In the 1960s, the Netherlands discovered vast reserves of natural gas and began to close its coal-gas plants. Westergasfabriek, a 19th-century factory on the outskirts of central Amsterdam, halted operations and in 1981 the site was rezoned as recreation space. The site is close to the city’s historic Westerpark and there was real potential for cultural and commercial re-use of its historic structures, including gas-holding tanks and several outstanding Dutch neo-Renaissance buildings by Issac Gosschalk.
A key component of the overall master plan is a green recreational park intended primarily for local residents, with a strong emphasis on the natural environment and including a one-hectare open-air events area. “Changement” offers diverse spatial and temporal experiences, with an axial promenade linking a formal urban plaza at the east end to an open, naturalized framework at the western end. The design is a response to a number of uses ‒ civic, social, commercial, culture, recreational and ecological. The scheme features a strong ecological scheme and water feature, and includes an events field to host concerts, festivals and celebrations, complemented by markets, creative and commercial activities – permanent and temporary –housed in converted technical buildings. The hub contains galleries, crèches, a children’s activities centre, theatre, restaurants and cafés.
The Westergasfabriek park is recognised as a model of brownfield reclamation within a physically dense urban context, sensitively responding to the needs of a complex set of stakeholders. At the time of construction, few precedents existed apart from the IBA Emscher Park in Duisburg and perhaps Bilbao Ria 2000, both responding to quite different contexts and scales. The design vision creates a robust landscape – a coherent expression of the synergy that can be created between industrial artefacts and a redefined natural context.