New Look, Old Building

Since we moved here, the western end of town has seen constant construction due to the renovation/rebuilding of the Vredenburg Music Hall. The building was originally constructed in 1979 and has hosted a variety of concerts and musical events, but it was becoming a bit shabby and too small, so a new music palace is under construction. Two of the main halls of the original building remain, but they have been encased in a larger, more opulent structure.

The rebuilding is just one part of the CU2030 revitalization project that is part of a major reworking of that whole side of town, including the music hall, the Hoog Catharijne shopping center, the train station, and the highway that’s being turned back into a canal. In other words, it’s all a big, ugly mess these days.

There’s a large square behind the music hall, which is where the local market is held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That’s the part I usually see, but I’ve been seeing other parts of it in the past couple of weeks as I’ve headed to the train station a few times. While heading home one day, I snapped a couple of shots of the new façade of the building, with the Domtoren off in the distance on the right.


I’m not sure how I feel about the new building. It’s not that it’s modern in design; I think my hesitancy stems mainly from the fact that the whole area is still under construction, so it’s hard to not think of it all as cramped and busy. I’m sure once the work is completed on the whole area — including reopening the canal where the car in the top photo is — it will feel more open and clean and balanced. The plans for the area, which can be seen on the CU2030 website (in Dutch and English) do look appealing and certainly nicer than what we’ve got now!


I still worry that the older buildings across the street (seen above) will be overshadowed by this new music palace, but I’ll reserve judgement until it’s all finished. Amusingly, another palace of sorts once stood on roughly the same ground. The Vredenburg Castle, although short-lived, was constructed in that area in 1532. You can read more about it, including how Trijn and a group of women tore it down, at the castle’s Wikipedia page.

For what it’s worth, here’s a time-lapse video of the spot taken on the same day I took my photo. There are also live webcams available on the CU2030 website. You can get a better sense of how the new structure seems to tower over the nearby buildings.

Water Engineering

Dutch Design
The Discovery channel recently aired an episode about the Rotterdam port on the show called Extreme Engineering (Build It Big is the title in the US, I believe). The program discussed the ways in which Dutch engineers were building new land to expand the port, which is one of the busiest in the world. By taking sand from the sea bed, they’re able to build new, stable land to add about three square miles to the port. They’re expanding the Netherlands without having to invade any other countries! Impressive!

The Dutch are experts at land/water management, not surprising considering many parts of the country are built below sea level. In fact, while we were out driving around last week, we noticed a few times that the water in the canals next to the road was actually higher than the road. It felt like I was back in New Orleans. The Dutch are such experts, that they helped build the Palm Islands in Dubai (hopefully they got paid first) and helped expand Singapore, and are world leaders in dredging and land expansion.

We got our own little close-up view of the behind-the-scenes workings of Dutch management of land and water a couple of weeks ago. As we were trying to find Prins Hendriklaan to make our way to the Rietveld-Schröder House, we soon came across a dead end. Prins Hendriklaan was under some construction. In fact, the road was missing for about a block.
Dutch Engineering
It may not look quite so impressive, other than just a big hole in the ground, until you realize that the road intersects a canal. If you look closely to the left of the following photo, just behind the red machine, runs the canal.
Water and Earth
The street doesn’t form a bridge over the canal. It completely blocks the canal at that point. The canal then starts up again to the right.

It’s interesting to see the physical structures that go into maintaining a balance between land and water. It’s even more interesting to know that there’s a long history and tradition behind these structures. If you get a chance to see the Science/Discovery Channel program, I recommend it. It’s truly impressive on multiple levels.

Return of the Utrecht Moat

The other day I saw this video thanks to the 24oranges blog. I know the areas being discussed, but didn’t realize that the area first mentioned had been at risk of being built up into a large motorway. As it is, it’s a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood, with trees lining the canal. It’s where I spent part of my first Koninginnedag here, and where I enjoy taking Pippo for a quiet walk.

I thought I’d post a few of my photos of the area to give you another view of some of the areas being discussed.
Life Is Good
Boulevard Canal
Mooie Brug

I might not have known that the one area in the north of the city had been at risk, but I did know about the “shortest motorway”. It’s over by the Vredenburg on the eastern edge of the city, near the station. The traffic is gone now and they’re definitely working to return the water to that spot. My first year here, I did a bit of a then-and-now project for my parents, based on a calendar of old photos I bought for them for Christmas. As you can see here, this is a photo of the main street through Utrecht. The bridge is crossing over what was then the canal.
When I took my photo of the same area in 2008, some parts looked surprisingly similar, but other parts were quite different. The road had widened, obviously, but it was no longer water running under the bridge; it was cars. The motorway was open until this year.

I’m certainly glad they never expanded the motorway. It would ruin some of the beauty of the city. I’m also quite happy to see that the water is returning to the motorway that was built. With all the renovation and construction going on in that part of town, hopefully the end result will be an improvement to the already beautiful city.