Green Sea

           by Urszula Maria Lewicka


de Ceuvel is a hip place, on the boundaries of official architecture and city itself and an urban development that aims to connect people who want to live their lives in a more sustainable way. It has found its place in the old shipyard, in the north part of Amsterdam, where it is cool to go shopping for vintage clothes or vintage lamps, (discovered in the old factories of Germany), visit the film museum facing the water, or simply to be, if you are tired of the city life and look for a rest, between the urban and the nature.
de Ceuvel is all about recycling and it has started with the group of young people, that wanted to create their own space for developing new ideas, working with people and using the nature in a sustainable way. They have moved to the industrial north for the upcoming years, to create a small city inside the bigger city to purify, recycle and collaborate for a better future. Future, that is to come in the next 10 years (lease between the tenants and government is agreed for this period).
The site was opened in the summer of 2014 but the whole project started in 2012, when the government, overwhelmed with the contamination of the area of the past shipyard, decided to hand the space over to a group of people that promised to recover the site and create a fruitful terrain for community interactions. The future tenants were found through an advertisement on Marktplaats, kind of Dutch eBay. They had to pretend that they were buying the houseboat for the sum of one euro and provide an explanation, what they were planning to do with the houseboat later. Most of the houseboats were indeed sold for the symbolical one euro and then transported to the spot. “Buying” the houseboat for an office or atelier was a great bargain if one considers that to rent a flat in a “good area” of Amsterdam it takes around one month of research, twelve interviews and 1200 euros, or 2000 euros (if you are an expat, sent to work by a foreign company which is paying your accommodation). To rent a desk in a shared creative office costs around €350 per month and to rent a houseboat, for a long term living, from 1700 to 2500 euros per month. Tenants from de Ceuvel are supposed to pay approximately €65 per square meter each year.
The main idea of the project is to create the functioning urban metabolism that will clean past shipyard from the pollution, create habitat and produce low-impact biomass, that will be used to develop products and energy. The unflattering past of the site as a “storage”, for the sludge from Amsterdam’s canals in 19th century, made the goal even harder to achieve. Special plants have been planted to digest the pollutants in the soil and absorb metals left behind. Planted grasses, fireweeds, foxgloves, black willows and eastern cottonwoods made de Ceuvel look like a huge monstrous boat in between the green waters (especially in the summer, where everything is blooming and green).
To not leave traces after the 10 years of the activity, the only constructions (except the cafe) placed in the area are, easy removable, recycled second-hand houseboats with new cladding and green roofs. They serve as offices, ateliers and workshops and host in between artists, artisans, photographers and designers, (urban) architects, theater and media professionals. The cafe, the only building constructed from scratch, has been created with the use of second-hand materials, gained from 80-years old bollards (from the harbor of Amsterdam) and from an old pavilion acquired from the Scheveningen beach (close to the Hague). To not have too many contacts with the polluted soil, all the buildings are connected with the winding boardwalk from bamboo on which are placed comfy benches, converted from the old rowboats. Each of the house/boat has its own character and it is interesting to look inside through the huge window, risking from time to time a face encounter with the tenant. the The whole place looks like a gypsy village, giving an impression of intangibility, but the idea of the people working there is to build a strong community that will be less depended from the government.
During the winter, when plants take rest before another period of blooming and people are hiding from cold in their cosy flats, de Ceuvel appears like a sleeping beauty, waiting for the kiss of spring to shine within its full glory.
The real fun and exchange happens here when days are long and warm and people are more eager to be outside.


Photo credits:
Urszula Maria Lewicka

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