An impression of a renovated sports park. Design: The Municipality of Amsterdam Design of the AFC club building: Paul de Ruiter Architects. Design of bridge and fencing: M3H Architecten.
De Wit and De Wit are jointly responsible, on behalf of Zuidas, for the design of the new-build sports complex for the oldest football club in the city. It is a project that, after two decades of collaboration with numerous parties, wide-ranging visions and restrictive rules, is finally becoming a reality. The current, definitive design alone required four years of work, explains Martijn de Wit. “Of course, a whole host of different variations were drawn up. Designing a sports park requires a lot of patience. It revolves around a marriage between us as designers and the teamwork with AFC in order to forge a design into a comprehensive whole. Although we sometimes have different interests, we do share a single mission, namely to realise an attractive, properly functioning and timeless sports park. We are extremely happy that we have reached the end of this lengthy project and that we are able to work on a variant which is actually going to be implemented. Nothing beats being able to walk through a completed plan along with your family, friends, end users and colleagues.” The beating heart of the sports park is a central space containing the clubhouse and the main pitch. “Although it was far from easy, we are going to be able to use clinker bricks in this area. As a result, this part of the sports park will have its own unique atmosphere.”
Joost de Wit, who is a designer who specialises in public space, explains that the refurbishment implies a major change compared to the old situation. “The public space of the new sports park links up much better with the surroundings. The entrance area runs via a wide bridge, and an expansive crossing, on to the new residential neighbourhood which is going to be located to the south of the sports park. It is important that the sports park has a function for both AFC, the main user, and people in the neighbourhood. For example that residents can pop into the clubhouse for a sandwich, or for treatment by the physio.”
The limited space was certainly a challenge for the designers. “However, the more complex the assignment, the more creative we had to be”, says Martijn de Wit. “Based on a given situation we tried to create more space wherever possible. For example, we intentionally made the bridge wide so that it acts as a kind of pathway connecting the sports club and the future residential neighbourhood. Another example is the mini pitch or ‘panna-veldje’. The original idea was to locate the cage construction next to the clubhouse. The problem with that is that you’d be unable to use the space for anything else. Instead we created a sunken pitch with a raised edge on which people can sit. The pitch isn’t separate, but is integrated in a natural way into the area.”
Rugged quay wall
Another restriction was that the main field could not be positioned in a north-south direction. “We turned it through forty-five degrees and that suddenly created a special place in the sports park. Fitting in the other pitches was also a huge puzzle. Our original plan was for natural banks around the entire park. We later decided to replace those on the west side with a rugged quay wall and that suddenly gave us an extra eight metres to spread over all the paths between the pitches. Originally we only had two metres. At some locations we therefore chose fewer metres, meaning that we had more at other locations. I think we’ve managed to design a sports park which not only complies with all the rules, including those of the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB), but also looks timeless and inviting.”
The most expensive land
De Wit and De Wit do not think they made things unnecessarily difficult for themselves. “We’re working on something very significant in the middle of a built-up area. You want to make people happy because the idea of ‘feeling at home’ plays a major role. You want someone from AFC to come in and think, this is my sports park, and someone from the neighbourhood to think, that’s my bridge. However, we also want someone from EY, for example, to also feel at home when they drive into the car park under the sports park. Of course there are people who ask why we’re building a sports park on the most expensive land in Amsterdam. And that’s a good question. Our reply is that it’s not a good idea to force all the sport parks out to the edge of the city. The same applies to affordable homes. We have to do our very best to maintain sports facilities, affordable homes and vulnerable functions in the city at vital and sometimes expensive locations.”