Wednesday March 26, 2014 Amsterdam


In plan view Westergasfabriek Culture Park is a felicitous composition of polygons within a historical coal gas factory complex. As I walked through it’s spaces, still thinking in plan, it’s complex geometries, and the characteristics of the space are fluent from one program to the next. When crossing the Harlemmervaart over a bridge the transition into the site moves the user subtly into a plaza of concrete pavers. If they are coming from Westerpark, enveloped by the trees, paths, birds, and people watching, the mind has long since wandered away from Amsterdam itself. The entrance into Westergasfabriek becomes a breath of open air.

What interests me most about the space is how it is used. I tried to imagine myself in any part of the world, and based upon what I saw in this space, I wanted to try and imagine if the programs would be much different elsewhere. My result was that I couldn’t imagine it. When I looked at materiality and space typologies and saw the activities happening in those spaces, I realized that despite my foreignness to the Netherlands, I could read the landscape, and so could those using the space. Design and user typologies can be universal across the world, helping anyone realize space in any context. What was baffling about the ability of the space to make me think this way was that it is within an old coal gas factory. Who would have thought in 1885, a 130 years later there would be running water, cyclists, birds, a marsh for children to explore, and hill formations adding to the topography of the relatively flat site?

This was an important realization for me because design language made this space happen. The language helped me understand that I am learning to translate space through many different layers, and I am working to create languages that are easily readable by people using these spaces. Watching people walk, bike, or bird watch in a public space becomes allowable through the use of certain shapes, materials, connective strategies, and patterns. Humans may live in different contexts and cultures, but in such a world of landscape architecture translating people’s needs through space becomes universal.


Here is the truth: I am in love. Wednesday, we went to Amsterdam, and from the first moment of our meeting, I knew that this was going to be big, potentially life-changing. I experienced the gamut of emotions in just a few minutes. My heart was racing. I was giddy. I wanted to hang on to every word and image. I started envisioning growing old with this new relationship. I strategically began working out how this could work.  Should I move to Amsterdam?…Maybe I could transfer schools?.… I should definitely learn Dutch….

The object of my affection: Architectura & Natura. That’s right. I’m in love with a bookstore.

I should explain. This bookstore is like none other I have experienced.  A 75-year old shop, this store specializes in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Natural History publications. When I say that they specialize, I actually mean that they set the bar. High. Every bound item was hand-selected with care by the owners and this is really a compendium of the most creative, intellectual, beautiful, artful, and soulful publications related to the design fields. The first floor is filled with the newest items: polder atlases, Piet Oudolf, Rebecca Solnit, Tadeo Ando, European detail guides, co-housing pamphlets, etc. The second floor is filled with older items at reduced cost. I started here, and quickly lost myself, thumbing through biennial anthologies, plant guides, books on graffiti art… For a designer, the term eye-candy does not even begin to describe this place. The store is intimately-scaled, lit by the double-height storefront. The shopkeeper knew every publication, every author, was able to make suggestions based on what I was perusing.

Hours went by, I quickly amassed a growing pile of ‘gems’ at the counter, while tallying the total cost in my head. I was re-discovering interests that I had set aside since beginning grad school while becoming intrigued by new subjects. Also, nearly every book that I picked up reminded me of a dear friend, perhaps someone that I haven’t connected with in awhile. I found myself wishing that I could share these hours with everyone I know who appreciates decent layouts, comfortable spaces, well-chosen type-faces and properly selected color palettes. In the end, I checked out with as many books as I thought I could stuff into my luggage, with a mental list of the ones I will return to buy if I save my euros over the next few weeks.

I left feeling a mixture of euphoria and a little bit of sadness. It may be a while before I can return to Architectura & Natura. While walking away towards the train station, I whispered wait for me to the place which had stolen my heart. I returned to Utrecht and discovered that Architectura & Natura does have a website, with most of their current catalog available for ordering.

I’m just not sure if I’m ready for a long-distance relationship.

NATURE IN CITY Bingquin Huang

Westergasfabriek is a beautiful city park of Amsterdam designed by Landscape Architect, Gustafson Porter. It is a park with its historic factory buildings surrounded by green space. People come here to enjoy sunny days and well-designed nature. This is a multi-functional park. It includes film, theatre, restaurants, workspace and exhibition facilities. The Westergasfabriek encourage its space being used for different types of activities to keep it refreshing.

We went there on Wednesday. It rained in the morning. We couldn’t hear anything but the rainfall stood silently. We were attracted by a row of cherry trees. Viewed from afar, white and pink petals were dropping like dancing butterflies. After the rain stopped, we walked around the park. The rain had cleared the air, and the grass smelt fresh and sweet. What we felt was peace and quiet. We heard water flowing through the marsh ponds and birds singing in the sky. Meadows with wildflowers ran through the whole park. Tall golden grasses helped separating people from the big city. The Park was like a treasure of nature hiding in the noisy city.

Amazingly, Westergasfabriek gave us more than nature. The combination of old gas factory buildings and surrounding landscape matched so well. Two of the old round shape buildings were redesigned and being changed into mud ponds. The admixture of post industry and growing vegetation formed beauty of wildness. Some of other old factory facilities were saved for cultural or recreational use. The park is filled with surprises; you will be amazed.