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.