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A pioneer in the self made future

Self made city

[NDSM] Amsterdam, Netherlands

In the north of Amsterdam Central Station, across the canal, further down the Royal Dutch Shell’s Technology Centre, a new cultural channel has been growing. The huge crane shows that the area was once a shipyard. Now it is a creative space where studios for artists and offices for major companies reside.

In the early 20th century, the shipping industry in Amsterdam was in the midst of an economy boom. In order to expand the shipping yard, the city created 100,000㎡ of land by landfill. In fact, Amsterdam itself is formed of large ponders.

“I think this place is representing the history of Amsterdam”, says Elien van Riet, Community Innovator and Facilitator of NDSM-werf*. “When the Dutch see water, we think about how to create land from it. We can’t help it!” “After the shipyard closed down in 1984, the area became a hotbed of crimes and squatters”, continued Elien. “The city of Amsterdam made a very good use of the space.”

The city of Amsterdam let the land to the citizens for reasonable rent. Young artists looking for cheaper space began to move to the area. Later on, the city formally began the redevelopment programme. The artists negotiated with the city council to offer them metal frames, and they renovated and readjusted the land to 20-60 blocks for their studios and workspaces. Now NDSM is a self-made city with hundreds of artists, entrepreneurs and creative businesses such as animation and graphic design with innovative culture.

When the renovation project was launched, the city council left it to the users’ own devices. The Dutch nature of “Try and see how it will go” worked beyond everyone’s expectations. Global organisations such as Viacom, Hema International, Red Bull, Greenpeace and Pernod Ricard have their offices at NDSM-werf. Being based at NDSM can raise their brand image as being ahead of time.


Co-working space exterior: Development will begin in the area on the left. The spaces featured in the article are in the building on the right.

Site Area: 100,000㎡
Employees: 280 creators and companies
http://www.ndsm.nl

* “Werf” means dock, pier, wharf in Dutch.


There are many artists and graphic designers working in NDSM. Thomas Akkerboom is a furniture maker. The colourful wall is also his work.

  • NDSM has offices for various organisations and corporations. Viacom formerly MTV is one of the tenants. NDSM attracts creative and media businesses as well as young and artistic crowd.

  • A painter is holding a lecture for local residents on the painting technique.

  • Textile artists working on different materials.

  • The premises is like a town inside a big factory. Maarten Visser is a brass instruments maker, specialising in the flute.

NDSM contains Dutch history, art, culture and business in one area. Diversity and mixture are part of NDSM’s culture and what makes it a hub for new cultural innovation. Also what makes the NDSM-werf stand out is their autonomous “Self-Made Culture”. The online platform NDSM.nl was established 3 years ago. It is a trust consisting of project developers, Amsterdam City Council, companies, entrepreneurs and artists.When all parties concerned with the redevelopment project split over various issues, in order to reconstruct their mutual trust, they decided to set up a network that everyone can participate and discuss all issues freely.

NDSM-werf Foundation is a non-profit organisation and deals with maintenance of the premises, organising events and facilitation of the community. The foundation often rents space out to commercial events but these events are highly creative and sometimes difficult to materialise in normal situations, and the profit will be spent for the area. Anne-Marie Hoogland, a co-founder explains.

“Holding both commercial events and creative art events has risen this area’s profile and attracted artists to stay. Creativity and commerce join forces and benefit from one another. This is possible and we can support both of them because we are taking a neutral stand.”

Their current core task is to create a communication tool to connect all parties in the area both online and offline. Elien and Anne-Marie have been working on a project called “Self-Made Future”. It includes open discussion to build the future of NDSM together. Currently they are holding meetings in the premises and it has been well established and very well received. People get together at the red container at 4pm on Thursdays to discuss the future of the area. It has let to the publication of Work on the Wharf, Laboratory NDSM-wharf: future vision 2014-2025. Read more via this link: http://www.ndsm.nl/en/story/werkaandewerf/. Anne-Marie says, “When the weather is fine, we meet outside. When it’s bad, we meet inside. Everyone is welcome. Not only the artists and companies based here but also people from the council, local residents, someone who is passing by… all sorts of people would pop down. Some weeks we may have 10 people and other weeks over 40 people.”

Their online community is very active and open for discussion too. All contents of the offline meetings are uploaded online and discussions would extend further.

Elien says, “Sometimes it’s easier to say things online than being face-to-face, especially emotional things. When we decided on engineering works on the crane, there were many posts from people who became worried the crane might be taken down. The online system is a good indicator of what people are feeling.”

Elien and Anne-Marie are facilitators of the community. They connect people, companies and organisations. They make suggestions, hear everyone’s opinions and lead their discussions further to realise the ideas risen. In the process, it is essential to share stories, vision for the future and all information necessary. They discuss every aspect, whether the idea is feasible, how to divide the costs, what to do, what not to do, lessons learnt from the past. The list is endless. Over the years and multiple discussions, the community has become tighter and the autonomic self-made spirit has grown. Now NDSM has become almost a tribe.

From WORKSIGHT 07(2015.4)


Welcome Centre at the entrance: space for business cards and flyers of the tenants and free newsletters


Elien van Riet
Community Innovator & Facilitator NDSM-werf Foundation /
Co-Founder Urban Tribes

Anne-Marie Hoogland
NDSM-werf Foundation Director / Co-Founder


Meeting space at the back of the NDSM-werfFoundation office. Great view of the river is refreshing.

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