Repurposing, which means to use a building for something other than its original purpose, has been an unlikely tradition in Amsterdam since the 1960s. In the postwar period, young people responded to a housing shortage in the city by taking over old, abandoned buildings and turning them into homes, concert halls, and art studios. Today, it’s easy for visitors to see in some of its more unique structures the impact that adaptive reuse and urban interventionism have had on the Dutch capital.
OCCII, short for Onafhankelijk Cultureel Centrum In It, is hidden away at the southwestern tip of Vondelpaark. Since 1984, it’s played host to volunteer-run concerts, film screenings and theater performances, bringing together local and international artists. The building itself was constructed in 1883-84 by architect Abraham Salm as a horse tram garage with stables. You can see the unique detailing of its facade in the photo above.
Next to the concert hall stands a restaurant, a library, a children’s theater, a bike workshop, and rehearsal studios. The building also features a large courtyard and garden. Musical programming at OCCII is handled by a number of independent groups – check their website to see what’s on while you’re in town.
Fifteen minutes away, on the north side of Vondelpaark, stands OT301. Formerly a film academy, the building was slated for demolition when Eerste Hulp Bij Kunst took it over. EHBK first won funding from the city for repairs and renovations before striking a deal with the local council to become legal renters of the building.
Today, OT301 screens films, holds yoga classes and presents alternative performers from all over Europe. You can still wander in through the front door, however, and check out the graffiti murals in the courtyard.
One of the most striking facades in all of Amsterdam is the Snakehouse, located in the city’s historic center at Spuistraat 199. Presiding over a community of squats known as the Tabakspanden (“Tobacco Row” – below), the Snakehouse rises five colorful stories into the air over its neighbours.
In the 1970s, the building housed the General Dutch Press Agency. On March 6, 1983, squatters claimed the top four floors and nearly three decades of squabbling with various landlords have ensued.
Today, the Snakehouse remains an illegal squat, albeit one that has gained a certain measure of acceptance from city officials. It’s also an important arts center, housing around a dozen professional artists at any time and holding exhibitions on its ground floor. Tobacco Row, with its colorful graffiti murals, is certainly worth a stroll if you’re in the area.