Looming skyscrapers with merlons on top appear as gatekeepers upon approaching the Lex van Delden Bridge from the south. Big, gated apartment buildings tower over the water and function as a wall that prevents intruders from entering. This bridge divides the haves on the north side from the have-not’s on the south side of the moat. It demarcates the poor from the rich, the powerful from the powerless, and creates a false sense of bridging the gap. This process of exclusion becomes even more apparent upon crossing the bridge into the castle. The bridge is lit by giant lampposts (Photo 1), which almost seem to function as searchlights when illuminating the bridge and its adjacent courtyard. Another striking feature is the ‘all-seeing-eye’ portrayed on the deck of the bridge, which controls everyone passing by (Photo 2).
Even though the metaphors above may seem over the top, truth rings to these words as the architect’s envisioned connection is not achieved. The idea of a “blurred boundary” between the “public sector and private market”(Tasan- Kok, p. 5, 2012) was supposed to be achieved by this bridge . The goal was to create a square and a bridge, which connects not only the opposing Gershwinplein with the Boelelaan, but also the city-centre with Buitenveldert (Dok Architecten, 2010). Buitenveldert with its majority of social housing and the South-Axis with predominantly middle and high segment dwellings (Gemeente Amsterdam, 2017). It’s the well-off business people in their tailored suits on the one side, and the lower classes in social houses on the other side. The power relation manifests itself as a natural barrier as the canal was dug in 2016, simultaneously with development of the apartment blocks (Beensgroep, 2018). The idea behind the canal is supposedly to function as water retention in order to prevent flooding (Beensgroep, 2018). Despite this, it becomes evident that the water functions as a natural barrier to prevent intrusion into the gated apartments.
The apartment blocks overlooking the water are gated areas with high facades facing the water and inner gardens, which cannot be accessed by others. Many aspects of the build environment show similarities to gated communities,
which can be defined as “ residential areas with restricted access such that normally public spaces have been privatized” (Blakely and Snyder, p.85, 1991). This is what happens with the apartment buildings facing the Boelgracht as they are restricted to outsiders. People in the social housing on the other end of the canal can only look at the beautiful gardens and terraces at the other end of the divide. The grass in this case really is greener on the other side.
The bridge that supposedly connects the two areas was designed by an architecture firm and cost the municipality €1.000.000,- (Dok Architecten, 2010). Our view is that the municipality caters for big corporations on the South- axis, making the area more attractive with this bridge. The property located in this area in a sense leads the way of urban planning, and the municipality caters to this end and does not serve the people to the south, as it feels more like an extension of the South Axis than a way of connecting. This is also exemplified by a quote from the architect: “Tables, chairs, and residents enjoying a glass of wine in the evening sun. That is the way I envisage this”(Dok Architecten, 2010). This sounds rather elitist to drink wine on a bridge. Drinking wine or any other form of alcohol is prohibited in a public place and a person drinking a can of beer on a bridge in Buitenveldert will undoubtedly be addressed to their behavior or fined.
This put things in a larger context, Tasan-Kok (2012) argues that large- scale property projects, like the South Axis, are a result of globalisation. The South Axis, with his stately allure, is a new center and is key to the identity of the place, which not only changed the appearance of the area, also the socio- economic character changed (Campbell, 2014). This became clear during our observation. Almost all the commercial facilities were closed on a Sunday. Besides, most of these stores do not connect with the inhabitant of Buitenveldert, who due to their socio-economic status cannot afford a €50,- haircut.
It becomes clear that the Lex van Deldenbrug divides more than it connects. The divide can only be tackled if residents of Buitenveldert would actually have something to visit the area for, instead of feeling out of place between the high facades of the buildings and feeling unwelcome in certain areas. The gated apartment blocks also do not seem very welcoming as the view from inner gardens is blocked or out of reach to non-residents. The bridge to the castle at first sight seems open to everyone but functions to a great extent as a drawbridge, which enables the well-off to pass without feeling unwanted and out of place, and functions as an invisible boundary to those living in Buitenveldert.
Beensgroep. (2018). Boelegracht Amsterdam. (Accessed at 04-11-2018), from: http://www.beensgroep.nl/projecten/boelelaan-amsterdam/
Blakely, Edward J., and Mary Gail Snyder. (1991) Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. Print
Campbell, H., Tait, M., Watkins, C. (2014) Is There Space for Better Planning in a Neoliberal World? Implications for Planning Practice and Theory, Journal of Planning Education and Research, 34(1) 45-59.