History of Eastern Docklands Amsterdam

'Barcelona', KNSM-island. Architect: Bruno Albert.The Eastern Docklands consist of artificial peninsulas, laid out between 1874 and 1927. From here big passenger and cargo ships left to the former Dutch East and West Indies, the Americas and Africa. A railway system alongside the stretched quays provided a means of transporting the cargo further into Europa.

In fact, however, already from the beginning the harbour was situated at the wrong side of Amsterdam. Since 1876 the North Sea Canal west of the city offered a new direct connection with the North See that was more suitable for the bigger ships built at the time. Still, the harbour florished, especially in the years between the two World Wars. Eventually, in the east the IJ was cut off from the Zuiderzee by the construction of the Oranje Sluices.

After the Second World War the decay of the Eastern Docklands started. Passengers traveled by airlines rather than on ships. General mixed cargo was replaced by container and bulk transport. The new port moved to the area west of Amsterdam. For some years Eastern Docklands became an area for artists, squatters and city nomads, living in old buses, caravans, tents, huts and dens.

Entrepotbrug, Entrepot-West. Architect: PROResidential purposes
In 1975 the city council decided to earmark the Eastern Docklands for residential purposes. Following the concept of the compact city, it decided to build with an extraordinarily high density of 100 dwellings per hectare for 18.000 people. The high density was also necessary because of the huge investment in preparing the land for buildings and the infrastructure such as bridges, roads and public transport.

The first part of this district – the Abattoir site - was redeveloped based on the accepted way of dealing with urban renewal: exclusively rented dwellings in the social sector.

Turnabout in politics
For the other areas in 1986 a turnabout took place in Amsterdam politics after the formation of a new city council in 1986. ‘Building for the neighbourhood’ became ‘building for the market’. The city council wanted to stimulate private housing and luxury rented houses, hoping to prevent the exodus of higher income groups. Mixing of market and social sectors was the new policy.

Architectural beauty and urban allure became important criteria. The existing harbour basins were to be preserved and existing harbour buildings re-used. For each island an independant urban designer was invited. It was this decision that gave the area a special quality impulse. 

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Portal of Amsterdam's Eastern Docklands. © Visual Text, Amsterdam.