By FILIP DROZDZ | October 13, 2019
Cover Photo by Filip Drożdż / The Amsterdammer Magazine
NDSM under construction. NDSM has been subject to the extensive development in recent years.
Self-aware and modern – or maybe nonconformist and distinguishable? Ever since my first visit, I’ve been wondering which of these descriptions might possibly do justice to the unparalleled atmosphere of NDSM. All of them, after all, could be what NDSM stands for, while in reality, it’s just an abbreviation of Nederlandse Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij – which translates to English as Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company. But don’t let yourself be misled: NDSM is far more interesting, or even romantic in a way, than its somewhat clinical name might suggest.
To start off with a little bit of history. It goes way back to 1874 when the Dutch Shipbuilding Society was founded. Initially, DSS’s shipyard was located in Amsterdam East, but due to the company’s rapid expansion, it wasn’t long before it was expanded to NDSM’s current location in Amsterdam North in 1915. From that point onward up until 1984 – when the firm had to close its doors due to financial failures – NDSM had been considered as one of the leaders in the industry. They also introduced many innovations that are still used in shipbuilding till this day. And although the only resemblance that contemporary NDSM bears to its industrial predecessor is the same, unchanged location, it should also be noted that its innovative and creative spirit still lives on.
What first caught my attention after my ferry passed by the Botel – the boat hotel – and touched the land of NDSM, was the abundance of street art covering every surface within my sight.
At first, it felt like there was no structure to how the murals were distributed, but upon closer inspection, I was able to distinguish some patterns woven into the chaos. The short proximity between myself, the spectator, and the paintings allowed for a more intimate and direct experience with the art. This is something you don’t get to experience in a museum where mostly everything is showcased from behind a thick, protective glass.
While traditional exhibitions very often tend to rely on relics of past ages, gathered together and frozen in time – NDSM provides you with authenticity, which can be a nice change of pace from the sometimes barren and soulless museum halls.
After walking through the street-art-infested shipyard, I entered what probably used to be the assembly room: a place once crammed up with pieces of complex machinery, working tirelessly on the construction of vessels. It has now been repurposed by more artistic minds who turned the vast facility into an art incubator. However, there are still parts of assembly equipment left here, abandoned and forgotten after the company went bankrupt. This has fortunately been neatly incorporated into an ambitious artistic project, built with industrial leftovers, abandoned furniture and unwanted debris.
After all, NDSM is not an exclusive domain of artists, it is also a place where new urbanism is brought to life. One of its premises is that more hospitable districts must be created – where unification should be supported rather than specialization. Those districts need to reconcile all aspects of human lives: whether it be work, family or entertainment, within their coherent, pedestrian and environmentally friendly structures.
If you take time to walk around NDSM, all of these aforementioned prerequisites show. There is almost no traffic, but you’re greeted by wide pavements, cycling paths, restaurants, convenience stores and other leisure venues. All of this is topped off with an overall art presence which serves as the glue between each of these components.
Having enough of the frigid wind whipping my face, I decided to call it a day and headed home. I truly do wonder how many of NDSM’s distinguishable characteristics will withstand the test of time.
NDSM is progressive, even for Amsterdam’s standards (which is known for being one of the most liberal cities in the world). Even with the wide-ranging development taking over this site, what kind of worth does NDSM’s atmosphere hold to those who are after money and power? How much is the voice of someone like me worth in this matter?
Frankly speaking, I have no idea. Sooner or later, I guess we will find out.
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