Saturday, November 30, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - The Jordaan District

The Jordaan District towards the West of Amsterdam is becoming an increasingly popular destination for food, entertainment and shopping. This area used to be a working class neighbourhood, but like in all modern cities - eventually the working class get driven out due to higher rental and property prices and gentrification takes over. This is sad but a fact of life in most modern cities.

What makes this area interesting is that the grid runs more-or-less East-West, as compared to other streets in Amsterdam which follows the roughly octagonal main grid. This results in interesting corner patterns as the 2 grids clash into each other. The city blocks are also more compact then the already compact layout in the rest of Amsterdam, resulting in a very intimate scale to the streetscape and buildings.

What draws people here, besides the picturesque streetscape, are the countless number of cafes, bars, restaurants, boutiques and art galleries which dot the streets. The famous Anne Frank Museum is at the fringe of the Jordaan Area, and you can also find the Amsterdam Cheese Museum and Tulip Museum here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - Beer and Tapas

Amsterdam is such a pedestrian friendly city that you could spend hours and hours just walking around, and it never gets boring because there is always something interesting just around the corner. One of the major attraction in Amsterdam is probably the Red Light District in De Wallen. If you want to see pictures of scantily clad ladies in glass windows - you would have to visit a different site. But De Wallen is also where Amsterdam's Chinatown is located, and where you go if you hunger for Chinese food. 

The area around De Wallen is also one of the oldest in the city - full of interesting old buildings and neighbourhoods. While wondering around we bumped into this local pub called Poco Loco. The name attracted us, and when we found out that they served Tapas, we had to give it a try.

We didn't really have any high hopes on the Tapas - this being the Netherlands and not Spain, but what we had was simply delicious. Coupled with nice cold beer, it was one of the nicest snack breaks we had in Amsterdam. 

Cheese Platter and Deepfried Calamari Rings.

The Special Tapas Platter. It came with Deepfried Salt Cod, Sauted Shrimps with Garlic, Fried Chicken Wings, Meatballs in Tomato Sauce and Ricotta Cheese with Grilled Vegetables. The meatballs really packed a tasty punch, and the Ricotta cheese was another winner.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - Silodam Housing

The other MVRDV project we visited was Silodam. This is a housing development right at the Eastern docklands of Amsterdam. The site was used to be a loading pier and large disused grain silos still occupy parts of the site - hence the name of the project.

Like WoZoCo, this project is also a large rectangular slab which sits imposingly on the Site. The building seem to be made out of rectangular boxes stacked on top of each other - looking somewhat like containers at a port. This is no doubt the intention of the architects, and in this case the imagery is quite fitting for the maritime context.

Unlike most apartment developments which consists of a single type of units, Silodam provides many different types of apartments under one roof. There are amazingly 15 different types of apartment layouts in the project - ranging from studio units to 2 and 3-storey maisonettes. These are arranged in clusters of "neighbourhoods",  and the different types of apartments are expressed on the elevation of the building with different colours, details and materials.

The common amenities seem to be quite limited. There is a large wooden deck on the water facing side of the apartment block. It is completely bare with no shelters or structures of any kind. It was also completely empty when we were there. There wasn't much sign of street life either, due to the lack of any communal or commercial elements like cafes or shops along the street. For this project - while the overall architectural concept is quite beguiling, the lack of street life seems to be a lost opportunity given the location.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - WoZoCo Housing

MVRDV is a Dutch architecture and urban design firm that has designed some very interesting projects in the past 2 decades. They have completed several buildings in Amsterdam, and 2 were on our list of visits.

The first one we visited was the WoZoCo Housing in the Western suburb of Amsterdam. This was a housing project built for 100 retired residents. The building is a 9-storey rectangular slab that may look very simple on plan, but what makes it interesting are the extremely large cantilevers on the north elevation. Due to the height restrictions, the cantilevers were a clever way to pack in more units to make up the 100 required. They provide the visual drama to an otherwise simple rectangular building.

As you turn to the back of the building which is the South elevation, you are hit with lots of candy-coloured balconies that shimmer in the sunlight. This was such an unexpected hit of colours that it provided another visual delight which elevate the building into something less then ordinary. The balconies, windows and openings are seemingly randomly placed, and they provide a chaotic yet human face to the building.

On the whole - though this was an architecturally exciting building to look at, it felt a little bit isolated from the context. The building doesn't seem to engage with the surroundings, and the lack of social spaces on the ground floor seem like a lost opportunity to encourage interaction with the neighbourhood.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - River Cruise

Being a city full of picturesque canals, one of the best ways to see Amsterdam is to join a river cruise. There are many companies offering these popular cruises, and most of them operate from piers near the Central Station. 

House boats are a common sight in Amsterdam. It must be every boy's dream to live in a tree house or a boathouse, and it is good to see some people have turned their dreams into a reality. 

Real estate in Amsterdam is very expensive - and living in a boathouse used to be a more affordable option, but not anymore. Some of the more elaborate boathouses cost much more then apartments. In fact many of these boathouses operate as B&Bs so the next time you visit Amsterdam, why not stay in one of these instead of a boring standard hotel.

Our river cruise was actually free - it was a complimentary cruise provided by Gassan Diamond - one of the leading diamond merchants in Amsterdam. The only catch is the cruise ends at their factory - where you will be taken through a sales presentation. They want you to buy the diamonds of course - but the presentation is very professionally done and there is no pressure at all. Interestingly our presenter was a Mr Chen from Singapore - a very charming man with perfect sales pitch. Needless to say there were some in our group who fell prey to it - willingly of course.

For those who are not into diamonds - they also have a gallery full of luxury watches and other jewelries. There is no escape !

Friday, November 15, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - Dinner at Restaurant De Nissen

Our first dinner in Amsterdam was at Restaurant De Nissen, a traditional Dutch restaurant right in the heart of the city - along Rokin which is one of the main roads. It is housed in a 17th Century building, and decorated with lots of old farm tools and antiques. The restaurant has a simple authentic charm that is sure to make your dining experience more enjoyable - provided the food is good.

The appetizer was a selection of 3 cold cuts served with a potato salad. All the cured meat were good - especially the smoked bacon. The potatoes were better then anything we get back in Malaysia - probably because of the freshness.

Accompanying the main course was a trio of coleslaw, boiled beans and baby carrots, and deep fried potatoes. All were great - especially the potatoes which were crispy outside and fluffy inside.

The main course was impressively served in a personal cocotte or "Dutch Oven". The Dutch perfected the art of making these heavy cast iron pots in the 17th Century and they were exported all over the World. Once you open the lid, the smell of the beef stew was really appetizing. It tasted great, with a rich strong beefy flavour and tender chunks of beef. All you need is a nice cold beer to accompany the meal and its perfect.