Student - May 30, 2018

The Bijlmerbajes Experience

Lotje Hogerzeil

Lotje Hogerzeil (25), MSc Urban Systems Engineering, is starting her blog on her participation the 2018 student challenge: Design the Ultimate Sustainable Urban Greenhouse. She finally got to see the design site, one of the towers of the former Bijlmerbajes in Amsterdam, from the inside with her own eyes.

© Sven Menschel

To the isolation cells on the 13th floor of tower 700 – that is where you would be sent if you, as a female prisoner of the Bijlmerbajes, had been misbehaving. I reached the isolation floor after climbing 13 stairs together with 20 representatives of the other competing teams. The WUR flew them in for a Data Mining event. I arrived at the top as one of the first, while most of my opponents were still struggling to catch their breath. Ha! That’s already one way to beat them, I caught myself thinking. This was the first time that we got to see, smell, hear and experience the Women’s Tower from the inside. And I just got myself a head start.

Imprisoned in a penthouse
My image of prisons was based on Das Experiment and Prison Break: rows and rows of cells with bars, guards patrolling two-floor galleries while they are spit on by prisoners from above. The Women’s Tower does not come anywhere near this image of mine. Back in the 60’s the architects wanted to go for a completely different prison than ever built before, and succeeded. No bars in front of the windows, no cells but ‘living rooms’, a private bathing utility and toilet for every prisoner. I expected the gloomy atmosphere one experiences entering a place where horrible things have happened. These living rooms felt more like humble-sized pent houses. I could easily see these 3300 future residents of Bajeskwartier have a splendid time here.

Engage your senses
Visiting the future Green Tower – finally, after all these months of work based on just videos, blueprints and online lectures – brought to life the ideas my Evergreen team has been working on since January. At dinner in INSTOCK, at the end of the day, Arnold Bregt (WUR’s newly appointed dean) came to speak to us, encouraging us to ‘Take this opportunity to engage your senses! Use your ears, eyes, noses, even your gut feeling to experience the Bijlmerbajes.’

Yes, dr Bregt, you read my mind. I can only really give a project my full attention when I continuously involve all my senses. Still, dr Bregt, it is rather the exception than the rule that I am encouraged to do so within the university walls. Attending lectures in a classroom packed with 50 people, absorbing knowledge from 9 to 5, only requires advanced sitting skills and basic auditory – and visual capability. Sometimes I worry about my fellow students who do not do anything but going to classes and live in the library. I don’t want to know what would have been left of my sensory capacities if I would not have participated. I guess it was meant to be to be part of this challenge.