Surrounded by rubble and behind high fences, the De Beurs building on Wisselweg in Almere is waiting for its final end. Large grabs move debris, the ground floor has disappeared except for the uprights, shreds of fog frame the grief. The Beurs is a good example of the brutalism, an architectural movement that began with Le Corbusier in the 1950s. And it is the oldest office building in Almere-Stad, dating from 1980.
Behind the confrontation between the hopeless building and the demolishers lies a greater conflict: between those who want to protect the heritage of the Flevopolders and the forces who want to see slick new construction everywhere. Christian Pfeiffer of the head office of Erfgoedvereniging Heemschut says that nowhere in the Netherlands do they have so much to save as in Almere.
The Beurs was bought in 2017 by project developer Van der Valk Investments. Alderman Tjeerd Herrema said that he was willing to cooperate in the conversion to housing if the characteristic appearance of the building was preserved. Demolition was not an option. But another lecture came and Van der Valk increased the pressure.
The Welstand and Heritage Committee wrote in April 2021: “Repurposing the Beursgebouw would give the transformation of the station area a historical stratification that characterizes any mature city. It also keeps the long line of a pioneer city, and the place where the architectural experiment is given space, visible.”
The municipality left a cultural-historical valuation implement, hundreds of citizens signed a petition, there came herdenkings T-shirtsHeemschut asked to make it a municipal monument. And in the end Van der Valk decided. According to them, it was an ‘unmarketable’ building. In June, Bas van den Nieuwenhuizen of Van der Valk threatened, partly on behalf of other project developers, “that if the city council prohibits the demolition of De Beurs, all other development plans will also go into the trash”, wrote Omroep Flevoland. The VVD did not want to “get bogged down in a sentimental discussion about heritage”. D66 wanted to “prevent the developer from running away”.
According to Ben te Raa van Heemschut Flevoland, “the college has yielded to the project developer”.
Almere’s first building
Now the battle for the preservation of old Almere focuses on the very first building, on the work island with which Southern Flevoland started, opened on April 22, 1964 as a canteen for workers, annex a boarding house for civil servants and a caretaker’s house. It is T-shaped, made of wood, one story low, 650 square meters in size and it is in a deplorable condition. Paint is peeling here and there, frame parts are rotten, insulation material is coming out here and there. It has been the property of Flevo-Landscape for thirty years, half as a workspace, half as a visitor center, and it is called De Trekvogel.
“I’ve been passing here for decades,” Te Raa says as we tour the peeling exterior wall, “but I’ve never seen any maintenance being done. I know from someone close to the organization that neglect has been a deliberate policy to make it easier to get a demolition permit. You expect this kind of behavior from a project developer, not from Flevo-landscape that should stand up for the weak in nature and heritage.”
On May 20th Flevo landscape director Ben Huisman came with an announcement and said, among other things: “In recent years we have thought intensively about the future of De Trekvogel”. Result of the thinking process: demolition. On June 21, Heemschut applied for monument status and wrote to B&W: “Flevo-Landscape has never done anything to maintain the building, in order to create a fait accompli.” And on October 21, B&W wrote to Heemschut to refuse monument status. The Monuments Committee is still looking at it, but Heemschut has little expectations.
Bright spot: the municipality is considering turning the entire eight-hectare work island into a ‘protected cityscape’, including a pumping station, a lock, the first trees in the polder, nuclear-free cellars and 14 service homes that were rebuilt on their old foundations in 1992 . Flevo Landscape, Heemschut and other involved parties must now investigate this option together. But protected cityscape does not mean that De Trekvogel will remain standing.
Flevo landscape did not want to ‘facilitate’ a request to also look inside; they wanted to keep the procedure regarding the status “clean”. Later they emailed that it would have been possible if I had come alone. Two requests for explanations led to a written statement stating, among other things, that ‘It is impossible to renovate the Migratory Bird because of the architectural and technical condition. All fundamentally necessary interventions amount to demolition.”
Is that really so? Roelof Balk, involved as a consultant in many spatial projects, including in Almere, wrote on LinkedIn: “Yes, there may be asbestos in it, because that’s what they used at the time. So indeed: that requires special treatment and you will have to replace certain materials. And yes, it is outdated, but guess what! That it would renew itself? This is like tearing down De Stelling van Amsterdam because it can hardly be heated anymore and has lost its military function. You don’t do that.”
Isabel van Lent, cultural historian and author of a valuation of The Migratory Bird (and van De Beurs) also walks along and points out: “Look, there you still see the original vertical slats, that’s how the entire exterior used to be.” Elsewhere, hardboard plates were screwed on there in the eighties. Van Lent: “The cultural-historical significance is most relevant here. The stories. The usage history. The role the building has had on the work island.”
New visitor center
A stroke of luck is the interior. In her valuation, van Lent wrote: “The inside of the building makes a completely different impression than the outside. the timbered
wall covering is still largely intact and well-painted. Here the building has clearly been kept in a well-maintained condition.”
Technically, recovery is not a problem. It will cost a bit, but that also applies to the ‘modular new construction with a natural appearance’ that Flevo landscape wants for a new visitor center at the same location. Balk: “With today’s renovation techniques, the characteristics of this building can be preserved and restored to its full glory. Link to it a design competition for creative young architects.”
Te Raa and Van Lent agree that it is not an architectural marvel. The strength lies in the lack of pretension, the simplicity, the functionality, the era. Van Lent: “It was prefab, it was brought in over water and screwed together here. Now it is a time capsule.” Te Raa: „It is an undiscovered history, Almere started here. De Trekvogel offers a world of untapped possibilities for a visitor center.” Van Lent: „This was the social meeting point for the dike workers. The island’s only telephone was here. And there were performances by actors who came by boat, the stage is still there. Flevo landscape has the opportunity to tell the story about the polder in De Trekvogel, not just about nature.”
Demolition is the trend in Flevopolder
We walk past the rooms of the civil servants’ pension. The curtains are closed, but Van Lent knows that almost nothing has changed. The Gispen furniture is still there, including the desks that engineers from the Rijksdienst voor de IJsselmeerpolders worked on.
Zooming in on heritage conservation in the Flevopolders, Te Raa identifies a bizarre trend: demolish it, then regret it and then build a replica. It happened to the cafeteria from 1950 on the work island near Lelystad, demolished in 2010. The pioneer barracks that Dronten started with in 1960 was killed in 2012 and will soon be exactly rebuilt. There will even be a partial replica of De Beurs.
According to Pfeiffer van Heemschut, it is due to a slowly dawning historical consciousness that was alien to inhabitants of new land where for a long time only the future mattered. “Almere has recently – and that was quite a thing – one municipal monument: the first police station, by Rem Koolhaas.”
Te Raa: “The problem throughout Flevoland is: something new is coming and people are not interested in the past, in the reasons why something is there. People just do something. That could also happen with De Trekvogel.”