Archives for posts with tag: rembrandtplein

I can describe urban planning in the Netherlands with one term: Multiple Land Use.

Multiple Land Use in the Netherlands has a much deeper meaning than what I’ve come to know of the same concept in Canada.

In my understanding, Multiple Land Use in Canada is a fairly simple mixing of residential, commercial and industrial activities. Also known as Mixed-Use Zoning, this practice has come into vogue in the last 20 years, in direct response to the negative consequences of the Modernist practice of isolating functions which characterized urban planning in the mid to late 20th century.

In the Netherlands, Multiple Land Use means so much more than having commercial and residential beside each other, and refers to a deeper mixing of land use functions — indeed, Multiple Land Use refers to the literal stacking of functions on top of each other!

Some of my fave examples:

◈ Along the Prince Hendrikade, which lines Amsterdam’s historical Eastern harbour, there are bike, car, bus and pedestrian lanes. There is a boardwalk style green space lining the water. Where Valkenburgerstraat intersects Prince Hendrikade sits the NEMO – a  science museum with a very distinct, contemporary architectural style. On top of the NEMO is a cafe, and terrace with expansive view of the city. Under the NEMO runs the IJtunnel – a bus and car link that runs under the science museum, under the IJ and into Amsterdam Noord.

Green space beside an institution which is under leisure space and over transportation space: classic Netherlands Multiple Land Use.

Another example:

◈ Westerpark, in Amsterdam’s west. In a small strecth of land, you can find residential, commercial, leisure, agricultural, cemetarial, transportation and gardenal uses. Standing in the middle of Westerpark, you get a strange floating feeling. Runners and bikers whip by you. Inter-city trains passing mark the minutes. You get whiffs of  hearty compost and manure of gardens and farms. You hear the clattering of dishes in nearby restaurants and cafes. You smell coffee, burnt tires, marijuana. You see tall buildings in the distance, squat residential blocks nearby, smoke stacks in the horizon. You see it all, the multiple uses of land, from one vantage point.

And just one more:

◈ Along Leidsestraat and Utrechtsestraat, bi-directional tram lines run. The streets, however, are only wide enough at certain points for one set of tram-tracks. To resolve this, the Trams wait for each other to pass at the stops which are located on the canal bridges — wide enough to support both directions of the tram. The multiple-land use kicks in beautifully on Leidsestraat, a pedestrian-only street, where people freely walk along the tram tracks until one needs to pass by. The street is both a tram track and a pedestrian walk way. It works beautifully.

TramA tram patiently wait for another to pass, in typically Amsterdam flexible use of space.
The diagram of this above, is an arrangement that can be found on Leidsestraat and Utrechtsetraat.

You can also see this along Rembrandtplein. It is a pedestrian only street, save for the trams that periodically pass. When the trams pass, they create a wake through the crowd, and their path leaves a temporarily empty corridor in the middle of the walkway. Slowly the corridor fades as pedestrians feel safe again to use the whole space, but soon another tram comes and the corridor reappears. A beautiful ebb and flow of multiple land use.



There’s a statue in Amsterdam’s Rembrantplein that is quite popular with tourists. At any point during the day, there will be hundreds of people surrounding the statue, examining and taking photos with it.

The statue is a three dimensional representation of Rembrandt’s famous painting The Nightwatch, and consisting of several statues, a brigade of men in 18th century Dutch dress, charging assertively toward an unseen battle in the west. The statues are life-size, and situated not on a podium, but directly on the square. Their even level with the ground invites passersby to touch, explore and pose with the statues, interacting with them in a way not typical of most other more podiumed statues. Undoubtedly thousands of photos of the statue are taken every day.

rembrandtplein 2

You are familiar with sites like the Rembrandtplein statues. Amsterdam has another: the iamsterdam sign. If you haven’t seen it in person, you’ve surely seen it on Facebook. The Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars, the Brooklyn Bridge, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia — there are sites in the world that are overwhelmingly documented by visitors snapping incessant pictures of themselves in front of well known structures and places.

iamsterdam signWhen you visit such a site, and listen hard enough, you can hear the crackling of the photographs as they’re being taken. There’s also a distinct whoosh. This is the sound of the thousands of photos being uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

When I visit these sites, I become cynical. I wonder: “why are these people taking these photos, when there have literally been hundreds of thousands of photos in the same place taken before (indeed hundreds being taken as-we-speak)? I don’t need a photo of the Eiffel Tower – I can search for one on Google Images. I can find one in a friend’s ‘Paris’ Facebook album.”

After my cynicism cools, I think about how these photos are a kind of claiming. The photographers are marking their visit, their presence at a famous landmark in another city by creating their own digital copy of it. It’s an assertion of aura and authenticity in the era of the mass-reproduced image (indeed, the era of no-image (where are the photos on google images located?)). A person’s photo at a landmark stands for their experience: this is their photo, taken because of the experience of traveling and being there at a specific time, and not just something they found on the internet and meaningless.

And, more in the case of the Rembrandtplein statue and the iamsterdam sign, less for the Eiffel Tower, my cynicism softens even more and I can see the creativity in taking photos of these overly-photographed places and structures.

No two photos the Rembrandtplein statues or iamsterdam sign are the same. They invite interactivity, and playful, creative photo composition. You can make a dramatic gesture creating a theatrical scene with one of the Rembrandtplein statues, and you can find your name or a funny phrase in the iamsterdam sign. These are post-modern landmarks – they purposefully invite multiple interpretations and interactions – and are quite excellent examples of urban design, inviting people to reconsider their space, the city, the order of things.