On my way to Portugal, I decided to elongate my stopover in Amsterdam to check out some of the more metropolitan coworking spaces. I knew from my research that coworking in Amsterdam is a popular office solution in a city where square meters are very expensive due to the density of the urban population. Some public amsterdamse coworking spaces even offer their services for free in the attempt to address the enormous need for deskspace among students, creatives, freelancers, self employed and small business owners. Walking through the old city in the Sunday morning sunlight, I could not help to think that I might have been wrong about going to Amsterdam. Without offending anybody you could say that Dutch people and Danish people are very much alike. Both our languages are kind of funny sounding and unknown to the rest of the world, our countries are flat and has only a few serious surfing destinations, our capitals have a good infrastructure, millions of bikes, very pretty people, water all around and a creative industry that marks itself in our national economy. But even though the Dutch nation reminded me so much of the Danish, it did not seem relevant in the context of The Matchmaking Zones and the effort to make a generic blueprint designed to solve the challenges of a rural creative industry.
I quickly made my way through the city and got on board one of the small free ferries pendling back and forth between the Central Station and the cityscape on the other side of the IJ. Wanting to get away from the tourist crowds and into the “real” Amsterdam, I was almost relieved when I found myself alone on a deserted harbourfront watching everybody else purposefully drift away into different directions. Since I on board the ferry had spotted the 4 enormous letters signifying the item of my interest to the place, I knew I was in the right location, and chose to follow behind some grommits on skateboards who - I assumed - were aiming for the skate park inside the NDSM Shipyard.
Tracking the small skaters I entered a graffiti covered heavy iron door, walked through an enormous “stripped off purchase” ship construction hall towards a broad wooden staircase leading me to the skate park - a construction that seemed to be hanging from the 50 feet ceiling only connected to the concrete ground with some iron pillars. By the top of the stairs, I found myself in a skate arena among patiently waiting parents all occupied with their tablets. I was entertained by the organization and discipline of what went on inside the skate area, but considered my presence a little awkward without my own child to watch over, so I left the noises of the wheels against concrete and went back down to re-enter another heavy iron door.
Here I found what appeared to be the coworking society of the NDSM. Today was Sunday, though, and nobody was there besides me, or at least so I thought. The place was so big, I would not know if anyone else was there. I walked down a broad diagonal path with two storeys improvised workshop spaces on either side. All materials looked recycled, creating a makeshift design probably changing by the day. In and around the shipyard I encountered all types of recycle solutions, signs of previous events, old Volkswagen busses, autonomous gardens and other mixes of things left behind for someone or something to give it a new meaning.
For me, though, the experience was pervaded with an absence of meaning. I found myself a little lost, not even enjoying the autonomy of the place since nothing gave away the atmosphere I had expected to find. Deciding to return for more volume the following day, I escaped the empty space and aimed for the nearby Noorderlicht Café. In the warm, cozy light inside the old green house I regaled myself with chocolate cake and super-hot coffee. This place was addictive and if it was not for the other items on my list, I would have stayed throughout my 48 hours in Amsterdam.
On my return to the NDSM Shipyard, I did not become much more informed. Again I was only discretely greeted and remotely answered. Today, though, there were activities going on in the building, loud noises from grinding machines, welding and trucks. It was obvious that the place is primarily occupied by artists’ studios, workshops and ateliers, and the few constructed rooms housing people with computers were closed almost ceiled (maybe to create less disturbance for the residents).
The NDSM Shipyard is an old industrial area transformed into a workspace for creative industries and a skate park for the public of Amsterdam. You can compare the place to Christiania, The Meat District on Vesterbro or The Institute in Aarhus, but bottom line is: people do not resident here (as in having their home here), they work here (including all perceptions of the term work). At least so it seems. The place is very raw, very secretive, and undefinable. There are no central office, hardly any name sign on the doors, if the door is actually a door, and the web page is mastered in a chaotic mixture of English and Dutch.
I took the ferry back on my yellow amsterdamse bike concluding to myself that the NDSM Shipyard definitely was a metropolitan experience high lightning the autonomy and anonymity of the user of urban spaces.