NDSM: Self-Made City

Cultural Regeneration, Amsterdam



In 1950, NDSM was the largest shipyard in Europe – source

Agile City is a project based in Speirs Locks, north Glasgow. A post-industrial area undergoing significant change with arts and culture at its core. We are currently working collaboratively with local organisations to set up the Glasgow Canal Project – a local co-operative to support the democratic development of the area. As part of this process we’re interested in looking towards other initiatives to deepen our understanding of how buildings, areas and cities can be reimagined through creative and cultural activity. We have written a series of 5 posts that explore this theme including; this one looking at L’île de Nantes in France; NDSM in Amsterdam; Hackney Wick and Fish Island in London, Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam; and Le Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal.

The artist-led reactivation of Amsterdam’s iconic shipyard, NDSM, is an inspirational example.

In 1937, the Nederlandse Scheepsbouw en Droogdok Maatschappij (NDSM, the Dutch Shipbuilding and Dry dock Company) was the largest ship-building company in the world. This ship wharf, located in North Amsterdam, was a large centre of production before it went bankrupt and closed in 1984 and has since stood abandoned. Six large creative squats, already established by artists and small businesses, emerged and were welcomed in to join the city masterplan for the development of the banks, in a bid to convert it into a Manhattan-like urban project. It failed by 1997 however because of a mis-matched expectation on both sides about keeping an original and underground vibe within the developing area.

In 2000, the Stadsdeel Noord (Northern district authority of Amsterdam) asked a focus group composed by artist Eva de Klerk of theatre makers, skateboarders, artists and cultural entrepreneurs etc. to conduct a study for the repurposing of the 84,000 m² NDSM eastern part of the site. The Kinetisch Noord (Kinetic North) workgroup settled in the premises and were soon considered the managing group, initiating projects and given subsidies to develop the space. Among other exciting projects, they came up with Kunststad (Art City) which is an indoor city designed and built by the citizens themselves, with 80 studios, cultural business space, 12 large theatre workshops and an indoor skate park:

“To get as much creative freedom and diversity as possible, it was decided to build only cascos: a framework of steel and concrete, that could be finished by the artists and entrepreneurs themselves.” – Eva de Klerk

In 2008 the feasibility study was over and the management fell into the hands of the authority owning the building who started to work closely with the community of creative tenants. In just a few years, NDSM Shipyard became one of the cultural hotspots in Amsterdam, linked from the central station by a 10 min journey on a free river shuttle laid on by the city, as well as a worldwide model of an experimental city.

“As a result of the active involvement of its inhabitants, NDSM wharf has been transformed from a historical port into one of Amsterdam’s creative hub. Artists, creative businesses, sustainable start-ups, innovative housing projects, cultural organisations, media, unusual restaurants and large events… It all fits perfectly with NDSM.”
Creative Amsterdam-based agency Vandejonghere

NDSM Johan-Lorthioir-F-800x600

Kunststad – the “city of standing walls” – source

NDSM pllek

PLLEK : The Spot/The Place in English is a music venue with an outdoor beach – source


The Smederij (the former smithy/forge) has been reconverted by Group A architects and it’s now a high-profile workspace (Red Bull, MTV, Discovery Channel) – more photos here


The Smederij (former smithy/forge) – the architects have retained the building’s industrial character by maintaining the monumental steel structure. More photos here


crane hotel

The Crane Hotel – opened in 2014, it offers 3 hotel rooms in the tower and a jacuzzi at the top! – source 


The Crane Hotel – rooftop jacuzzi. More photos here

The official website of the NDSM – here (mostly in Dutch)
A documentary showcasing the evolution of the NDSM between 1945 and 2006 can be seen here
An overview of the different projects on the site can be read here