Dumped in Almere. Interview with Floris Alkemade OMA

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October 2007

Beatriz Ramo and Bernd Upmeyer spoke on behalf of MONU with Floris Alkemade. Floris Alkemade is one of the partners of Rotterdam based OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture).

He joined OMA in 1989 and has worked there as a project director for architecture and urban planning since 1996. As project architect and project leader, he worked in the early nineties on the Euralille master plan, a 70-hectare business, and civic centre in northern France hosting the European hub for high-speed trains. Since 1994, he has been leading the master-plan project for the City Center of Almere, which is currently under construction. The land where Almere sits today was part of the North Sea 50 years ago. At the end of the fifties, the construction of the polder (1) began. Today Almere can be categorized as a 2nd rate city with 180.000 inhabitants. The city is located 35 km east of Amsterdam. The first house was built in 1976, and just 8 years later, Almere was designated an official municipality. It is expected that the population of Almere reaches 210.000 inhabitants by 2015, making it the 5th largest city in Netherlands.
The interview took place on Monday June 25, 2007 at 14.00 ate OMA’s office in Rotterdam.

↑image above: Original 1994 Masterplan proposal as programmatic sandwich of housing, shops and parking with a size of 300m x 300m – Image courtesy of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)

Full interview (5000 words) in
MONU #7 2nd Rate Urbanism
See the publication here


Masterplan by OMA

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Excerpts from the interview:

Beatriz Ramo: Was Almere ever planned to be a 2nd rate city?
Floris Alkemade: Almere, strangely enough, was never intended to be a city. Almere was planned at the time, when the Bijlmermeer (2) was constructed, that hardcore CIAM-kind of architecture. People started to realize, what the effects of that kind of architecture were and they decided to never do it again. Then they started to plan Almere and they decided that what ever they would do, it should not become a city. They planned Almere as five independent villages (Almere Haven, Almere Hout, etc), separated by vast amounts of green spaces. (…)Bernd Upmeyer: That’s kind of interesting, that apparently the main character and advantage of 2nd rate cities on the edge of A-list cities is based on their opportunity to become whatever they want without actually running the risk of loosing their identity, because their identity is in most cases carried by the A-cities that are close by.Floris Alkemade: In that sense, you could distinguish two identities. You can say Amsterdam has the identity of “what it is” and Almere has the identity of “what it got”. Not in a sense, that Almere is a beautiful city, but in a sense that it has this power of production and the capability of being flexible and the ability to integrate new things in its very center. On the other hand, Amsterdam is basically completely paralyzed in its center. It only can make sure that beautiful buildings remain beautiful. The city of Almere has much more flexibility. The difficulty there of course is that masses and masses of houses can be produced without creating any sense of urbanity.Beatriz Ramo: How is Almere dealing with that difficulty?Floris Alkemade: Almere now tries to become more urban. The new scheme for the center plays an important role to create density and identity. (…)Beatriz Ramo: Does Almere today already have to deal with such typical city matters as immigration, crime etc…?Floris Alkemade: It is getting there, yes. That’s of course all a part of becoming a city. Not everybody is ready for that yet, because what we see as a totally boring city is paradise for some people. (…)Bernd Upmeyer:  But what kind of city did we actually get in the end? What are the qualities of Almere today? Are we still dealing with a 2nd rate city?

Floris Alkemade: Today I would say that one part of the city is actually urban, but other parts are still green and very suburban as they ever were. It is just, that there is now a kind of gravity point in this field of houses. This was actually the first question that we asked during the competition phase: “Why do you need a center?” Almere had actually proven that a city could exist without one because everybody had a car to drive to the supermarket and back home. People were happy at home entertaining themselves and repairing their houses. (…)

(…)

Floris Alkemade: before that competition I had actually never really been in Almere, except once, which was after midnight with some friends. We drove by Almere and since no one of us had ever been there before, we had that idea to actually have a beer there. I remember that we entered the city, it was like two or three o’clock in the morning, we passed by an endless amount of similar houses but didn’t find any center. It just never became dense somewhere. It was a very fascinating experience, like being dumped, entering hell…(…)

Bernd Upmeyer:  Did you finally succeed in finding a bar?

Floris Alkemade: No, we did not…(…)

Beatriz Ramo: So the shopping, including the mega stores, was a very crucial aspect during the transformation process, right? And to have a multiplex cinema also enlarged the activity time frame, so the centre stays continuously alive.

Floris Alkemade: Exactly. We actually tried to increase that as an aspect. We tried to locate a typical periphery car-orientated shopping and entertainment culture in form of mega-stores in the very center. (…)

Bernd Upmeyer: Probably emancipation not only from the city, but also from suburbia?

Floris Alkemade: Yes, emancipation from both to create something new. The interesting thing about Almere was, that it had no historical center; it is just, what we produced. So we had to ask ourselves: What is our own culture actually producing? We could not lean on the production of former generations, but had to figure out, what kind of identity our own generation is able to produce.

Beatriz Ramo: Apart from shopping, how important was the fact, that many of the buildings were actually designed by superstar architects like Sejima, OMA, or Portzamparc?

Floris Alkemade: That is a very good question, which we also asked ourselves many times, since we as urbanists were involved in the selection of the architects. We were a part of a so-called quality-team together with people from the city. The city asked me to come up with some names, so I proposed some, and also the developers proposed some. (…)

Beatriz Ramo: It sounds a bit like what happens in the south part of Rotterdam, where people dare to do things, which are not possible in the north. In that sense, Almere could be the “south” of Amsterdam.

Floris Alkemade: That would be a great concept. That means in the end, that whatever is new and dangerous can be located in Almere, which could lead to a mix of total new program.


Google Earth View of Almere Center Masterplan by OMA


  
 
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Title: Dumped in Almere
Name: Interview with Floris Alkemade – Office for Metropolitan Architecture OMA
Date: June 2007
Type: Self-initiated interview
Location: Rotterdam
Site: OMA’s office in Rotterdam
Programme: Interview about the Masterplan for Almere; about secondary cities; …
Surface: 5000 words
Status: Published
Client: Self-initiated
Publications: – Dumped in Almere, MONU magazine on urbanism #7 –Second Rate Urbanism , Rotterdam, the Netherlands, October 2007
STAR Team: Beatriz Ramo
Collaborators: co-author: Bernd Upmeyer – BOARD + editor-in-chief MONU