Urban development today: top down and bottom up

It has long been thought that large-scale urban developments could only be realized if the plans were devised by expert architects and investors / developers and then thrown down, as it were, towards users. This top down approach was also not illogical. “At the top” is after all the knowledge and also the money. However, in the long run it turned out that this approach often led to conflicts with the people who already live there in urban projects. Not infrequently, they put their heels in the sand, which often leads to (at least) delaying procedures. Because: residents lose their walking area, meeting place, view, football field and dog walking area. At least: they are afraid of that and so they resist. And in our system there are many options for paralyzing a plan.
How should it be? Should we leave it to the residents how, for example, an undeveloped area in the city should be built? That pure “bottom up” approach is not realistic. Local residents generally do not have the necessary knowledge and finances. They are also often insufficiently aware of the public interest.
But can’t top down and bottom up go together? That seems like a utopia, but we have discovered over the years that it is possible. The combination of satisfied local residents and serving the commercial interest is feasible and can even lead to beautiful, profitable projects.

Rhapsody in West

A striking example of this is “Rhapsody in West” in Amsterdam Bos en Lommer – a project in which we as architects are involved and of which construction has recently started. There was an acre site (say a football field) on the A10 that the neighborhood had more or less appropriated. Inspirer of the active neighborhood community is Cascoland, a collective of artists that initiates and co-designs neighborhood projects worldwide in an artful and skillful way. Urban Sync – an advisory group specialized in guiding urban processes – acted as a bridge between designers and the neighborhood. Clients (SBB / de Nijs) and customer (a commercial investor, CBRE) understood that steering the neighborhood dynamics, giving instead of just taking, would be the key to success.

Contact with the neighborhood

After making an initial idea for approximately 240 homes in and around a public courtyard, with parking underneath, we sought contact with the neighborhood at an early stage. We asked what the residents thought, what the plan had to meet, how they saw the future. We listened carefully to them and they were able to really gain influence. It is important that we return the site, partly built-up to the neighborhood. To this end, the future owner has made the private space publicly accessible.

Eyes on the street

Now, after two years of intensive consultation, construction has started and facilities that the neighborhood wants will be built. In a place that would originally become a shop, there will be a space for courses, a stuff library, a place for meeting, drinking coffee, cooking and eating together and accommodation for family mombers of the neighborhood. It is important to give the neighborhood a feeling off place, to provide space for an existing social infrastructure.
The outdoor space is also arranged in consultation – the greenery, the trees, small urban areas, an anchorage with barbecue. There will be a large table for thirty to forty people, which can be covered in rain. In the overall setup, we have taken into account that everyone has a view of the public domain from their home. So there are no blind spots, with which we organize the ‘eyes on the street’ in a friendly manner. And soon there will be a big neighborhood party to mark the start of construction.


Our approach means that commercial parties must invest part of their proceeds to “land” a plan. Something that will prove very good for the total sustainability, in the literal sense of the word: after all, what we love, we maintain. And speaking of sustainability: Rhapsody will be one of the most energy-efficient housing projects in our country upon delivery, with an EPC of – (min!) 0.15. And we have not sought refuge in  (glass) screens for traffic noise; the special shapes help to control the sound.

Bart Mispelblom Beyer


Zie hier meer over het project.