To entrepreneur Duncan Stutterheim, a dynamic urban ecosystem is essential for creative businesses to thrive, and he’s going to help make it happen in a vacant tower in central Amsterdam.
Stutterheim, founder of electronic music festival promoter ID&T, was one of the speakers featured at the recent Spotlight on Creative Industries event in Amsterdam. Three world-renowned entrepreneurs shared their stories about the power of Amsterdam’s creative industries, and their thoughts on the international competitive strength of the region.
The topic was creative entrepreneurship, and not surprisingly, a common thread for all three speakers was urban design and its impact on the creative/innovation ecosystem. As the evening unfolded, it became clear that, as a city, you either have good urban design that fosters that ecosystem, or you don’t. And cities that don’t pay a large price in terms of attracting talent and and business.
Architect Ben van Berkel
Dutch Architect Ben van Berkel of UNStudio talked about the importance of co-creativity and collaboration in his work, and he showed images of his buildings from around the world. He included his famous Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, along with other minimalist-style buildings he has designed.
‘Living Tomorrow’ by Dutch architect Ben van Berkel
Van Berkel’s work is more relatable, and humanistic than a lot of other “starchitect” buildings out there. However, the connective tissue between the buildings is still mostly missing. But that’s not unusual, because that’s what well-known architects are paid to do–to focus on their own building, sometimes at the expense at what’s surrounding it.
Van Berkel acknowledged that the key to making creative cities is more about the space between buildings than the buildings themselves.
“It’s clear that vitality of creative ecosystems thrives in the public spaces–the cafes, the streetscapes–the spaces between everything,” he said.
Renny Ramakers, founder of Droog
Next was Renny Ramakers, the famed international ambassador of Dutch design. In the early 90’s, she founded Droog, a design foundation in Amsterdam that has grown into a retail/webshop, event space, cafe, and hotel. Droog focuses on “creating innovation and discussion” in Amsterdam and around the world.
Fairy Tale Garden at Droog
Her talk centered around the challenges she faced with the strict urban development rules and restrictions when first establishing Droog in central Amsterdam. She wanted to open a hotel, but the neighborhood and city wouldn’t let her do it. However, these constraints forced some creative problem-solving, resulting in what Droog is today. And she got her hotel after all–in the form of the “one and only bedroom.”
So while Amsterdam is understandably a museum city that needs to be protected, she said there’s also the need for experimental free zones–areas that support new and non-conforming ideas and urban development strategies.
“Really free zones where you can do what you want. No regulations, no neighbors who are complaining. That would be fantastic,” she said.
Droog in Amsterdam City Center
And thankfully, Amsterdam has space available where this sort of free zone would fit in nicely into the overall urban fabric.
The Event Promoter and His Tower
Duncan Stutterheim, founder of ID&T and Twenty4 Amsterdam
Which brings us to North Amsterdam (the “Noord”) and Stutterheim. He was smiling about the recent announcement that he sold 75% of his company to US event promoter giant SFX Entertainment in a $120 million deal. Already the largest electronic dance event company in the Netherlands, this partnership makes ID&T part of a new globally dominant force in the industry. The other 25% of the company is the design division, which Stutterheim is keeping so that ID&T can maintain creative control for its events.
ID&T Sensation Dance Event in Amsterdam
“So here we are at the table as Amsterdamers from the Noord, talking with billionaire people about how we’re going to create a global growth company,” he said. “And their vision is really centered around our product and what our company is doing, and that gives us a good feeling–to still be in creative control, with big guys behind it.”
Now Stutterheim is now turning his attention to developing Twenty4 Amsterdam in the Overhoeks Building in Amsterdam Noord, his utopian tower of creativity, entertainment, music, and start-ups.
Overhoeks Tower (right), future home of Twenty4 Amsterdam. View from ferry going south to Central Station.
Anyone who has spent time in Amsterdam will recognize the Overhoeks building, It’s the tower next to the EYE Film Institute, which is visible looking North across the river from Central Station. The building formerly housed Shell Oil, and has been vacant since 2009. Now it is used as a giant tower-shaped billboard.
Stutterheim’s plan for the building, which won out over more than 30 proposals, ia a layer cake of music and technology, with night clubs, a hotel, studios, apartments, and a free working space for creative companies in the plans.
Twenty4 Amsterdam Plan
Strutterheim and his partner were inspired by the creative co-working spaces they saw in New York.
“You have this working space for the young generation with a laptop–they don’t have money to start up. I’m getting older, and if we have all these young people around us, that gives a lot of energy and inspiration So we created this space downstairs, 1000 sq meters, to be a free working space for the creative industry,” he said.
Even though the project is projected to finish 2015, Stutterheim says the space in building is already fully-booked.
“In Amsterdam, everyone’s complaining about ‘a million square meters’ [of commercial space being vacant]. and within a month we’re all leased,” Stutterheim said.
A New Vision for Amsterdam’s Creative Growth
Most of all, Stutterheim hopes Twenty4 Amsterdam will be a new chapter in Amsterdam for creative industries and development.
“We came from Amsterdam Noord, so it’s very important for us to give something back to the city. For the business community, the entertainment community, the music community–the whole creative community,” he said.
Indeed, this tower development could be a major catalyst for a New Amsterdam in the Noord.
The Amsterdam Noord has historically been home to heavy industry and warehouses, along with some newer residential development. The area is in a unique position–it’s right next to the historic city center (separated by only 500 meters of water and a free ferry), yet it’s wide open for forward-looking ideas and development.
Imagine if the entire Noord was a free zone like Ramakers envisioned in her talk, where crazier-than average ideas have fertile ground to grow. What could this New Noord look like? Twenty4 Amsterdam is just the beginning. The opportunity is there if we embrace it and make the most of it.
Twenty4 Amsterdam Future Rendering, looking south toward Amsterdam Central Station