Of course everyone knows that Amsterdam has a beautifully-preserved, historical inner-city with fantastic examples of 16th- and 17th-century houses replete with all different kinds of gables – step gables, bell gables, neck gables... yawn... well, you get the picture. However, one of the city's most exciting aspects is its burgeoning waterfront regeneration. Definitely take time to explore the Eastern Docklands area for its contemporary architectural gems. First stop should be ARCAM.
René van Zuuk's quirky sculptural creation (it resembles a snail and has a striking aluminium roof which wraps the building), serves as an info point for those interested in the city's architecture. As well as books, magazines and a useful archive of material, ARCAM (Amsterdam Center for Architecture) regularly organise lectures and exhibitions (though usually in Dutch). You can also pick up a number of handy maps and booklets here – including a must-have map of the Eastern Docklands.
Construction of the Eastern Docklands began in 1874 and was completed in 1927. It encompassed a two kilometer-long quay, known as the Oostelijke Handelskade, and a cluster of man-made islands and peninsulas – Java-eiland (which fuses seamlessly with the adjacent KNSM-eiland), Sporenburg and Borneo-eiland – the Rietlanden, Veemarktterrein and Abattoirterrein. As a tangle of railway tracks carted off the ships' cargo to their destinations, the area flourished.
However, in the 1970s, when the developing port to the west of the city was expanded, the docklands were simply abandoned – and the desolate expanse was soon frequented by prostitutes and junkies, whilst variously becoming home to boat owners, artists, a colony of hippies, and hardy squatters lodging in drafty old warehouses.
Towards the end of the 1980s – in response to the city's chronic housing shortage – ambitious urban regeneration plans were put into play and Amsterdam's architecture underwent an inspired renaissance. The result is a delicious fusion of the contemporary and historic, with a suitable nod to the nautical: Larry Malcic's undulating PTA (Passenger Terminal Amsterdam); Frits van Dongen's whale-like apartment block made up of loads of Amsterdam Apartments and, on the edge of the Docklands, Renzo Piano's copper-clad NEMO science centre, resembling the bow of a ship emerging from the water. Or sinking. Think Titanic.
Beautifully counterbalanced by its watery surrounds, the densely-built area with its compelling mish-mash of gentrified warehouses, higgledy-piggledy buildings and designer des res – replete with Mondrian-style façades, trapezoid windows and eccentric bridges – has become a veritable mecca for architecture aficianados and, simultaneously, a cultural and nighttime hub.