Amsterdam’s Person of the year 2011

Eva was nominated ‘Amsterdammer of the year’ by the readers of Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool.

Interview by Hans van der Beek, December 2011:

Eva de Klerk (Amsterdam, 1965) is one of the founders of the incubator on grounds of the NDSM Shipyard. Since then, she helps thinking about fringe areas of cities all around the world, right now those of an old area in the Bijlmer (Amsterdam).

“Hunting for fringe areas”

Heesterveld. H-neighbourhood. H-society. H-team. Hip-hop. Haute couture. Hotel. Hotspot. Eva de Klerk: ‘Yes, we’re playing with the H.’ She is working in a currently empty, stripped apartment in Heesterveld, but soon, this will be the location of the new hotspot of the Bijlmer. De Klerk has some experience in this matter, transforming slums into an incubator for young entrepreneurs and creatives. Eva de Klerk was one of the founders of the NDSM Shipyard. Her business card reads: cultural explorer , project booster, bottom-up city developer. That’s something. De Klerk does, building a city within a city, preferably in a derelict industrial building and with the citizens themselves, no policies from higher up the ladder. At the end of the nineties, the NDSM Shipyard was one of those sleeping giants. It was peopled with nomads and a few artists. The district council wanted to tear that mess down. The councilors were already dreaming of a new Manhattan on the banks of the river IJ. De Klerk had her eye on the shipbuilding hall and convinced the council that they could sell a building to a project developer, but could also fix it themselves with two hundred young, ambitious artists, entrepreneurs, and creatives. This brings in the same amount of money, and the city gets to keep a special location—there are far too few left of those, after all. And that is how the Kunststad was created. It is the largest creative incubator in the country, with over a hundred business premises, studios, and theatre workshops. She got some skaters together to build their own indoor skateboarding track, and Amsterdam gained one of the most special restaurants with Noorderlicht.

The NDSM Shipyard became popular. ‘People asked me at the time ‘What do you want with Noord?’ I thought it was excellent. We’re giving the city an enormous gift. By loving an area. They wanted to tear it down, now it’s a cultural heritage site, thanks to the citizens.’ And that’s the way things go: the shipyard has now become investment property. It is the cycle of the fringe area. First come the artists and the misfits, than the galleries, and then the yuppies. The success of the NDSM Shipyard gained De Klerk a reputation as queen of the fringe areas, and she was asked to participate in big international projects, such as a former airport in Berlin and an old shipyard in Osaka. And also a housing block in the Bijlmer.

Heesterveld was definitely a no-go area. Unemployment, criminality, dereliction, empty houses. The plan for that is often: tear it down. Housing corporation Ymere asked De Klerk to think about an alternative plan for the building, and she did. A derelict building with a metro station nearby and Eva de Klerk goes wild, working together with the locals. The building with 87 residences now houses the work/living studios of young painters, poets, musicians, photographers, craftspeople, and students of art academy Rietveld.  Soon there’ll also be a shop with trendy clothing and jewellery, a hairstylist, a hotel room, a central area for workshops, exhibitions, dinners. And of course a good restaurant. It’s not a proper hotspot without a good restaurant. Next, the seedy basement units will be opened up for a pretty underground passage with light, with place for small businesses, and a convenience store, cheerful and friendly, a magnet for the neighbourhood. The Bijlmer-gray on the walls will be covered with bright colours and light boxes with the letter H on them will be placed on the roof. ‘Soon, you’ll enter Amsterdam by train and the first thing you see will be Heesterveld.’

Give Eva de Klerk a fringe area and she’ll build you a palace.