H.J.E. Wenkebachweg 48
De Omval
Pot en Pot-Keegstra
Metro 50, 51, 53, 54 (halte Spaklerweg)

Functionalist incarceration

The Over-Amstel Penitentiary Institution, known informally as the Biljlmerbajes or Bijlmer Gaol, was built on the basis of the new Prison Act of 1953 which gave priority to the resocialization of convicts. The new law abolished long term solitary confinement and shifted the emphasis of the penal system to personal, positive assistance. At first the cell windows of the new prison were without bars but these were reintroduced later – not because the glass was vulnerable to escape attempts but because the inmates themselves missed them. Visual contact with the outside world was too confrontational and the presence of prison bars clarified the situation.

By the 1970s, new options for guarding prisoners were becoming available. Circular prisons were no longer necessary because new security technologies made an all-seeing warder at the physical centre of the prison superfluous. The security measures in the Bijlmer Prison were unprecedented for their time. Doors and lifts were remote controlled and equipped with intercoms and CCTV cameras, and the cells themselves had intercoms.

The architect of the Bijlmer Prison, Mrs. Koos Pot-Keegstra (1908-1997), based her Functonalist design on the practical and functional needs of the prison. She had built much housing during the period of reconstruction following World War II, in among other places the Westelijke Tuinsteden area of Amsterdam. She reduced complicated plans to considerable simplicity without any frippery, for in her view the beauty of the design was a product of simplicity and economy. As in her housing, Pot-Keegstra built up the Bijlmer Prison from simple residential modules, stacking them vertically to form tower blocks. The complex consists of six towers, two of which are reserved for psychiatric detainees. Each of the other four towers consists of five pavilions with room for 24 inmates per pavilion; each tower also has a storey for employment, a storey for facilities, a storey for staff and a story containing punishment cells. The towers were linked by a long passage which convicts nicknamed the “Kalverstraat” after the busy shopping street in central Amsterdam. The complex also includes a reception building, a church plus mosque, six exercise yards and three sports buildings. The whole prison has a capacity of 600 detainees.

It is nowadays apparent that the Bijlmer Prison suffers from many defects, and report from the Prison Inspectorate was particularly critical. The Bijlmer Prison is planned to close in 2014, and its inmates will relocate to a penitentiary in Zaandam. The prison will remain in service until then, and maintenance of its building services and security systems has taken place in recent months. (ARCAM/MB)