Imminent, Imaginative Futures for Old and New Amsterdams

Events: Rising Water and the City: A New Design Challenge; New York / Amsterdam 2040: Breathing, Eating, Making, Moving, Dwelling
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.10.11; 06.11.11
Speakers: Rising Water and the City: Paul Roncken — Bachelor Coördinator & Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Wageningen University; Chris van Langen — Head of School, Rotterdam Academy of Architecture; Brian McGrath — Professor & Research Chair in Urban Design, Parsons The New School; Kevin Joh Benham — Head of the School of Landscape Architecture, Boston Architectural College; Rogier van de Berg — Head of Urbanism, Amsterdam Academy of Architecture; Sandro Marpillero, FAIA — Associate Professor in Architecture and Urban Design, Columbia University; Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, ACSA — Distinguished Professor, Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York (moderator); Aart Oxenaar — Director, Amsterdam Academy of Architecture (moderator); New York/Amsterdam 2040: Abby Suckle, FAIA, LEED AP — VP for Public Outreach, AIANY & President, cultureNOW (welcome); David Bragdon — Director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability (introduction); Barbara Wilks, FAIA, ASLA — W Architecture; Steven Delva — DELVA Landscape Architects; Dingeman Deijs — Dingeman Deijs Architect; Bonnie A. Harken, AIA, APA — President, Nautilus International Development Consulting, Inc. & Co-chair, Waterfront Committee, APA New York Metro Chapter (respondent); Sam Dufaux — WORKac; Jago van Bergen — Van Bergen Kolpa; Howard Slatkin — Director of Sustainability, NYC Department of City Planning (respondent); Susannah Drake, ASLA, AIA — dlandstudio; Olv Klijn — .FABRIC; Margaret Newman, AIA — Chief of Staff, NYC Department of Transportation (respondent); Jing Liu & Florian Idenburg, Int’l Assoc. AIA — Solid Objectives-Idenburg Liu (SO-IL); Caro van der Venne — Barcode Architects; Hillary Brown, FAIA — Professor of Architecture, CUNY & Principal, New Civic Works (respondent); Daniel D’Oca — Interboro; Sascha Glasl — Space & Matter; Chris Beardsley — Executive Director, Forum for Urban Design & Principal, RUX Design (respondent); Luc Vrolijks — Urban Progress (moderator, summary discussion)
Organizers: Rising Water and the City: Center for Architecture; ARCAM; Amsterdam Academy of Architecture, Urban Progress; AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee; New York/Amsterdam 2040: Center for Architecture; ARCAM; in collaboration with Urban Progress
Sponsors: Underwriters: Stimuleringsfonds voor Architectuur; Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Sponsors: Priva; Proper Stok

The Red Point Park: Aquapuncture on the Waterfront (Project team: Jacques Abelman, Txell Blanco Diaz, Marit Janse, Simone Serafino, Egle Suminskaite)

Courtesy Amsterdam Academy of Architecture

In these two panels related to the “Glimpses 2040” exhibition, the affinities between Amsterdam and New Amsterdam appeared stronger than differences in geography and national cultures. Some of the shared qualities noted by David Bragdon, director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability — a strong trading history, an openness to outsiders, and an innovative spirit (occasionally hazardous in the financial sphere, he noted, drawing parallels between 17th-century tulips and 21st-century mortgages) — make both cities suitable for creative leadership in an era that will challenge architects and planners’ improvisational skills.

The mission for the new AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, announced by Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, at the “Rising Water” panel, applies logically to what the Dutch have been doing for centuries: designing public spaces and infrastructure to keep natural hazards at bay. “One of the problems of being Dutch,” quipped Head of Urbanism at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture Rogier van den Berg, “is everybody says you know a lot about water.” Dutch technical expertise, most visible in dikes and polders, extends to other realms such as wind power and housing; van den Berg’s catchphrase “fluid attitude” is more than a pun. Paul Roncken of Wageningen University and Rotterdam Academy of Architecture’s Chris van Langen’s accounts of evolving hydrologic strategies suggested historical movement from “technocratic” strategies (moving water out as fast as possible) to an acceptance of water as a functioning component of urban structures. Using “sand engines,” “aquapuncture,” and other soft-edge approaches helps infrastructure employ natural forces rather than resist them.

Local responses to climate change, Parsons The New School’s Brian McGrath suggested, will require understanding the ecologies of the whole New York Bight (Cape May to Montauk); similar broad views apply to New Orleans and other flood-prone areas. Much discussion at this event stressed the urgency of interdisciplinary work: research on, by, and for design, as Roncken proposed, driven not by clients’ commercial incentives, but by global collegiality, perhaps with institutional innovations such as a civic foundation holding patents on new technologies.

Saturday’s all-day event, an exercise in rethinking broad quality-of-life topics at sites in both cities, yielded ideas about how future Amsterdammers and New Yorkers might adapt to new flows of resources, people, and knowledge. As Margaret Newman, AIA, of the NYC Department of Transportation, observed, public health varies with means of movement; all schemes anticipated multimodal, resource-sharing, non-car-oriented cities, with waterfront reclamation and water transport as recurrent themes (dlandstudio’s Hybrid Urban Base, a Long Island City mode-switch nexus, being perhaps the most concrete of the proposals). WORKac’s “Infoodstructure” sketched the reconfiguration of Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant from a food desert to a more self-sustaining nutritional environment, converting key streets to orchards, urban farms, and “aquaponic” underground fisheries. Jago van Bergen, of Van Bergen Kolpa, accordingly restructured Amsterdam’s outlying land wedges for discrete food sectors, restoring the balance of production and consumption. Space & Matter’s Sascha Glasl realigned Amsterdam’s neighborhoods to admit themed residential blocks, hinting at negotiations between choice and diversity while striving to avoid the sterility of gated districts. Interboro’s Daniel d’Oco offered sobering reminders of misbegotten past visions, turning Newark’s Broad Street into an archipelago of past urban-renewal projects as “weapons of inclusion or exclusion.”

Luc Vrolijks, of Urban Progress, observed a general tendency for the American projects to aim at restoring lost natural states, contrasting with Dutch approaches to managing the built/natural interface. Still, transatlantic commonalities were at least as strong, linked to the perception, as Director of Sustainability for the NYC Department of City Planning Howard Slatkin noted, that meaningful solutions to site problems begin with recognition of each site’s location within multiple social systems.