Architectural Ponderings

Open Monumentendag Amsterdam

Open Monumentendag is a cultural event that takes place in the second weekend of September throughout the Netherlands. An impressive number of monuments open their doors for one or both days. And if some of them can be visited other times of the year, some, such as private homes or offices, are open to the public only during that weekend. Each city organizes events, tours and lectures. Massive numbers of volunteers participate each year in order to make sure each location is taken care of and, my favorite thing ever, many children participate as junior guides providing visitors with beautiful explanations. The only downside for my point of view is that the event takes place in parallel in all the participating cities. As I am part of the one in Amsterdam, I haven’t had so far the chance to see it in other cities.

I have been a part of this amazing project for a couple of years now. It is one of my most favorite weekends of the year and it has provided me with a few special moments. Might sound corny, but it did. The first time I participated I was rather afraid to go out there and deal with the crowds, so I opted for the desk role. Half way through the weekend we ended up one person short, so I had to get out there. The very moment that turned things around and jolted me to see the beauty of the event was when I arrived at one of the big locations in the center of the city. At the entrance of the monument the line was … big. Really big! There wasn’t really a way to pass through and get to the organizers inside. So I stopped. And as I stood there, unsure of how to proceed further some of the people noticed my T-shirt (we all get special T-shirts to show we are part of the event). They started telling people in line and in a matter of seconds the entire row moved one step to the right so I could pass. After the initial shock and surprise, you can’t even begin to imagine the cocky feeling I was having. My very own 15 minutes of fame. Ha! Ha! Ha! But in all seriousness, that showed me how people feel about this event and the level of interaction that is attained despite the fact that most visitors don’t know one another.

As a tourist one often ends up thinking that the center of the city is the image. And while it is full of architectural and historical treasures, Amsterdam is much more complex than that. A city is made by its people. A city expresses itself through its people and their expression and implicitly through its residential and public areas. Touristic locations have a tendency to drown the local spirit. So the way to understand a city is to go further and search for unadulterated local life and surroundings. Now, Amsterdam itself as a major touristic and international hub has by now integrated its internationality in its layers. Thus its local flavor is a rather unique one.

My personal experience includes discovering neighborhoods of Amsterdam School architecture of an extraordinary charm, a luxury lounge of royal class at Amsterdam Central, a large variety of Art Deco, treasures hidden in plain sight, a cat cafe (Bonus. Not part of the event.), an amazing array of windows, giving directions to an American tourist who comes to the event on a yearly basis, walking through the narrowest passage in the city and so much more!

Grand Hotel Amrath, Amsterdam, picture by Archi-ReGrand Hotel Amrath, Amsterdam, picture by Archi-ReMraaawww at Kopjes, picture by Archi-ReJeruzalemkerk – Dutch Reformed Church of Jerusalem, picture by Archi-ReBuurtcentrum De Boomsspijkert – Community Center De Boomsspijkert, picture by Archi-Re
Koninklijke wachtkamer, Amsterdam Centraal – The Royal Waiting Room, Amsterdam Central Station,
picture by Archi-Re
De Gulden Tulip – The Golden Tulip, picture by Archi-Re

This year’s moments were less about excitement and surprise, as I have done this for a minute or two, but instead were familiar and surprising on a much more personal level.

It started easy and yet so powerful. I didn’t have a nice history in what concerns biking in Amsterdam. Surprisingly enough it is not the cars, nor the bikes, to look out for but the pedestrians. Not joking! Folks, if you’re reading this, watch where you’re going! Pretty please! And for the love of all, if you see a bike coming (on the bike path), move!!  But the city and I decided to give it another go. So I guess third time’s a charm, because this time we did get along. I trusted its cars to watch out for me on its really narrow streets and I honked the living daylight of its pedestrian tourists! Mwahaha!

Trusty stallion waiting to start the day, picture by Archi-Re

I loved the organizer who made the driver of the blue bus, park in the middle of the street yelling “Picture! Picture! Picture” while pointing with wide gestures. And how we all blocked the street for a few minutes while all passengers descended and aligned in rows of different heights to immortalize the two vehicles before they went on their city tours.

Retired buses out to give tours of the city, picture by Archi-Re

I jumped over the “pond” for the very first time to meet Amsterdam Noord (Amsterdam North). To get there you get on a ferry, which travels on a strict schedule and at a very fast pace. And despite the wind, the ride is really enjoyable. Well, maybe not so much once the winter hits. But hey! Is not winter yet! It is also free, which I found surprising, however as it is the only way in and out it does help with the desirability of the area. And while I am more than convinced that the ride is well paid for, somewhere in the city taxes, it is a very nice touch!

Many cities developed on the line of a river have first made use of one side and only moved across once new buildings would have been located too far from the center. So, I assumed, I’m sorry Amsterdam! that was also the case of Amsterdam and that its northern area was a rather new development with recent architecture. Boy, was I wrong! It is full of old, beautiful, brick, cozy, intimate architecture.

Amsterdam, map extract from the Open Monumentendag 2017 program

Tuinpark Buitenzorg – The oldest allotment garden in North Amsterdam, picture by Archi-Re
Meerpad Street, picture by Archi-ReAugustinuskerk – Augustinus Church, picture by Archi-ReMeerpad Street, picture by Archi-ReMeerpad Street, picture by Archi-Re

I’ve been rediscovering in many of my recent trips the level of craftsmanship in brick work that older Dutch architecture had reached. The more I look at new and modern facades, the more I wonder how did that get lost. And ironically I already know the answer. Budget wise it is much easier to build a plain facade than to actually create an intricate brick design on its facade. But how much did we lose in terms of character and beauty? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating discarding modern architecture. I know, however, that reviving and adapting this traditional element can only benefit present time Dutch architecture.

If you’d like to know more about the event and and keep current with its details you can do so either on the main website or on their Facebook page.  
If you’d like to see more Archi-Re pictures from the event, click here to access the Facebook album.  

For more Field Trip pictures click here.

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