Roughly one sixth of the Netherlands was once covered by water and has over the centuries been reclaimed with dikes and windmills. The latest addition to this growing mass of new land is the so-called Centrumeiland (Center Island), a slender strip attached to Haveneiland (Harbor Island) of Amsterdam's new IJburg housing estate. Some 800,000 cubic meters of sand were deposited, layer upon layer, to create space for much needed homes to accommodate the city's rapidly increasing population. Construction will not commence until 2017 and the place currently looks desolate: weeds grow on the white sand, litter provides some color, a brand new bicycle path seems to go nowhere. But at the tip of the mini-peninsula stands a gate with a sign: Urban Campsite.
Frank Bloem, Kite Cabin
Urban Campsite is an exhibition, conversation piece, and statement rolled into one—and yes, you can also spend the night. Two years ago the first edition of Urban Campsite, an initiative of economist Annette van Driel and designer Francis Nijenhuis, took place at the Vliegenbos campsite in the emerging neighborhood of Amsterdam North. Some of the 12 artists, designers, and architects participating in the 2015 edition were included in that 2013 debut as well—like Frank Bloem, who then submitted a fully functional kitchen with sleeping space in the lower cabinets—a tongue-in-cheek comment on the absence of household luxuries at most campsites. Taking his cue from the windy new location, this year he has constructed the Kite Cabin. The beautifully sculptural construction is made from lightweight nylon stretched across a diagonals-only metal frame. A kite serves as a shutter for the overhead window and can be detached and taken out for a run. For the frame Bloem used what was previously a hanging system for a projection screen and after this show it will probably be transformed again.
Recycling and durability is a big deal at Urban Campsite, which prides itself on an ecological footprint of nearly zero. A lot of the artworks have been constructed with waste material or DIY-basics. Bedbug by Franka te Lintel Hekkert and Ronnie Kommene, a cross between a mutant insect and a spaceship, combines pieces of discarded wood and insulation material; Studio Plots made a cube out of ordinary slats, creating a wonderful domed interior on the inside; Refunc used industrial metal baskets and shrink wrap; and architectural studio Venividimultiplex transformed an old silo into a rocket-like bedroom. The space is heated with piped water running from a campfire to the floor.
Franka te Lintel Hekkert and Ronnie Kommene, Bedbug
Atelier Van Lieshout, Tribal Toilet Tower
In the middle of the campsite stands the massive and slightly intimidating Tribal Toilet Tower. It’s got Atelier Van Lieshout written all over it. The studio, with its philosophy of autarkic living, developed a fully self-sufficient sanitary unit especially for Urban Campsite. The toilets are outfitted with mangers filled with straw in order to facilitate composting in the tanks below. Water for the shower is pumped from the lake and after use is filtered in a huge box filled with sand, shells, and reeds. With doors taken from discarded ships and a rough, no frills finish this functional sculpture instills a sense of pioneering and adventure.
Not every aspect of Urban Campsite is that stark, though. Reservations (€85 per night for two people) can be made simply through Airbnb. Staying overnight at the site—the gate closes at 10 pm for visitors—is an extraordinary experience. You get to sleep in artworks, but guests are also invited to reflect on urban planning and the future of this newly created terra nullius. Urban Campsite thus operates as place maker of sorts. Surrounded by IJburg, Amsterdam’s latest large-scale expansion where the use of durable materials, solar power, and greywater systems has been an integral part of the construction process, the exhibition aims to translate ecological concerns into more hands-on terms. Here, the distinction between useful and useless blurs and upcycling is the general modus operandi. Local architectural center Arcam organizes campfire talks to provide theoretical background. In workshops guests learn how to turn two pallets into a couch or make a shelter out of sandbags.
Arjen Boerstra, Zolderkamer
A three-meter high earthen rampart has been constructed around the campsite. It lends the place a certain intimacy, encouraging interaction between guests and intensifying a sense of location. For the moment of being there, life is reduced to this sandy bowl colonized by artworks/unusual living quarters. Some of these habitats do offer a peek at the world beyond, however. When jumping up and down on the roof of their dwelling inhabitants of the Trampotent—a trampoline-cum-cabin—briefly get to see the IJsselmeer. The aptly named Upside Down You Turn Me, which looks like a bird watching hut gone awry, has two windows, one looking down, one looking up. Zolderkamer (Attic) is even more limiting. This tiny house on stilts is topped with a telescope-like extension, the only transparent part of the entire construction. Guests can look at the stars until they’re completely disconnected from the earth, or dream of a virgin paradise.
Urban Campsite runs from June 1–August 31, 2015 on Centrumeiland IJburg in Amsterdam.
(Image at top: Venividimultiplex, Superfire Camp. All images courtesy of Urban Campsite)