Bedrijven, Commercieel, Cultuur, Leisure, Openbare ruimte, Wonen

Damrak: then, now and forever

A ‘snack stall boulevard’. A ‘sex and souvenirs avenue’. ‘The ugliest spot in Amsterdam’. People’s associations with Damrak leave much to be desired. For many foreign visitors, this street forms their first impression of our capital city or even the Netherlands, and yet this calling card has been blighted for years. This is set to change, however. As part of the ‘red carpet project’, the new Damrak is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Damrak used to form part of the Amstel. Ships were loaded and unloaded over the entire width of what is now the street. In connection with, among other things, the construction of Centraal Station, in the nineteenth century Damrak was filled in. The railway station was to be Amsterdam’s new city gateway and Damrak was the logical route to the city centre. Filling in Damrak would create a spacious avenue from the station to the city centre, as in many nineteenth-century European cities. This space was soon reduced, however, due to the construction of Zocher’s exchange building on the Dam – demolished in 1903 – and later Berlage’s Exchange and the Bijenkorf department store on the east side of the street.

Today, Damrak is not the welcoming entrance you would expect from a city such as Amsterdam. Many people are familiar with the Victoria Hotel on the side of the station and of course Berlage’s Exchange, the Bijenkorf and the C&A building on the city side, but no one can really say what lies in between. The one hundred thousand people, among whom are many tourists, who pass through this street every day have given rise to fast food outlets, souvenir shops, amusement arcades and louche bars. The unusual facades of some of the buildings are scarcely noticeable amidst the billboards and neon signs. Surrounded by dilapidated buildings, for example, is the office building and warehouse ‘De Utrecht’ by J.F. Staal and A.J. Kropholler. The office building has Jugendstil features, while the warehouse is built in a rather abstract, more modern style. The potential is there, thus, it just has to be brought out.

On the initiative of the local council, since 2003 work has been underway on a plan to improve the public space between Centraal Station and Weteringcircuit. This route and the plan are called ‘Rode Loper’ (red carpet). Damrak is the start of the ‘red carpet’ and is thus a key component of the plan. The aim is to absorb the increase in pedestrians due to the growing tourism and the new North/South metro line by widening the pavement on both sides of the street. In addition, more space is to be created by removing the coach stops. Beursplein between the Bijenkorf and Berlage’s Exchange is to become a whole with Damrak once more and is to be organized as a place in which to linger. Berlage’s Exchange itself is to have a more public function. The idea is to create an entrance to Amsterdam with a unified whole of shops and restaurants selling Amsterdam or Netherlands related products. Not the cheeses and clogs of the souvenir shops, but rather design goods.

Park Plaza is to open an Art’otel hotel, in which art, culture and architecture play a key role. It is to be housed in the Kadaster building next to Hotel Victoria and is scheduled to open in 2011. The city council has withdrawn the licences of a number of hotels and restaurants and has purchased a number of buildings. As a result, a start can now be made on upgrading the street. The modernist C&A building is to be completely redeveloped. Concrete plans for this have yet to been drawn up, but C&A’s offices already house the Arts & Crafts Lab, a temporary creative breeding ground for a mix of individual artists, innovative commercial companies and organizations in the creative sector. Hopefully, this is just the beginning and Damrak’s new look will gradually be revealed over the coming years. (ARCAM/Rozemarijn Stam)