Redesigning Amsterdam’s Dam Square

In 2016 the Amsterdam daily newspaper Het Parool began a conversation about the city’s central square, the Dam, or “Dam Square” as tour guides call it. Originally a proper dam in the Amstel River created as a crossing and as a diversion of water to moats around the nascent town, The Dam has always been the navel of the city. But was its current form not too haphazard? Was it time for a redesign? Many people furiously defended its current state, the product of many historic turns. Others thought that too much of its “design” had been left to chance, or even worse, disregard. Todd van Hulzen threw his hat in the ring and sent in a proposal. Now, a few years later, the historian and author Fred Feddes (A Millineum of Amsterdam: Spatial History of a Marvelous City) has written a book about the Dam. He has included Todd’s design drawing among the illustrations.

What is distinct in this design is the placement of the National Monument—a circular stepped parvis topped by a rounded obelisk and a travertine backdrop—into the center of the Dam as opposed to its current location at the shadowy end of the square. Doing this achieves two ends: it allows the creation of two separate squares, one grand and ceremonial, the other green and convivial. 

Secondly it places the obelisk at the vertices, or axial node, of the two approaching boulevards, the Damrak and the Rokin. What you achieve here is what great city planners have been doing for centuries, placing a landmark (the Washington Monument, the Place de la Concorde) as the visible destination feature of a given point of departure. In this case the National Monument, which 

could be arguably called the Umbilicus Urbis of all the Netherlands, is no longer shunted out of the way as a potential nuisance to the automobile, but is given its due importance and dominance on the capitol’s central square, and is visible from as far away as the Central Station and the Spui. The square that remains to the west becomes a space with understandable definitions, described better by the three national repositories of identity: The New Church, The Royal Palace, The National Monument. The square that is created on the east side, which we could redub “Vijgendam” as it once was, now has room to become the national living room, with opportunities to linger and perhaps sit on a terrace in the shade of trees.

Marinemuseum PhotoApp

The Marinemuseum in Den Helder wanted to create an application for a “photo souvenir” and a physical installation to accommodate it. The app takes a shot of a visitor against a backdrop and then renders it as a historical poster from the collection of the Dutch Marines. Studio Louter created the application and Todd van Hulzen Design drew up the plans for a console to house a webcam and computer. As well as the webcam we made space for props and costume pieces to be used in the photo moment. See the entries below for our big exhibition at the Marinemuseum, Sea Battle!.

Game of Goose, the LGBT-refugee version

For the exhibition Pride & Prejudice (see below), a show about the creative lives of LGBT refugees in the Netherlands, we conceived and created a board game. It was in the form of a “Game of Goose”, an old European board game similar to Monopoly which propels an avatar along a path with the throw of a dice. Either one moves forward or one moves back depending on the luck of the roll and the content of the space one lands in. A typical example of good luck: “You’re application for asylum has been accepted, roll the dice again”. And of bad luck: “You are being harassed in the asylum seekers center. Move back 8 spaces.” We created 3 separate avatars to move along 3 storylines: An Egyptian gay man, a Turkish transgender woman, and an Ugandan lesbian woman. Each has a unique set of problems and triumphs, and if luck prevails each one will eventually arrive at the goal: a safe and permanent status in the Netherlands.

Studio Louter produced the graphics and together we came up with the questions and strategy. Royal Rijnja kindly printed the games on our information tables at no cost.

The LGBT Refugee Game of Goose will be re-appearing at the International Queer and Migrant Film Festival in the Balie, Amsterdam from 5 to 15 December 2018.


New Cabin Designs, Klamath County Oregon

Todd has been intermittently working on his own cabin in Oregon and occasionally posts updates here. Each year seems to be greeted with a new design. The most current update reflects a desire to finish the project quickly and affordably, but also to keep true to the spirit of openness in the great outdoors. The wooden walls have now given way to canvas walls and mosquito screens: basic cabin elements augmented by tent elements. The concept is to create a central “box” set on the existing foundation which harbors a large canvas tent. Apart from this, the storage box contains a small kitchen, a fold down bed, a wood stove and a bath. Everything can be folded and rolled out of its packed location to create a roomy, well-appointed and dry tenting experience, with a few permanent fixtures (a kitchen) which give the feel of a traditional cabin. If needs be, the wood stove can be stoked and further insulation can be rolled out. Some people would call this “glamping”. At the end of a stay, everything is packed up again into the container for varmint-free winter storage. On top of the box is a water tank, a generator, a battery array and solar panels.

Royal Joh. Enschedé Collection, Noord-Hollands Archief

In the Gothic galleries of the Janskerk in Haarlem, Todd van Hulzen and Studio Louter are reimagining an exhibition space for the Archive of North Holland to permanently house a great monument of Dutch history and identity: the collection of the state printer Royal Joh. Enschedé.

Anyone who has ever admired the beauty, ingenuity and intricacy of a Dutch guilder banknote knows the work of the firm Joh. Enschedé & Zonen, now Royal Joh. Enschedé. This Haarlem company has been responsible for the design and printing of Dutch banknotes, securities, stamps, hallmarks and journals for more than 300 years and so doing has become synonymous with reliability and authenticity. However, most people know the firm for the sheer beauty of its intricate work: engravings and embellishments so fine that they were virtually impossible to reproduce. The entire archive and physical collection of Royal Joh. Enschedé is at the disposal of the Archives of North Holland. This includes many original designs for banknotes by M.C. Escher, and examples of early securities. We have an entire suite of designs for the Bank of Java, designs for postage stamps and original copper plates for Dutch guilders.

