Garden village Watergraafsmeer (Betondorp)

Brink e.o.
Dick Greiner e.a.
Gemeente Amsterdam
Openbare ruimte, Voorziening, Wonen

Tuindorp Watergraafsmeer (Betondorp)

Slightly isolated from the rest of the city, with a unique method of construction and a wilful architecture, the garden village of Watergraafsmeer – better known as Betondorp – is the striking result of a social housing policy in the nineteen twenties which earned Amsterdam the nickname ‘Mecca of public housing’. Betondorp, built between 1923 and 1928, derives its name from the experimental concrete building systems used to build half of the district. With a shortage of skilled building workers and rising brick prizes in the period following the First World War, Amsterdam sought to provide affordable social housing as quickly as possible with these new methods of construction.

The district consisted of two halves, each with approximately 900 dwellings. One half was built of brick, to a design by J. Gratama and G. Versteeg, who also drew up the master plan, while the other, concrete, half, was set up as an experiment, in which ten concrete companies and nine architects participated. The centre of the district, the square De Brink, with in addition to housing, shops and communal facilities, is also built of concrete, in accordance with a design by the architect Dick Greiner.

The aim in the Betondorp experiment was to test various concrete systems. Firms were invited to engage an architect themselves and to present plans, from which the city council later made a selection. As a result, Betondorp took on the character of an exhibition of different architectural visions. Because of the building material used and the attention given to coordinating the various designs, the district does have a certain unity: rectangular shapes, flat roofs and fairly taut facades.

Urbanistically, Betondorp reflects the ideas of the influential garden city movement of the twenties: single-family dwellings in a spacious layout with private gardens and large areas of semi-public and public green space. The irregular street pattern is interrupted by squares in all shapes and sizes. The dwellings are traditionally orientated, not to the sun but rather to the street. The blocks are, with one exception, open at the corners and form an intermediate stage in the transition from the perimeter block to the more modern open blocks. (ARCAM)