Daily Diary: August 4th

If you don’t feel like reading the whole passage the most important facts of the day can be found in the video embedded at the bottom.  Enjoy! (specifically 1:13)

Our second big group outing outside of Amsterdam was also our longest, the day trip to Rotterdam.  Bright and early at 8:55am the troops headed out to the Amsterdam Centraal Train  Station, the majority taking the scenic route past NEMO and the Amsterdam Library, while three intrepid caffeine addicts (Avery, Jenny and I) ran ahead to go to Starbucks.  It was, by the way, totally worth it.

Making our way up to Platform 13a, where the rest of the group had already convened, we received our tickets and promptly jumped on the train into the luxury of First Class seating.  Did I notice any difference between First and Second? No, but it’s the principle of the thing that counts.  The train ride over was pretty calm, we worked out logic puzzles, silently rocked out to the iPod or quietly chatted.  Once the train pulled into Rotterdam Centraal, Rob quickly ushered us out of the Station and out into a new city where he informed the group of the nature of our trip,  “The city itself is what we’re here to look at, to look at as a contrast with Amsterdam.”  Aha! Today was going to be an informative look into how architecture shaped the city of Rotterdam, post WWII bombings, as well as giving the students a whole new appreciation for how the buildings interact with the environment.

We started our walking tour immediately with Rob leading us to Schouwbergplein, designed by the architecture firm West 8 to activate and engage the average passerby’s with the space.  With a “stage-like” feeling to the square, the architects designed to raise the ground up 35cm from the sidewalk in order for people to be stimulated and want to interact with the space.  Schouwbergplein was also complete with hydraulic lights that can be controlled by anyone walking past, and a timed fountain, which a few brave souls decided to test out, but fortunately they didn’t get wet.

From there we marched on to the Kunsthal, designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA, which reflected Koolhaas’ style as a post-modern architect.  Looking at the building Rob gave us a background of why it was built the way it was, and pointing out little differentiations within the facade.  The tongue-like ramp, and exposed cooling system, variations on the glass bottom that broke up the tautness of the brick box on top.  I wouldn’t have seen any of this, but once it was pointed out I did get the “sense of play” within the design, as well as the perverse-ness of the building that came as a reaction to the “sterility” of the plain buildings from earlier eras, like the Sonneveld Hus.  It was a brilliantly designed building by one of the foremost architects alive, however, I still think it was kinda ugly.

Burri's Famous Photo of Che

Walking inside to the René Burri photography exhibit, which included a famous portrait of Ché Guevara, I continued to observe the slightly odd interior of the building, with sloping ceilings and a cafe that could only be accessed by exiting the museum and going to a different entrnce.  The most amusing exhibit by far though was on the Tour de France, which included racing bikes,  an interactive video and a make-your-own jersey area.  After touring the area for around a half-hour and trying to find the hidden cafe for another 20 minutes, we finally asked and found the second entrance outside where all our compatriots were already eating.  Avery and I quickly ordered a mozzarella and pesto tosti, which was well worth the €4.75.  As we were running a little bit behind schedule at this point, there wasn’t much discussion on our impressions of the Kunsthal museum or what we found there, as the person who we sent to inform Rob and Clifford of the group’s location failed in their duty.  Anyway, we soon boarded a tram that took us back to Rotterdam Centraal, where we picked up our bikes and Ivan, our tour amazing hipster European tour guide.  Avery, Jenn, Ann and Will couldn’t join us for the ride, and went by taxi instead.

First thing on the three hour cycle tour was an introduction to the history of Rotterdam, when it was bombed in WWII, the areas where the bombs struck, and the subsequent rebuilding that when on as time progressed: the car became widely used, skyscrapers came into fashion, and a separation of shopping, working and living spaces was built into the city.  We then stopped at the bridge separating North and South Amsterdam and rode on to the where Holland America used to dock their cruise ships, all while Ivan and Rob informed us of the meaning behind the buildings, and how each one was at one point the tallest building in Rotterdam.  I found oneupmanship of all the architects pretty amusing.  We also stopped to look at Rem Koolhaas’ next project “The Rotterdam,” which is going to be the new tallest building in the Netherlands.

