Telefooncentrale (Telephone Exchange) Amsterdam-West, designed by the architect Albert Boeken and built in 1928. It was in use until 2015 and will be redeveloped into housing. All photos by the author.
Recently I was sick and homebound for a while, so I decided to go for a digital adventure in my city of Amsterdam. I set out on a trip in Google Earth, spending hours and hours flying around in that 3D version of reality. Not all European cities can be explored this way yet, but lucky for me, most of Amsterdam can. Not that it looks perfect—Google Earth’s interpretation of the real world is often pretty glitchy, with trees from 1995 computer games, facades resembling faces with running mascara, and quite some constructions looking like melting architectural models. But at the same time, much of this makes for some fascinating, if unintentional, cyber art. My challenge became to find buildings you generally don’t see when you’re cycling around Amsterdam. Every time I found one, I tried to uncover bits and pieces of its history through websites and archives. Here’s a selection from my harvest.
Openluchtschool voor het Gezonde Kind (Open Air School for the Healthy Child), designed by the famous architect Johannes Duiker from 1930, who also designed the city’s Cineac cinema (1934). It’s one of the very first modernist buildings in Amsterdam (concrete, glass and steel, which equaled ‘future’ at the time). When Google Earth scanned the area—which must have been around 2010 or 2011—it was wrapped in scaffolding, as it was being renovated, making it look like a giant abstract sculpture.
Villa Betty (1877), located in the fringe of the city’s Vondelpark. It’s named after Betty von Hunteln, who was called The Queen of Overtoom and lived in the villa until 1980 when she died at age 100. An eclectic building of Jugendstil and chalet styles, it had period rooms decorated after Arabic, English, Dutch, Louis XIV and Chinese examples. After Betty’s death, the interior was stripped and auctioned. It's currently one of the city's most expensive residences.
The Pieter Janszoon Suyckerhoff-Hofje (courtyard) from 1667, one of the Jordaan area’s many courtyard complexes. It consists of 19 dwellings, which are all—still—for women only.
The Evangelical-Lutheran Orphanage from 1678. In 1811, Napoleon kicked out the orphans because he needed the building for a military hospital. Currently the buildings houses mostly offices.
The British School of Amsterdam, built in 1930 as the Dalton School (a mixed school). From 1941-43 it was one of the schools where Jewish children were concentrated since the Nazi regime didn’t allow them to mix with other kids. It became Jewish School No. 13. Starting with 300 Jewish children in 1941, the number dropped to 200 in 1942, as kids 'disappeared' daily. Further numbers are unknown. The British School will soon move to the former House of Detention II (see below).
The former Huis van Bewaring II (House of Detention II) from 1890. In 1980, the state sold the building to the city of Amsterdam because it no longer needed the prison. It was partly squatted, and it housed a Baghwan commune and folklorist dance theatre. Soon however, the state needed more prison cells after all and bought back the building. In 2014 the prison closed, after which some 180 (mostly Syrian) refugees were housed there. The building will soon be renovated so that by 2019 the British School of Amsterdam can move in.
Leonardo da Vinci School. The original building from 1886 was “biologically” renovated by aayu architecten in 2012, using mostly onsite, natural and recycled materials. In the back: the Europarking building by modernist architect Piet Zanstra from 1971 (which US photographer Spencer Tunick used in 2007 for a mass nude photo with 2,000 naked people).
The Martyrs of Gorcum Church (or Hofkerk), designed by A.J. Kropholler and built 1927-29. There's extra space around the church on its plot, so that processions could take place here because they weren’t allowed in public space. The architect must have drawn inspiration from Berlage's famous Stock Exchange at Dam Square. A monastery, a catholic housing project and a catholic school were built around the same time, enclosing the large courtyard.
Nicolaas Maes School. The white building replaced a 1916 early Amsterdamse School-style building in 1999. However, in 2012, a renovated version opened its doors (this Google Earth image is from 2004), because the white building proved a failure. Stairs were too dangerous, doors smashed on kids' fingers, the indoor climate was horrible and the plastic facade weathered badly. Its 1990s architect (MVSA, who also designed "The Shoe", ING Bank's former HQs) argued this was due to a limited construction budget. A representative of the local government (the client) said that the architect had clearly prioritized design over usability, that MVSA disapproved with the renovation because they wanted their intellectual property protected. The school director told local newspaper Het Parool: "it's a design masterpiece, but totally unfit for a school." The new building has a wood-clad facade, a different interior program, new climate systems, and a new playground.