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VU Amsterdam's campus square undergoes metamorphosis

The Basket – previously the centre of VU Amsterdam campus square – is being taken apart section by section. For years, this demountable building served as a Grand Café and will soon be given new life as a municipal information centre on IJburg. The remnants of the building cut a sad figure amid all the hoardings and other building activities on the square. ‘But we have a great café to replace it’, says Patrick van Oostvoorn, pointing to the ground floor of the New University Building where the word ‘The Living’ can be seen in trendy lettering on the glass front door. As VU’s programme manager for Public Space, Van Oostvoorn is supervising the metamorphosis of the campus square. ‘It may be a bit of a mess at the moment, but half of it will be accessible again for users by the spring.’

Patchwork of paving

Van Oostvoorn was assigned the job of making the campus square more attractive. ‘It wasn’t a difficult task’, he laughs. ‘The old square was made up of stones, stones and even more stones, that is to say.’ He pulls out a black-and-white photograph from the 1970s when there was a car park in the place where The Basket is now being taken apart. ‘The square was never properly landscaped for public use. Every time a VU building was added or renovated, part of the public space around it was paved. It ended up creating a kind of patchwork.’ The car park in the centre of the square may have disappeared, but according to Van Oostvoorn, very little greenery has replaced it in the last few decades. ‘That meant that it was boiling hot on the square in the summer. Later in the year, puddles would form everywhere after heavy rain showers. That just had to change.’

The VU campus square in 1978

Infiltration drainage system

Now, planting greenery is a great way of combating heat stress and flooding, but it also comes with  challenges. ‘If you want to add greenery, you also have to make sure that the water level stays constant’, explains Van Oostvoorn. ‘Too much or too little water is not good for the roots.’ This is why he and his colleagues installed an infiltration drainage system underneath the campus square over the last few weeks. This kind of drainage system captures the rain runoff and enables it to infiltrate through a perforated pipe into the soil underneath. There is now a ring of such pipes underneath the square. ‘Underground, they’re connected to the canal in A.J. Ernststraat and to Buitenveldertsegracht, enabling any excess water to drain away.’

Heart of the campus

Greener, more sustainable, and therefore, naturally, much more attractive. But most of all, the new VU Amsterdam campus square has to be a place where people gather and meet each other. A place to connect at the heart of campus. ‘We’re deliberately creating various nooks and corners, to make the square more intimate. However, it will form one cohesive whole – we certainly want to get rid of that patchwork’, says Van Oostvoorn. There will be a so-called ‘tiny forest’, various terraces, plenty of grassy areas and a lot of (playful) seating. The very popular volleyball courts will remain and will only be relocated, as will the basketball court. There will also be ample space left to set up a stage for all kinds of events on the square.

The popular volleyball courts are being relocated
In 2022, VU opened up StartHub on the campus square: a vibrant start-up community

Over 50 extra trees on VU campus square
Once The Basket has been taken apart, Van Oostvoorn expects the metamorphosis of the campus square to really pick up pace. ‘We started last September and are spending a year on it in total, which takes us to the end of 2024. By the spring of 2024, we will have completed part of the green transformation – the trees are being planted in phases. In total, over 50 trees will be added to the square. Rather than the small trees typical of new housing estates, we’re buying trees that are as big as possible. We’re talking around 10 m in height.’ Technically, he says, creating the newly-relandscaped square is not so complicated. So why does it take a year to complete? ‘We have to do it in small steps. VU Amsterdam currently has 33,000 students and there are staff and visitors. They’re never all on campus at the same time, but what happens if half of them are? Everyone should be able to move safely and smoothly from point A to point B. There should also be enough space on campus during the construction for people to stay.’

You can find more information about the metamorphosis of VU Amsterdam campus square and more details of the phases here.

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