From there we made our way to the living museum located in De Kiefhoek, as a tribute to the horrible living conditions the poorest used to have to endure, and how that changed when the government passed the “Living Law” which stated that every Dutch citizen had the right to habitable housing.  While it was well meaning, Ivan did point out a few aspects of the unit that showed the class tensions present in the Netherlands at that time.  The kitchens were designed without cupboards under the sink because the municipality believed that the tenants would be either too stupid or unhygienic to correctly dispose of their garbage and would instead store it under the sink, as well as designing the window sills to be higher than normal so women wouldn’t shout to one another from their homes.  The houses were also designed without showers, as the builders thought it was too much of a luxury, so the inhabitants would have to bring back buckets of boiling water in order to bathe.  The taxi carrying the other members of the group ended up being late, so we stayed at De Keifhoek longer then planned, and the bikers got to explore the space a bit more.  Walking up just one block I noticed how isolated it felt, I had no idea there was a main street and a market just feet from where we had been standing earlier.  The closed-off nature seemed to be to insulate the community there and since every other aspect of the neighborhood was closely planned, I wondered what the idea behind the isolation must have been.

Soon after that the taxi showed, Avery, Jenn and Ann got to tour the museum and off we went to return our bikes after our meandering tour.  After we had settled up with the tour office Rob gave the students the task of directing our way back to Schouwbergplein, and with one exception of us having no idea where it was initially, we got there with little difficulty and it was time for dinner.  We went for Chinese, which Avery, Sabra and I were a little apprehensive about because the cuisine isn’t the most veggie friendly, (and I’ll own up to the fact I ended up a pescetarian that night) it ended up being delicious.  Suffice to say I ate an entire plate of fried rice while others polished off 5 courses of the Menus A, B and D(uck).

Incredibly sleepy from my food coma, I don’t remember much about the train ride back.  It was if anything quieter than the ride there as people slowly decompressed from our long day.  Once we got back to Amsterdam it was straight to bed.

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A Response and A Refined Research Q

To begin I would just like to commend Avery and Jenn on their wonderful powerpoint and thoughtful presentation on low income housing, and according to Jenn their focus on “form, function and cultural perception.” My initial reaction remains similar to the one I’ve come to over this past week, that it certainly is ambitious and the background study information is there, but looking at their research question, how can you fundamentally determine a base reading for normal and unusual and apply those to the interactions of residents in low income housing?  And how can you attribute those things to simply their area of living?  I think that now we’ve all abandoned the idea of doing surveys to augment our research so can simply observing low income residents, or conducting interviews produce the results needed?  These are questions similar to the ones that I am currently struggling with for my own project, and I feel that they can be somewhat applied to your research as well.  However, there are many, many bright spots in your team project, especially since you both seem to have an especially adept and deep knowledge of the area in which you are working to pull from, and the idea of incorporating policy into an observational study will probably work out to the benefit of your research.  I wish the best of luck to both of you!

For a refined research question, we wanted to remove the words “Dutch culture” because we talked about how hard that was to define in our midterm meeting, and narrow down our focus, so my new question is

“How does the city of Amsterdam provide space for recreation, and how does the utilization of the space inform the nature of recreation in Amsterdam.”

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Assignment Three: Use of the Public Environment

For this Assignment I worked with Patty looking at the idea of public space and how it is also used as recreational space.  We met up outside of Odegaard and decided the perfect opportunity for public space being used for recreation was right at our feet at the 41st University District Street Fair.  Trying to incorporate the Ragin reading, we meandered through the stalls from 41st up to 50th trying to find the “ideas” couched in the Fair’s use of the Ave, and then  decided what evidence we could draw from that.

This was only the second time I had been to the Street Fair surprisingly enough, having had my fill of the artsy Seattle festival after one too many Folklifes in high school, so I gleefully pointed out all the yuppie hipster Bob Marley insignias as we past and longingly looked at the Shiskaberry stand.  Once I moved past that, however, we tried to get into the meat of this assignment.  Why did the University District have a street fair? Why were these certain vendors here? How did they decide how to breakup the use of space? What was the broad overall feeling of the fair? What was being sold and how much of the fair’s personality could be found within consumerism?

Looking at the use of space, this was a retail area that was selling an image, the somewhat stereotypical image of Seattleites was being fed back to us. The organic Dave’s Killer Bread handing out free slices, while the free trade, all natural non-bleached baby clothes were being fondled over by expectant mothers drinking Stumptown soy milk lattes.  The Seattle culture, however, was still intact underneath all of that and came through with the street performers, and stall owners hawking their wares.  The Street Fair’s website cites this experience as a mixture between a festival and a farmer’s market, and this definitely came across as Patty and I were tasting the Vanilla Coconut kettle korn, watching the participants pass and listening to the bluegrass stylings of the Slimpickins.

So while our research questions focused on our impressions of urban space and how they were being utilized by the public, I think that looking at account of previous University District Street Fairs, through old websites, and pamphlets could give us some internet research on how the community views, and has viewed this celebration.  Also we could interview businesses that had been on the Ave for a while and had seen the comings and goings of the Fair, as well as the participants walking around.

