Jailee Rychen, OHNY’s program coordinator, took a trip to Amsterdam over Christmas last year. As part of her exploration of the city, she ventured to the islands of Java and KNSM. Both islands are part of an urban renewal project of the former docklands of north Amsterdam. The islands are now well-designed residential districts that are pedestrian friendly and located just a short bus ride from the center of the city. The islands are an interesting synthesis between contemporary architecture and the historical and traditional design of old Amsterdam.

Java (the purple marker) and KNSM are connected and are a short bus ride from Amsterdam's central train station.

These islands were abandoned after the decolonization of Indonesia due to the lack and loss of trade. The islands’ historical ties to Indonesia is also how they got their names. Once abandoned, squatters began to to take over the buildings and re-purpose them as temporary housing. The urban renewal project that followed in the 1990s respected and built upon both the island’s history as a center of trade and also the bohemian attitude of the island’s new residents.

Java island was designed by Sjoerd Soeters and involved a large number of architects. As you can see, the result is a brilliant mix of quirky and unique styles. No one apartment building appears to be the same, yet they all seem to work as a whole. This demonstrates what has been called the aesthetic principle of the Dutch canal districts: differentiation and unity. In addition, the islands are divided by canals that echo the structure of the city itself – a maze of canals, streets and bridges.

Another interesting aspect of the islands, are the signage that you find explaining the history of certain buildings and the details about the architecture and architect. For me, this signage is a strong indicator that Amsterdam as a city and the Netherlands as a country values good architecture, design and urban planning. Not only that, but they want their residents and visitors to be educated about it. Much like an iphone app you would download about the architecture of New York City, but in this case, you didn’t have to search for the information –  it was right there.

This building is on the island of KNSM, which stands for Koninklijke Nederlandse Stoomboot-Maatschappij  – the Royal Dutch Steamboat Shipping Company that used to have its headquarters on the island. The plan for this island was based on a blueprint drawn by Jo Coenen. It is considerably different from the island of Java in that it is constructed from a number of “super-blocks” designed by different architects. Above is the Barcelona block building by architect Bruno Albert.

The building has over 230 homes and takes up two rectangular residential blocks. The central part is the circular Barcelona plaza complimented by a large decorative gateway that faces the water. The artwork with details of flowers and faces is by Belgian artist Narcisse Tordoir. On a sunny day like the day I was there, the design of the plaza with the large gateway grabs your attention and pulls you out towards the water.

Above is a detail of another super-block building, the Piraeus housing block, designed by architects Rapp + Rapp. This block holds over 300 housing units. This photo reveals that unique design elements are everywhere on this island – like an architect or designers little dream world. Above shows how the windows in one of the buildings allows residents to open their window almost completely with a hinged folding design.

Both islands are filled with diverse architectural design and whimsical details that make it look like a very pleasant place to live (I have already decided that if I move to Amsterdam, I will live on Java). An example is the building above.

I am a huge fan of color and feel like in dense urban environments color can truly transform the way we feel about our surroundings. So, as you can image, I loved this building. Although, I wonder if the real estate agent has to worry about people asking questions like: “I don’t like the color red, can I have the apartment with the little green facade?” (…it’s true, I do like green).

If you are ever in Amsterdam and want to get away from the tourist traps, Java and KNSM Islands are great options. I am not an architect, my husband is. Which is why we ended up there and why I end up visiting strange places on all my vacations (stay tuned for the post on a parking garage in Miami – if you’re an architect I’m sure you know which one I mean). However, I did really enjoyed our visit and now have an even greater respect for the design sensibilities of the Dutch.

That’s us in the picture above with our Italian friend – if you look close you can see my husband sporting his OHNY tote bag!

Java Island & KNSM Island
Amsterdam, Netherlands


1 Comment to Field Trip Friday: Amsterdam’s Java & KNSM Islands

  1. Ariadna's Gravatar Ariadna
    June 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Very nice article! When I was there, it was very hot and people and kids where swimming in the water around the islands. Awsome place to live 🙂

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