Evict the queen from the palace
No one seems to care that a large building
is standing in the city centre, ‘fulfilling no usefull role
at all’, observed architect Leo Q. Onderwater over two years
ago. He suggested to return the former town hall, now used as a
palace, to the Amsterdammers.
Others have joined him, including art sociologist Bram Kempers,
the Centrum District VVD
and, of course, activists’ magazine Ravage.
The town hall was designed in 1648 by Jacob van Campen and was
completed in 1705. “It was a city within the city, with the
Burgerzaal being used as a market, meeting place, political centre,
‘agora’ in the most literal sense of the word”,
writes Geert Mak in his new book ‘De goede stad’ (The
In 1808, the building was confiscated by Louis Bonaparte, bringing
an end to its public function. Shortly after, the royal family started
using it as a palace. In 1936, the municipality sold it to the national
government, which now loans it to the royal family.
Only a part of the building is still accessible to the public and
draws some 100,000 visitors per year. Until next year, the building
is closed because of a renovation.
This renovation caused a controversy over the demolition of a monumental
staircase to provide room for an elevator. As a result of the controversy,
it became clear with how much secrecy the building is being treated.
The building drawings are secret, the construction workers had
to sign a secrecy pledge and no ordinary citizen will ever see the
results of the renovation, het Parool reported earlier this year.
In the nineteenth century, an advisor of Louis Bonaparte already
warned that the building was not suitable for use as a palace: “The
unusual location of the building exposes it on all sides to the
curiosity and indiscretion of idlers and do-nothings”.
This problem persists to this day. The Centrum District is considering
to build two storeys on top of the Food Plaza behind the palace,
in order to make this buiding suitable for use as a district office.
This plan may be blocked because civil servants might be able to
look into the palace. “With binoculars, they can see the queen
walking around”, district council member Bernadette van Pampus
(VVD) told het Parool.
Of course, this does require that the queen is actually in. However,
she uses the palace only a few times per year.
In the Netherlands, squatting is allowed if a building has not
been used for 12 months. This is a way to prevent valuable space
remaining unused, with its concomitant negative impact on the livability
of the neighbourhood.
Although the queen does use the building a few times every year,
the same principle should apply here. A valuable part of Amsterdam
is hardly used at all, and a huge closed building takes the life
out of its surroundings.
Amsterdam’s anti-Orange feelings have all but died out and
only a few incurable republicans will insist that the royal family
is not welcome here. If the queen wants to wave to her people from
the balcony every now and then, she is more than welcome. But during
the rest of the year, the old town hall should be restored to its
Illustration: Dam Palace, 1900 (Wikipedia / Library of Congress)
See also: What to do with the palace?
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