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The Mr. Visserplein is an intersection where different histories come together. Up until the second world war this area was the heart of the Jewish neighbourhood in Amsterdam. Almost none of the original Jewish neighbourhood survived the war. It’s inhabitants were killed and their houses were plundered and left to deteriorate. The war left a huge hole in the urban fabric of Amsterdam.

Initially nothing was done to rebuild the neighbourhood but in the 1950’s and 1960’s the hole was energetically filled with modernist interventions. Rigorous traffic throughways, large office buildings and the construction of a tunnel to ensure a smooth flow of traffic from the Wibaut Street to the new IJ-tunnel turned the Mr. Visserplein into a oiled traffic machine. Streams of pedestrians, bicycles, cars and trams were ingeniously separated. Modernism had drilled it’s way deep into the historical inner city of Amsterdam with an abrupt ending at the Mr. Visserplein.

The large scale urban interventions conjured up resistance both from the inhabitants of Amsterdam and monument conservationists. Amsterdam took revenge on the modernistic traffic machine. The tunnel was closed, the tram stops relinquished and the cars had to once again queue at the traffic lights on the square. The highlight of the fall of modernism was the demolition of the Maupoleum, which had become a symbol of modernism and had gained the reputation amongst anti-modernists as being the ‘ugliest building in Amsterdam’.

The space left over is a vague rest space without clear intention or meaning. A place full of relicts, compromises and disempowerment, where divergent urban conditions seem to meet each other coincidentally. It is an uncomfortable passage space which does not invite habitation, on the contrary, one is inclined to leave it as quickly as possible. The Mr. Visserplein is little more than a collection of lane pre-selections and pedestrian crossings, it is the sum of necessary programme. With the demolition of the Jewish neighbourhood, the construction of the traffic machine and subsequent demolition of this, fascism, modernism and anti-modernism have left behind a hole in the city: Mokum Hole.


Mokum hole slowly starts to fill. Tunnels become a playground and bicycle rental and the new Film Academy encloses the square. To remember Mokum Hole and to prevent a horror vacui, the hole is filled with emptiness. Mokum Hole becomes Mokum Void. A square free of pavements, traffic lights, traffic lanes, bollards, traffic signs, lampposts, trees, signposts, dustbins, foot paths, bicycle paths and zebra crossings. The mobile phone replaces the phone booth and the watch the clock tower. The square is completely dematerialised. In nature absolute void does not exist, it is a cultural construct. Sunday, the park, the sky, the car-free day, the museum, and the church are all voids. Void is space.

The empty square is covered with a grid of programmable holes. They spout water, make mist and radiate light and warmth. They filter surface water and bring light into the underworld. Rain water is collected and filtered for reuse in the old unused tunnel entrance. The fountains neutralise the sound of traffic, absorb dust particles and ionise the air. The holes influence and stimulate the behaviour of the users.

Amsterdam developed on a traffic intersection. The Dam in the Amstel is a point of delay, a situation where urban life arises. The perceived hindrance of a dam in the river produced a beautiful city. What the Dam in the Amstel is for Amsterdam, the emptiness on the square is for the Mr. Visserplein. The square is no longer a place of acceleration but one of delay. Pre-regulation is exchanged for self-regulation. Traffic flows find their own way, like a river finds it‘s way to the sea. Confrontation is intensified as elements respond to each other. Adaptability is more important than strength. Delay turns the square into a self-regulating organism.

The Void links the Portuguese Synagogue with McBike, the Mozes and Aäron church with the Film Academy and the Spatial Planning Institute with TunFun. Each building has an address on the square. The square links the underworld with the upper world, the present with the past and the north with the south. The empty square is both an intersection, a residential precinct, a traffic square, a church, a park and a synagogue. Mr. Visserplein is an empty square full of public space.
Mokum Void
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
public space around traffic intersection
design of a programmable public space that responds to climatic conditions and city events
submission Prix-de-Rome 2005
1.000 m 2
not applicable
Duzan Doepel, Jan Konings with Sabine Bricard
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