There was a time not so long ago when Shell Oil did all their toxic tinkering at research facilities just across the river from central Amsterdam—too close to wealthy white people by far! They have slipped away quietly, leaving this prime piece of land for others to cover with posh new apartments; a very typical story, typically involving redevelopment authorities with the same old marketing shtick. “Where else in the city can you get a tan on your own balcony,” they say in their brochures, “have eggs benedict for breakfast every day, and never make your own coffee again?” The answer: in any of thousands of reclaimed industrial sites across the first-world. They’re all the same, pretty much.
The light and fresh air there in Overhoeks (former Shell Oil site) combined with access to cafes and bars, will bring the apartment buyer a life of orgasms and berries for breakfast. She will roll on the grass drinking cheap wine as she has not done since she was 13. She needn’t worry about being lonely on the wrong side of the river. Some monstrous piece of whacked out new architecture will bring all the best men right to her doorstep. And if those men don’t come, at least there will be try-hard cyclists like my friends and I, who crossed the river last month for a look at Overhoek’s try-hard drawcard building, the EYE.
I’ve set the scene there for our trip on the bike ferry, to the EYE Film Institute Netherlands by German architects Delugan Meissl, in the Overhoeks redevelopment precinct. My friends were Amsterdam locals, keen to help me explore these post-industrial areas I find so intriguing.
It sure helps in a setting scaled to look best from the other side of the river, to have a bike with you. Life is too short for circling colossi on foot. Spare a thought though for the tourist who has had to return his hire bike to the shop, and has a plane to catch later today but still has this building on his list of must-dos. Every footstep from the ferry must be a pin prick, hammered in by every bike that goes past him.
This is a style of architecture that speaks to the cyclist as plainly as a medieval church speaks to a pilgrim walking to Santiago, or a McDonalds sign speaks to a driver. We don’t sit perpendicular unto the horizon when we apprehend our cycle-space world, but are constantly leaning and thus disposed better to buildings like these, with virtually no vertical lines. I’m showing you some of the only ones I could find.
It’s a style of architecture with no detail worth seeing at walking pace, yet without the big signage required to grab the attention of drivers. Actually, it’s designed to look good in a computer model fly-through at roughly the height and speed of a bicyclist’s eyes.
As with offerings in the same ilk by Gehry and Hadid, the EYE makes an anthropomorphic welcoming gesture; because it’s in Holland, that gesture is to a bike path. To my eye, the building is sucking its tummy in, to welcome cyclists into its navel. (Micro lesson in architectural history: Borromini was the master of these bodily gestures. Can you see a chest thrust out and welcoming arms?)
These are the defining traits of what I would call the cycle-space icon. You may have some other term for these buildings, but that just tells me you aren’t switched on to the most enabling way of encountering cities.
My try-hard old cycling buddies and I, truly enjoyed our coffees and apple pies. The cafe seating is arranged like a theatre for watching the ladies who come to find leerv.