The role of the architect as a facilitator of a new “common” space: Transformation of the NDSM shipwharf, Amsterdam

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


    This paper discusses the collaborative process of the redevelopment of the Dutch state heritage shipwharf NDSM in Amsterdam into a cultural incubator: a creative hub with artist studios, theater spaces, a skatepark and other (sub) cultural facilities. This process of redevelopment, which started in the late nineteen nineties, differed in multiple ways from conventional heritage redevelopment practices. The NDSM wharf has become an emblematic case of transformation processes initiated from the users; a process that paired user’s inititatives with the hierarchical structure of the governance and that tried to find a shared symbiotic route. The project can be seen as a “commons”: characterized by movements of multitude in the production of common spatialities.

    The notion of the common transcends the dialectic of public/private space, and also goes beyond and unfolds independently from the conventional relationship architect-client/governance. If architecture is considered a reflection of political philosophy, the contemporary shift towards new ways of producing the commons is referred to by many authors as a reflection of the concept of multitudo of the Dutch philosopher Spinoza (Hardt and Negri, Deleuze, Virno, Montag). Spinoza’s political concept of multitude has been linked to spatial and architectural theory, when speaking about a distributed role of actors in processes of the co-production of space, as a way of representating a direct participatory democracy.  

    In the case of the transformation of the NDSM shipwharf, the notion of the “commons” is at stake on two levels. First, the new use of the site brings different groups of citizens together and functions as a social catalyst for the city. Second, the transformation has been a collaborative process, in which many different parties (urban squatters, skaters, cultural producers, architects and city officials) have participated.

    Taking the redevelopment of the NDSM wharf as a starting point, this paper discusses the changing role of the architect, positioned outside the conventional approach, coping with the dynamics of an uncertain reality. The aim is to understand how the political theory of the production of multitude meets the architectural discipline in practice. Which was the role of different actors in the process? How were the architects positioned? And, which was the contribution of architects? Through this case study we want to understand the role of the architect in such collaborative processes.

    In taking into account this notion of the “commons”, the architect is challenged to find new ways of operating: not as a single author, responding to a clear client, but as crucial actor and mediator in a complex collaborative process of development: a process, which is not only spatial and material, but as well social. This change in attitude clearly has consequences for the methods and tools of architecture. The architect needs additional skills, appropriate for the multitude process of production of space. The architectural drawing, for instance – as one of the basic tools of architecture practice – changes when confronted with the question of the commons. The cold technical drawings of the modernist architect are substituted by drawings which include the dynamics of life, becoming narrative drawings, where urbanity is exposed and behaviorology opens towards the architectural discussion (atelier Bow-Wow).

    Vis-a-vis such new collaborative processes, the discipline of architecture is thus forced to of reconsider its theories, methods and tools, reflecting an incorporation of new concepts and ‘ways of doing’ that deal with the notion of the commons. The discussion of the NDSM case will show the professional flexibility and the ability to find new ways of contribution and expertise as an integral part of the process.

    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages2
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2016
    Event ACHS 2016 - What does heritage change? - Canada, Montreal, Canada
    Duration: 3 Jun 20168 Jun 2016


    Conference ACHS 2016 - What does heritage change?


    • heritage
    • commons
    • architecture
    • spatial practices


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