A short trip to the Netherlands this summer gave me the chance to see some long-time favorite buildings in their native context. This travel also fired my imagination as to the possibilities of human-scale architecture and landscape, expressed through pedestrian and bicycle friendly infrastructure, easy transportation, and community gardens.
People often think of bicycles when they think of the Dutch and it’s easy to see why: there are bikes everywhere, as well as the infrastructure to accommodate them. Upon exiting Amsterdam Centraal Railway Station, you cannot miss the sea of bicycles.
There is even a “garage” with multiple levels, as clearly there is no more room at street level.
If you exit out the back of the station, there are floating bike parking lot barges, some with double-deck racks.
There are bikes everywhere – and not just used for personal transport. This delivery bike was seen in Da Costabuurt, a neighborhood West of central Amsterdam.
Besides bicycles and their paths, Amsterdam is crossed by trams and ferries. In some places, the trams have their own rights-of-way, lined with cycleways and sidewalks, of course.
Free pedestrian/bike ferries cross the IJ and link the North side of Amsterdam with the city center.
Transport to other cities in the Netherlands is easy via train, with frequent service on fast intercity trains.
We took a train to the town of Ede, and then a bus into the Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe, to visit the Kröller-Müller Museum, which is a beautiful museum of 19th and 20th century art set in a forested sculpture garden. The museum grounds are home to classic monumental sculpture, such as Sol Lewitt’s Six Sided Tower, as well as pavilions, such as Aldo van Eyck’s pavilion originally built in 1966 for a sculpture exhibition in Arnhem, but rebuilt at the museum in 2005.
The Kröller-Müller Museum has other pieces of ‘architectural sculpture’ such as Joep van Lieshout’s Mobile Home for Kröller-Müller from 1995
Via train we also visited the city of Utrecht, principally to see the buildings of Gerrit Rietveld. First stop, of course, was the Schröder House of 1924.
Not usually noted is that this small house faces an elevated freeway (behind the photographer in this picture). The land beyond the freeway was owned by Madame Schröder, and when the road was built, she commissioned Rietveld to build dwellings on the former farmland. These apartment buildings, known as the Erasmuslaan Houses, were built from 1931 to 1934.
We also visited Rietveld's 1928 Chauffeur’s House, with it’s finely patterned painted façade and bright red door.
Utrecht is home to many more Reitveld works; for example the 1960 Theissing house, and examples of his furniture at Utrecht’s Centraal Museum.
Back in Amsterdam, we took time off from architectural delights to visit a few of the community, or allotment, gardens known as volkstuinen. They are beautiful parks full of small land plots where the Dutch tend vegetable and flower gardens and get away from the city to relax in small cabins.
These allotment gardens are like miniature cities unto themselves – complete with miniature streets and canals.
Amsterdam manages to balance new large-scale architectural projects, such as the 2012 EYE Film Institute Netherlands by the Austrian firm Delugan Meissl architects, with more ‘traditional’ landscapes. Not twenty minutes by bike from the Eastern districts of the city, the farms and open spaces of Amsterdam-Noord, or Waterland, offer a timeless vision of the Dutch Landscape.
Text and Photographs by Jason Miller, CED Visual Resources Librarian