The man-made islands of Ijburg, Netherlands was incepted in 1995 and completed in 2001. Located East in the inner sea around Amsterdam city, Ijburg provided land for the dense city center to expand toward. ‘Dykes and ridges are formative parts of the Dutch landscape’, says Prof. Frits Palmboom, Palmbout Urban Landscapes. Since approximately two-third of the landmass of Netherlands is below sea level, people have had to deal with water since historical times. Dykes are built between two landmasses and ridges at the edge of the land to keep water out. Water also needs to be continuously pumped to ensure protection against floods. A dyke or an embankment is an artificially constructed (or can also be naturally occurring) elongated structure that maintains water levels.
A lot of times the land also needs to be reinforced before it can be built upon. In the 20th century, a dam was built between the inner sea and the North Sea. This allows the water to be relatively calmer in the inner sea and provides opportunities to reclaim land to form islands like Ijburg.
Dykes around the inner sea Density map for Amsterdam
While reclaiming land the importance of water was emphasized, and canals were incorporated within the design. ‘Water is the boss and the city is its guest’ says Prof. Palmboom. The team of ecologists, urbanists and civil engineers respected the sea in every decision while creating the reclaimed landscape of Ijburg.
While walking around on Ijburg, it feels like almost any other quiet residential neighborhood away from the city center. A symmetric line of bridges, wide footpaths and the resemblance of architectural character of the street facades are the first clues to discovering the conscientious and integrated design approach. While developers of the residential blocks or individual buildings are free to make design choices, there are some grounding rules that contribute toward a linked urban character. Every block on the island is obliged to provide a range of housing options – high, medium and low rise as well as expensive, mid-range and affordable housing. High rises should be aligned toward the main roads as it can have a bigger influence on the major corridors. The ground floor of these buildings facing the street are reserved for commercial uses or community facilities. The inner streets have shorter row houses with their patios forming the beginning of the footpath providing more opportunity for community interaction. The barriers between the individual sit outs and public realm is only allowed in the form of large plants or bushes which make walking through the street a very beautiful sight. Intimate courtyards in the center of the block contain a garden and play area that is to be used only by its residents. The residents are free to decide how to design their very own community space. Material regulations are specified to an extent ensuring the unified character of the neighborhood. At the current completion stage these archipelago of islands currently have about 10,000 inhabitants.
Views from Ijburg
One instantly makes a link to the man-made islands we have in our city – Dubai. The palm islands are famous world-wide and have put Dubai on the map. In fact, it is marketed as one of the ‘must see’ destinations within the city and is the first choice for a luxurious staycation. The deliberate palm tree shape of the islands in Dubai with its uniform buildings on either side of a 6 lane highway on the ‘trunk’ of the palm define the Golden Mile. Expensive properties and high end hotels are synonymous with the island. For people not living on the Palm, it is a place to be visited for leisure. The extravagance of the Palm Jumeirah is at one end of the spectrum with the modesty of Ijburg on the other.
Putting the two design approaches next to each other it can be concluded that not all land that is reclaimed needs to be an ‘iconic’ development to be successful. It is interesting to note the stark difference between the Palm Jumeirah and man-made islands of Ijburg being linked by the fact that they have both been designed by Dutch planners. It makes one wonder, can the Dutch migrate their ideas of a down to earth community built on reclaimed land to the skyline of UAE?