The challenge is to transform a meandering space inside a medieval monument into an inviting and informative visitor’s experience. How do you control blazing light from giant gothic windows without losing their beauty? How do you keep the delicate collection protected from shifting climate and bright light? How do you make a logical routing in an immovable, indifferent vessel? How do you balance whimsy and gravitas in a way that stimulates the visitor?

In September 2018 we created a provisional design embraced by the client to be used for further fundraising. If all goes according to plan we will have working designs under construction in 2020. What you see here are the first experiments in form, content and routing. Keep posted!

Library of Hoogeveen, interior upgrade

After designing the permanent heritage exhibition space in the library of Hoogeveen we were invited to redesign the entire library. This begins with the entryway and ends with various study spaces. In between there is an information counter, a cluster dedicated to new acquisitions, a creators’ laboratory, a central meeting square, an area for workshops and classes and, of course, the core function of a library: books and reading. Or are those the “core functions”? Libraries around the country and the world are today reinventing themselves for the new century. They are often asking themselves difficult questions: do libraries matter? What are our core tasks? Do people come to a library to read? to meet people? to learn about history? How can libraries offer what a community needs? How can they flourish? All of these questions are reflected in the design. We expect to be working on this project all through 2019, so stay posted!

Pride & Prejudice keeping LGBT refugees in the public discourse

Life as an immigrant is fraught with enough challenges; life as an asylum seeker even more. But life as an LGBT refugee has its own set of hurdles, traumas and triumphs. For the organisations that are committed to taking care of this special group of refugees it’s important to keep the public conversation alive and to keep the politics engaged. To this end Todd van Hulzen initiated an exhibition with the Stichting (Foundation) Secret Garden in Amsterdam that aimed to keep LGBT refugees in the public discourse while also giving them a forum in which to show themselves as skilled, talented and valuable additions to Dutch society.

As an exhibition “Pride & Prejudice” (a name chosen to reflect both the oppression and determination of LGBT refugees) we chose to lay the accent on individual creative refugees, showcasing their work while also telling a brief story of their careers and odysseys. To lend context we also created a number of information graphics and a set of interview videos. All of the work that went into the project, from the design to the film editing to the writing of texts was produced pro-bono by volunteers. The printwork was generously made at no cost by Royal Rijnja in Amsterdam and the interviews were filmed by the talented Marilou Stive. Studio Louter created content and graphics (see the post “Game of Goose” above) while also contributing a significant monetary donation to the project. Thanks for that!

The locations were of chief importance with the goal of reaching the largest cross section of society. Todd arranged a rental unit in a passage in the Central Station of Amsterdam and Stichting Secret Garden arranged a second location in the Central Library, not far away. There we exhibited in the dedicated space of the Gay and Lesbian Archives ILHIA who were also sponsors. In each location we created a number of little pavilions in the form of tents, reminiscent of black bedouin tents but each with an interior hung in bright taffeta. There we hung artwork or suspended headphones or played a video. With the renowned Syrian dancer Ahmad Joudeh we created a filmed choreography on Syrian and Dutch rooftops, for the young deejay Biro Moustafa we arranged a sound studio to record a set of house music, for the Trinidadian photographer Trevor Felix we printed and hung fashion portraits.

Todd van Hulzen was an initiator of the project, provided most of the written content, created PR content, constructed the decor with the help of volunteers, and created most of the graphics. Thanks to Constance de Vos, Victor van der Meiden, Studio Louter and Carla Peters for their support.

“Stained Glass” window for U.S. film in Holland

Every now and then we have to make a sidebar for Todd’s individual work. Apart from designing exhibitions he still produces the occasional decor piece or set design for the film industry. This summer he created an enormous imitation stained-glass window for an as yet unnameable American film realized in the Netherlands. What we can show you are some images of the work in progress. The work was created in the workshop, using painted and printed material, and transferred to an exterior set built on location. This construction mimicked the exterior of an existing gothic church. Using the right camera perspective we can thus create the illusion of continuity between the location and the set, without ever having to disturb the church’s activities or interior climate. When the film is released you will find an update here.

The Historic Collection of Hoogeveen: the Story Wharf

Hoogeveen_previz2-versie1Hoogeveen, a community on the higher moors of the eastern Netherlands, is consolidating its historic collections with its public library and needed a suitable exhibition ‘set’ to inaugurate the first phase of the transition. Now that we’re moving onto the second phase of a permanent housing for the collection, we look back at the original temporary project.

TvH made the design with favorite partner, Studio Louter (all while billeted in a camper in the mountains of Southern Oregon, USA.) This was to be an affordable, easily constructed decor designed to accent the temporary and shiftable character of the wharves of Hoogeveen: chiefly using accessible materials such as crates and pallets to showcase the objects “in transito”, as if waiting for their next home. Studio Louter created a graphic style that mixed the contemporary and historical, and we scattered elements of this throughout the decor, stenciled onto crates and showcases.

This lightweight design turned out to be so effective that we are considering the elements of it which will become permanent in the second phase of the project.