regardless of its traditional elements. It is for this reason that I argue much Dutch architecture embraces modernism while retaining some aesthetically pleasing traditional elements, such as color, choice of material, and outline.

So intense is the Dutch pursuit of new space that in 2017 the Netherlands unveiled a model of a floating artificial mega-island that could be used for housing and farming. The project is massive, “made up of 87 floating triangles of different sizes,” and would, “stretch 1.5 to two kilometers, or a total of three square kilometers” (Mignon). In Rotterdam, the venture firm Aqua Dock works with the municipality and port authority to warehouse a testing ground for new floating technology in conjunction with Rotterdam University’s school of Applied Sciences. Amsterdam’s Rijnhaven area is preparing to play host to one of their newest developments: the flouting neighborhood. This collaboration is a perfect example of Schwartz’s argument that the Dutch excel at creating space through new societal, governmental, technological, and natural relationships. Private industry, academia, and local government have come together to solve one of the nation’s most pressing problems by forming a deep and lasting collaboration.

Not only do these floating neighborhoods create space by reclaiming land from the sea, they are themselves remarkably space efficient. Just as Winner observes that the Dutch offer a fundamentally different geometric and strategic approach to soccer despite the fact that, “the football pitch is the same size and shape everywhere in the world,” the Dutch also offer a unique model of housing (Winner 47). First notice the small size of the bedroom in the model of a floating house below. Although we spend a third of our lives in bed, bedrooms are often unnecessarily large. We only use bedrooms for sleeping and therefor size is not particularly important. Sleeping on the same sized bed in a closet or on the floor of an industrial plant makes little difference when our eyes are closed.

house 1

Floating Neighborhood Blueprint 

Another extremely unique feature of this design is the location of the bathroom. In much of the West, we are accustomed to having bathrooms adjoined to our bedrooms, but this is not the case here. Instead, the bathroom is two floors above the bedroom and one must walk up two (albeit very small) flights to reach the bathroom. I would much rather have the room adjacent to the bathroom in this model layout as my bedroom, but doing so would indeed waste space as a result of an oversized bedroom. This willingness to sacrifice the comfort of easily going to the bathroom in the middle of the night or to shower in the morning exemplifies just how much the Dutch sacrifice to preserve space. I will, however, also point out that this must signal some sort of dramatic cultural difference between Americans and the Dutch. Upon studying this blueprint, it seems as if adjoining the bedroom and bathroom in a moderately space efficient manner would be possible, but for some reason it was not a significant concern to the designers. Perhaps this simply reinforces the idea of how much the Dutch value the conservation of space.

The second significant development resulting from this collaboration is the creation of floating farms. Because huge amounts of surface area are required in the cultivation of food, designing efficient floating farms proved to be a herculean task. The model below shows a farm that will be used in the production of dairy, vegetables, and eggs. Chickens and cows occupy the lower section while vegetable growth occurs on the second floor which is covered entirely with glass designed to magnify sunlight. Although the preservation of space was the primary motivation for this design, it is also noteworthy that this farm will be remarkably water efficient. Essentially no water will be wasted to evaporation and will instead be recycled back into the watering system. Animal waste can also easily be stored for future use as fertilizer.

farm 1

Floating Farm Blueprint 

Architecture in the Netherlands often combines both traditional and modern elements. Aaron Betsky explains that through the very Dutch practice of compromise, these two opposing schools of thought have worked together to create lasting masterpieces. The hotel building below is essentially a group of classic Dutch houses stacked on top of one another in an a-symmetrical fashion. The white windows are very traditional as is the construction of the roof and its material. The contrast of the green building to the orange roof is also reminiscent of traditional Dutch design and the various shades of green are considered the traditional shades of the Zaan region. The stacking of these houses, however, is obviously a very modern aesthetic approach.

stacked house

Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam

Notice how the architect included wooden outlines of roofs throughout the building so as to create the illusion of houses being stacked upon one another. Each “individual” house is made to be appear distinctive by the use of texture and white paint. Different shades of green are utilized throughout the building and some houses even appear to have doors without anything beneath them. Some of the houses are small while others are large with a dozen windows on one side. This building looks like something one would create with Legos or something that could be found in a science fiction film like Back to the Future. It is clearly not traditional, but at the same time looks traditional when viewed in pieces. If one fixates on the forest and not the tree, it appears radically modern, but if one instead focuses on the tree itself, the design is indeed classical.

Although I do agree with much of Betsky’s observation about the merging of the traditional and modern in Dutch architecture, I would question the extent to which this truly is a compromise. The building below is by definition modern because it is unlike anything ever created before. It does indeed have traditional elements, but these seem significantly overshadowed by the bizarre overall design. I think a more accurate description is that modern architecture often incorporates traditional elements as it continues to push the envelope in cutting edge development.

In an age of rapid population expansion and worldwide food and water shortages, the Dutch approach to housing and farming expansion is highly commendable. It indeed exemplifies their national and cultural instinct to use creative problem solving as well a compromise and collaboration in the pursuit of preserving and efficiently utilizing space. Floating neighborhoods and farms are undoubtedly the future (the near future in coastal countries like Japan and Amsterdam). These projects are expensive but necessary for an ever expanding population in a world that, if anything, continues to shrink as a result of climate change and rising tides. In stylistic approach, the Dutch often create modern buildings with traditional elements in hopes of preserving and highlighting their rich history of architecture. Although Betsky and others claim this is a compromise, I contend it is merely a nod to past generations on the road of continued modernization.




David, Winner. Brilliant Orange: the Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer. Overlook Press, 2008.

Sophie Mignon. “Dutch project tests floating cities to seek more space.”, 11 July 2017.

Floating neighborhood blueprint., 26 December 2017.

Floating farm blueprint., 26 December 2017.

Betsky, Aaron. False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good. New York: Phaidon, 2004.

Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam.



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