To connect this to Amsterdam, looking at the use of recreational space, and public space, while there won’t be any Street Festivals that I can find during our stay, (except for the Prinsengracht Canal Festival from Aug 14-22 which sounds kinda cool) we could look into the famous Vondelpark, which is a grand use of public space being put aside for the recreational use of its citizens.  We could also tie similar research methods that I suggested earlier into discovering more about the use of the park.

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Assignment Two: Urban Space

Wow. So that was interesting.  I should have guessed what I was going to find when I typed the words “Amsterdam and Travel” into the Blogspot search engine; the ramblings of a bunch of American college students on holiday where both prostitution and weed have been legalized and the city is known to be a bit of a party mecca.  Entertaining as it was reading through the posts, I didn’t think it was quite what this assignment was looking for, as there wasn’t much reflection on the use of urban space past the awe of women in windows.  About 20 links down, however, I found this gem called One Year in Amsterdam, a photoblog of a student during their year abroad.  The content, as seen by her lens seemed to be focused on the quiet or whimsical moments inlife, the flowered bicycle seat, or an empty train compartment.

Also, I very rarely found there to be Amsterdammers (Amsterdamians?) in her photos, and only the last post showed a picture of her face.  Instead, I took from it that, it was her exploration of the city, but without the citizens who inhabited it.  Each moment she captured seemed to be for her enjoyment alone, even if she was sharing it with thousands of people on the internet.

As one of those people looking through her blog, I was having a tough time figuring out what kind of framework she laying onto her photos.  I could find no pattern in what she took pictures of or when.  There were the lovely outdoor shots of famous architecture, as well as some of the more thoughtful pieces pictured above.  The only structure that I could come across, be it obvious or not, was that she broke down her posts by neighborhood.  Perhaps, for as wide ranging as her topics were, they were still seen as either a product of their environment, or as a subject that could only be seen within the particular space of Amsterdam.  Her blog was altogether rather easy for me to navigate, simply by clicking the links to the left the entirety of her year was on my desktop in .78 seconds.

Each one of her snapshots could easily been seen as a social construct of space, controlling what she wants her readers to see of the city.  She made it picturesque, and both whimsical and modern within a few frames.  She was showing the city as she saw it, a happy place that was clean, wealthy, well fed, and white, with no obvious social inequities.  The space was had both wide open areas as well as charmingly cramped alleys lined with shuttered houses.

The Play in her posts was finding those quick snaps of something unexpected, enjoying sharing something that may never be seen again.  The play for me, once I moved past the sophomoric humor, which I hold so dear, found in previous blogs, could also been found in those moments as well as a sense of joy.

P.S. I just noticed that Max covered this blog too.  Ah originality, how elusive you are.

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Closing Looking: Culture in Amsterdam

Scrolling through the images that Rob provided, I was immediately caught by the tall modern building, wrought of metal and glass, dwarfing the regal classical structure on the river.  Just the stark contrast of the two was enough for  me to immediately stop and say, “That’s one of my pictures.” cool huh? While it might be a striking image, what does it say about culture?  Pondering that question for a few minutes, I decided the cultural implications I gleaned were of a modern society trying to desperately hold onto its roots, displaying them proudly, with a red flag flapping, while having the modern world being the real dominate force in their lives.  The glass building is of the size it is because that’s where the business is conducted, where the Amsterdamians go to work.  While the new world may be looming over the old, I find it interesting that they are still keeping these worlds within the same space, what looks like right across the street, trying to keep their national identity as one.  I also know, that there must be some presence of the the modern building within the old, new plumbing, an advanced security system etc. but I would be curious to know if there was any instance of the old world as a part of the skyscraper.  Did they decide to build it on the river because of some past knowledge? Do they incorporate old techniques, or appreciation for old works inside?

While not as obvious in this picture, I was also drawn to the New vs. Old in the two types of transportation, the bicyclist going down one side of the road as the car goes up the other, as well as the modern building being front and center, with the older building off to the side.  I liked the inclusion of the bike lane, showing an old cultural standard is still enjoying some life, as well as the melting pot of building structures, glass and brick, as well as wood.  The overhanging wires, and lamp post, though still illustrate that this is a first world country, which may be visited by tourist for its past, but it is still a modern city.   My questions from looking at this picture would be, why aren’t there more cyclists, as I thought that this was a very popular mode of transportation?  Also, though there aren’t very many people in general, the cars seem to dominate the roads, so has the car culture begun to infiltrate Amsterdam?

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