This was an assignment for my Dutch Culture and Society II class: choose your favorite building in Amsterdam, and talk to Dutch people about it. Simple enough, but I ended up learning (and appreciating) so much more about Westergasfabriek!
A place that I find myself frequenting in Amsterdam are the buildings that make up Westergasfabriek. This arrangement of brick buildings is in the middle of Westerpark, a park very near where I’ve been living in the city. Although initially a coal plant that delivered gas for urban lighting, Westergasfabriek is now a cultural complex that holds a variety of shops and restaurants, and also hosts markets a few times a month. I like the buildings for a variety of reasons; firstly, they are in the middle of a gorgeous park and slightly removed from the city. My favorite café to enjoy coffee and apple pie is also located in Westergasfabriek: Espressofabriek. Finally, the Sunday Market is a place my friends and I like to spend the first Sunday of the month, trying different foods and seeing local products. Something else that makes this building complex special to me is its transformation from a polluting factory to a place for the public to enjoy. As an environmental policy student, I really enjoy when urban wastelands are transformed into recreational public places that are environmentally cleaner than during their previous purpose.
According to the history of Westergasfabriek, the location of the old coal gasworks buildings was decided based on the close proximity to waterways, the railroad, and regular roads for transportation. The buildings are in the style of Dutch Renaissance and are very beautiful despite their industrial use. Isaac Gosschalk, an Amsterdam artist, designed the buildings, and the factory was completed in 1885. Gosschalk also designed the counterpart to Westergasfabriek, Oostergasfabriek, as well as Groningen Station. Some parts of Westergasfabriek have been destroyed, such as the water tower, but the basic structures still remain. The buildings have high ceilings and impressive brickwork. The use of the factory was discontinued in 1967, and the space has been used for public events and cultural activities since 1992. Other businesses located in Westergasfabriek are Het Ketelhuis (a theater), Pacific Parc, Dutch Creative Council offices, and THNK, the Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership.
On Liberation Day 2014, Westergasfabriek and the surrounding park hosted a festival (Het Vrije Westen) to celebrate the liberation. I was able to speak to some of the workers at my favorite café, Espressofabriek, during this festival. They, in general, love to work in a creative and industrial space. One of the baristas enjoys working in a place where everyone is having a good time and enjoying themselves. The workers love the spaciousness of Westergasfabriek as well, and think it’s a great working environment. I will miss coming to this area to work and also to enjoy its cultural activities. I think it’s a really great part of Amsterdam, and I hope the rest of the community enjoys it as much as I do. I think the class should visit the Westergasfabriek buildings to see a part of Amsterdam that tourists or visitors might neglect. There is plenty to do in the area, and the IJscuypje located here is always a great place to spend an afternoon.