Amsterdam Gasworks Reborn
by Steven Allan
In recent years there has been a growing concern about "brownfield" projects. As these abandoned industrial sites are converted back into productive use, governments and local communities must often work together to mitigate the polluted environment and revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods.
In many brownfield projects the property is sold as real estate to be redeveloped. Buildings are torn down and a whole new development constructed, leaving no trace of the site's past.
In contrast to this approach, the Dutch team in charge of the redevelopment of the Westergasfabriek, an old gasworks in Amsterdam, has come up with a scheme to incorporate the existing buildings and maintain their valued legacy.
Inevitably, the Dutch love for the arts has produced a plan for a cultural urban park. Another factor that sets this project apart from other brownfield projects is the level of local government involvement and community collaboration.
A Century of Pollution
The Westergasfabriek was built in 1883 on farmland outside Amsterdam to meet the rising demand for gas in the city's street lighting. The 33-acre (13.5 hectare) complex, designed by architect Issac Gossachalk, was completed within two years and consisted of more than fifteen buildings. These included a water tower, three enormous gasholders, an ammonia factory, and a gas-cleaning house.
The design of the Westergasfabriek was efficient, and the plant operated successfully for seventy years. The buildings were of a Dutch neo-Renaissance style blended with elements and themes from the Dutch Golden Age: distinctive red and yellow brick combined with natural gray stone, lightly adorned facades, and stepped gables with obelisks and spheres.
Entrance to the Westergasfabriek (gas works) site in Amsterdam, with a traditional bridge across the canal.
Photo: Steven Allan
Workers on the brownfield site must wear protective clothing at all times. Their bicycles cannot leave the site for fear of contamination.
Photo: Steven Allan
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