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Almere is a city in the middle of the Netherlands, built on reclaimed land in 1976. Therefore, it is a New Town that has been designed from scratch; on the basis of an empty, open field. The city was originally planned as a solution for housing shortages in the western provinces of the Netherlands, particularly for the city of Amsterdam.
Main Planning Strategies
The Structure Vision of 1961 contained the first sketches of the New Towns Almere and Lelystad; both to be build on the man-made province of Flevoland. In 1966, the governmental document ‘Tweede Nota over 302 de Ruimtelijke Ordening’ (‘Second Memo on Spatial Planning’) recommended housing for half a million inhabitants from the Randstad and Gooi conurbations in Flevoland. In a subsequent document in 1975, the ‘Third Memo’, Almere was further designated as one of ten ‘groeikernen’ (‘centres of growth’).
In the 1970s, western planners no longer believed in the possibility of designing a detailed urban structure for the long term. The first concept for Almere was based on a central node, with a maximum of 100.000 inhabitants, surrounded by smaller nodes. Instead of defining a coherent image for the city, the ‘Draft Structure Plan for Almere’ (1977) of the ‘Rijksdienst voor de IJsselmeerpolders’, described an urban district containing five separate centres of growth. This structure of multiple nodes (Fig.1) is an element that has stayed throughout the development of the plans. This structure provides the city with the possibility to grow in a flexible way in a green structure. The separate nodes were being designed in order to complement each other; each with a different character. There would be one main city centre, but each residential area would have its own facilities as well. Differentiation of the nodes would be reached by differences in size, character, location, density and perhaps even population. Additionally, this polycentric structure gives the different cores the opportunity to create their own identity. This is indeed what has happened; Haven is village-like, Stad is urban and Buiten is rural.
Almere became an individual municipality in 1984. The city’s Mayor of that time, Han Lammers, made sure that Almere became one municipality, even though it is constructed of separate districts.
The areas between the nuclei consist largely of greenery and waterways for recreational purposes. These zones penetrate deep into the nuclei, thereby serving as many houses as possible. Ring roads are provided to keep through traffic out of the residential areas. The links between the nuclei are reserved for public transport and cyclists.
The city of Almere consists mainly of low-rise buildings. With the British New Towns in mind, the designers of Almere decided that this Dutch city would not be developed as an area with high-rise buildings. Interestingly, this decision was made in the 1970s; when high-rise was still the main form of residential building in the Netherlands. And, in this time, it became obvious in the county that the commonly preferred housing typology was low-rise building. The key reasons for choosing for low-rise building were social and financial; low-rise provided the living conditions preferred by potential future inhabitants (mainly youngsters) and it was to build cheaper as well.
The housing typology in Almere varies, but terraced housing is dominating; it encompasses 62% of the total housing stock. The city has a relatively high percentage of private housing ownership (over 60%), compared to the average in the Netherlands (under 54%). The older neighbourhoods of Almere (especially Haven) show a higher number of rental houses than the newer areas.
Almere Haven is the first node; its construction started in 1977. Haven consists mainly of a multiplicity of small, relatively compact and individually designed living areas. As the city lacks natural diversity related to time periods, the planners decided that this diversity should be created. Therefore, a strict, systematic description of the urban plan was being developed. Foreign designers were invited to make neighbourhood plans. Different from other nodes, most of housing clusters in Almere Haven encompass inner yards where own facilities can be found.
Haven is the ‘village’ of the city. This is not only because of its urban design, but also for its peripheral location. It is positioned at the southern side of the highway A6 and at the edge of the lake Gooimeer. Also, the city district of Haven has no train connection.
Compared to the common Dutch urban design, Haven has been designed in a very different way. In that time (the 1970s), straight, strict lines were accepted as Modernist design; a milestone even though it had its problems in use. Contrastingly, Haven was designed with an irregular, quasi organic structure, called Cul-desac. A minimum of straight lines was used in the urban design, together with hardly any division of living and working. Bus stops, shopping centres and car parking are all on a short distance of the residences. The design was based on studies of old cities at the waterside; that atmosphere and cosiness should exist in Almere Haven as well. The press was the first to start criticizing this new concept, but soon other people took over the complaints. Except for the inhabitants of the new neighbourhood; they loved their new city core. The centre of Haven is probably still the most popular one in the current city of Almere. However, the centre of Haven was never meant to become the main centre of the city. Therefore, this centre is not allowed to grow too large.
The first tree in the future district of Almere Stad was planted in 1978, while the first families arrived in their new homes in 1980. Just like the inhabitants of Almere Haven, the new inhabitants of Stad had to contribute to the development of the city; like pioneers. The first inhabitants of Stad were not very content with the quality of their homes. There had been a hard pressure on finishing the houses on time, what caused failures in the quality.
This main core of the city of Almere was designed in the middle of the city area on purpose; to stimulate an even division of traffic over the city, to limit the average distance for inhabitants and to have a strong position in the region.
The houses in this district were designed with a clear front- and backside. The front (the public side) is situated at a street or square and the backside (the private side) is provided with a garden. Also, a marginal zone was introduced; Oscar Newman’s ‘defensible space’. This is a zone of one meter width, situated at the front of the house, providing a small space between public (the city) and private (the house).
The first neighbourhood of Almere Buiten was designed in 1982. At that time, the city was growing rapidly. This new city district, of which the building started in 1983, is popular among the future inhabitants. However, professionals doubt whether Almere should grow this quickly; perhaps the development of Buiten is coming too soon. This city district was planned in the north-eastern part of the city, as the train to Lelystad was already crossing this area and it was close to both the main centre and the first large business district of Almere.
The plan for this district was to create a true ‘outside’ area, with lower densities than Almere Stad, much greenery, large gardens and more possibilities for housing ownership. Almere Buiten has developed as the ‘green’ node.
City Centre by OMA
Instead of city a centre, the lake ‘Weerwater’ was designed in the geographical centre of the Almere Stad. It is a deliberate signal that Almere is an untraditional city without a real centre. Also, the name of the lake refers to the reclaimed land on which the city is build; ‘Weerwater’ can be translated as ‘Water again’.
In 1997, the municipality of Almere decided that it was time to start the development of a new centre; as the city would grow in the coming decades. A program of requirements was being produced. The new centre, ‘Stadshart Almere’ (City heart Almere), should become the main core of the whole city. The northern part of the centre, above the railway line, would become a business centre. The southern part, between the railway and the artificial lake ‘Weerwater’, would become an area of shops, housing, cultural facilities and entertainment.
The key element of O.M.A.’s (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) design is the vertical separation of functions. The public facilities and housing are situated at ground level; while basements, parking and service entrances are located at a lower level. The ground floor level is lifted above the parking garages that are positioned underneath. The design contains two main axes, crossing each other at the highest point. The area located near the lake is mainly in use as an entertainment zone; this is where the cultural centre, cinema, theatre and cafés are located. The main axes, linking the train station and the lake, are only accessible for pedestrians and contain shopping facilities. Cafés and restaurants are concentrated at the squares ‘Grote Markt’ and ‘Belfort’.
Text from The 4th International Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism (IFoU) | 2009 Amsterdam/Delft | The New Urban Question – Urbanism beyond Neo-Liberalism | authors: J. Zhou * & S.E. Commandeur **