AMFORA, Amsterdam

Looking for new space

Like all cities, Amsterdam faces increasingly limited space to accommodate more and more people who want to live, work and spend their holidays in the city. Across the IJ, the northern part of Amsterdam is developing rapidly: former harbour areas and industrial zones are being renovated and cleverly repurposed. Yet it is not enough. Particularly in the centre, where available space is already scarce, the city clearly needs more facilities, especially for parking and for the transport and delivery of goods

Looking at Amsterdam from the air, it is striking how the historical centre and the surrounding 19th century area is crisscrossed by canals, on both sides of the river Amstel. The water covers an enormous surface area, roughly a million square meters. In collaboration with the construction company Strukton, the architectural studio ZJA developed a plan in 2010 to house the urban facilities needed to make Amsterdam futureproof under the water’s surface, thus utilizing that large area of the inner-city canals in a safe and smart way.

This plan is called AMFORA (Alternative Multifunctional Space Amsterdam) and uses the possibilities of underground construction to create extra space for the development of the city and to minimize the impact of cars and their pollution. Excavating the space under the canals creates extra space aboveground as well: for cyclists, pedestrians and parks. Crucial added value comes with the reinforcement and renovation of the quay walls of the canals, which have fallen into dangerous disrepair and are in need of costly repairs. Infrastructural cables and pipes are accommodated in an accessible way that simplifies maintenance. Furthermore, heat/cold exchange installations harvest energy from the difference in temperature with the underground environment.

How can it be possible?

As is well-known, the ground under the city of Amsterdam is wet and waterlogged until about sixteen meters deep, where it rests on firm sandy soil. Every building needs a great number of piles driven into the soil to solidify its foundation. For this reason, Amsterdam is known as the city on piles. The design for AMFORA does not require piles to be driven into the underground, nor sheet pile walls to be driven down to the sand. In order to create up to 18 meters depth of underground space, the so-called slurry wall technique is used: a grab crane digs away the soil and the trench it creates is filled with concrete, which is poured in with a hose from the bottom up. Thus, a sturdy wall that supports the underground space is made.

As soon as the top two underground stories are completed, the water that was temporarily pumped away can return into the canal, above the underground space. Subsequently, the other four levels can be dug out and constructed. In this manner, tennis courts and basketball courts can be created under the river Amstel, or extra theatre halls and cafes for Carré, or a shopping mall and a cinema under the Blauwbrug.

A vibrant healthy city

By making the inner city accessible to cars mainly underground, opportunities arise to make the city more open, vibrant and green. A lively dynamic can be created between the neighbourhood aboveground and the new facilities underground.

In the AMFORA design, the underground world is as closely interwoven and connected with the existing city as possible. Underground, bridges also serve as points of reference, while projections of landmark buildings show the way and various lighting arrangements marks different urban zones.

AMFORA fits right into urban policies and goals that strive for a greener, healthier and more liveable city. As the city continues to warm up, AMFORA contributes to climate adaptation and urban comfort by providing energy-efficient cooling. It contributes to a future city with vibrant and comfortable public spaces, where accessibility and the transport of goods are not an issue. On the contrary, it actively makes space available that is economically attractive and entirely flexible to meet the needs of the future.

Architect: ZJA
In collaboration with: Strukton
Year: 2007

Winner MIPIM Future Projects Award 2010 (Big Urban Projects) for Amfora Amstel

Project: #453


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