published in sb 4/2016
Publicity of Physical activities
For the sensitive urban environment of Bijlmermeer carve designed a park encircling a central sports facility, with sports and game esplanade, skatepark, water and sand playground. The second example is Amstelmeerschool which becomes a public square, where children from the neighbourhood can play and engage in sports.
Bijlmerpark is the main park in Amsterdam’s southeast Bijlmermeer district. This 1960s and 1970s modernistic suburb of Amsterdam, characterised by high-rise residential and disjunctive infrastructural networks for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, where services and facilities were few and far between, had developed numerous social problems by the end of the 1980s. A radical, integral restructuring process was initiated, leading to the demolition of large parts of the high-rises and rebuilding of family homes for the Bijlmermeer “middle class”, who had been leaving as fast as they could. A move from quantity to quality became the policy for the redevelopment, and successfully so. The Bijlmerpark renewal was the final chapter in this process. The plan was for Bijlmerpark to remain the main park in the Bijlmermeer, with a new residential environment with a programme of approximately 900 dwellings.
The main components are a park encircling a central sports facility and residential units flanking the park. The concept reconfigures the spatial and social structure. The central positioning of the sports park keeps this facility within walking distance of the residents. The new housing faces the park, meaning it is within sight and sound of the residential units, a much needed social control in a sensitive urban environment.
The sports and game esplanade, designed by carve, at the centre of the park serves to bypass the main route: the circular pedestrian and bicycle route. The esplanade embraces several elements, and is located at the foot of two rolling green hills with trees. A paved multi-sports court includes a stage and basketball hoops with professional-grade boulder routes. A series of yellow frames on bright and sparkling pink safety surfacing mark out the playing strip, containing different types of rope bridges and a zipline connecting to the “king crawler”. A skatepark consisting of two connected bowls is hidden on top of the hill, with banks and steps coming down to ground level again. On top of the other hill is a water and sand playground, a colourful landscape for the youngest children, with sandboxes and water jets. The “king crawler” structure is the play zone’s eye-catcher, a multilevel playing wall that incorporates facilities for the playground manager and two public toilets.
Publicity – Use – Participation
Bijlmerpark fits into the long Dutch tradition of public playgrounds. While playgrounds in the 1920s were regulated by organisations to encourage city children to play in specially designated and enclosed areas, public opinion gradually shifted. The organisations focused especially on children from lower social class neighbourhoods to protect them from the dangers of the city and offer them an enclosed, safe playground. The attitude towards playgrounds changed after World War II, however. Since then, the majority of playgrounds in the Netherlands have been open to the public and integrated into the urban fabric or parks.
There has recently been a renewed focus on the presence of playground managers. Having an adult keeping an eye on things can be a great asset for a playground: the zone becomes less vulnerable to vandalism – which can be a problem in some parts of the city – and children are encouraged to play together or borrow play equipment.
In the Bijlmerpark play zone in particular, the presence of a playground manager was an important element of the design. The play zone is positioned in the heart of the park, which is great in terms of space but more challenging in relation to social control. With the integration of the playground manager facility and provision of toilets (one of the children’s requests during the participation process), all of the right parameters were in place. Despite the high expectations, however, the playground has never been manned due to budgetary reasons. Although Bijlmerpark functions very well as a meeting point and sports and play area, the presence of a playground manager would have been a plus for the space. Another trend relating to the public character of playgrounds is the discussion of opening up schoolyards to the public. With our cities becoming denser and more crowded, public zones offering playing space to children are of great importance. While most schoolyards are closed after school hours, there are several examples where the opposite has been tried and tested.
One of these schools is the Amstelmeerschool in Amsterdam, which demonstrates that a primary school can be more than just a knowledge-imparting institution. The school’s aim is to become a meeting place, a “village square in the neighbourhood”, offering other activities, healthcare and courses in addition to education. With a new building and schoolyard in place, an important step was taken towards this broadened role. After school hours, the Amstelmeerschool becomes a public square, where children from the neighbourhood can play and engage in sports. This strategy has proven very successful, with the schoolyard frequently being used by children from the neighbourhood.
Carve designed the playground, which has a stony and soft side. The long stripes in the pavement mirror the façade of the new school, which was designed by Geurst & Schulze. A sunken sports field with a stand can accommodate various types of sport. The playground was designed to be as robust as possible, with materials that could accommodate frequent use.
The project was partly funded by the foundation ‘Stichting SPIN’ (‘Playing in Amsterdam-North’), who have their office in the school building, facing the playground. Their presence enabled carve to create a ‘softer’, green zone: From the heart of the square, a little stream runs towards the green side (fed by rainwater and run-off water from the square). It ends in two puddles, behind which a pole forest, playing hill, hammocks and “upside down-trees” offer an adventurous, green strolling route. A green landscape often proves to be rather vulnerable, especially in areas that lack social control. Despite the presence and active involvement of Stichting SPIN, even the green space of the Amstelmeerschool has been vandalised several times.
What makes this specific project difficult is its urban setting; the Amstelmeerschool is located in a socially deprived neighbourhood, lacking social control. During the financial crisis, all plans for the social renewal of the neighbourhood were put on hold. Fortunately, these plans may be carried out in the near future: Many of the flats will be torn down, and efforts are being made to socially diversify the neighbourhood. Within this context, the Amstelmeerschool can strengthen its position as an anchor point in the neighbourhood – inviting both schoolkids and neighbours alike.