New underground city planned for Amsterdam

Tuesday 12 Feb 2008

Does the vision of a labyrinth city beneath the canals stack up?

Ambitious plans for a $14.4billion USD underground city were unveiled this week in Amsterdam to much fanfare. Newspapers around Europe have been reporting on the scheme, which requires the city’s canals to be drained to allow the construction of a vast underground mixed-use complex beneath. But do the plans stack up? WAN investigates.
Moshé Zwarts, a partner at architects Zwarts & Jansma explained the reasoning behind the scheme, "There has always been a lack of space in the city, so what we are doing is building a city under the city by using a new construction technique, which will not interfere with street traffic." The designers aim to reduce the pressures of overcrowding and slash the cost of a parking space.
In an exclusive interview with Professor Zwarts, it soon became clear that a primary objective of the scheme was the removal of cars from the canal-side streets by providing vast underground parking facilities. This premise must be fundamentally flawed. Twenty First century urban planning surely cannot be centered around provision of parking in city centers?
The AMFORA plan was presented to the Enlightened Underground International Congress in Amsterdam by engineers Strukton and architects Zwarts & Jansma as a radical solution to the shortage of development sites within Amsterdam.
Through a system of underground spaces with entry and exit points along Amsterdam’s A10 ring road, a range of underground facilities would be created at various levels below the city. These would include parking garages, sports facilities, cinemas, cables and ducts and supply facilities. The plan, it is claimed, devotes a great deal of attention to the underground experience and architecture. However the scheme does not appear to include any form of public transportation.
So is this scheme just pie in the sky? The engineers, Strukton argue not, “It is both feasible and sustainable, creating a city beneath the city is not futuristic, it is a necessity in this day and age.” WAN disagrees. This scheme and its underlying drivers, fly in the face of every responsible principle of sustainability and current trends. The architects also claim that the proposal is CO2 neutral but when questioned by WAN, Professor Zwarts acknowledged that his calculations omitted the carbon generated by construction, which in a mammoth scheme like would take many decades to recoup, if ever.
The Dutch capital may be unique as its geology lends itself to the technical feasibility of this scheme, Moshé Zwarts explained, "Amsterdam sits on a 30-metre layer of waterproof clay which will be used together with concrete and sand to make new walls. Once we have resealed the canal floor, we will be able to carry on working underneath while pouring water back into the canals. It's an easy technique and it doesn't create issues with drilling noises on the streets." That this project is technically achievable is not in doubt, but that does not justify its flawed concept.
Construction work is expected to take around ten years, and if approved, could begin in 2018.

Michael Hammond

Listen to podcast hereTell us what you think:

Key Facts:

Urban design

Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team