New Energy From The Dike

The building of the former power station at Hoogte Kadijk
The building of the former power station at Hoogte Kadijk

For over a hundred years, the machine building on Hoogte Kadijk houses the first municipal power plant. Once the bastion of direct and alternating currents provided a large part of the electricity needs of the city and the Eastern Docklands. This week the impressive engine room is the central hub during the Week of the Empty Building.

In 1900 the city council decided to set up a power company for ‘lighting and motive power’, a year later they began with the construction of the ‘Central Electricity Station’ at Hoogte Kadijk. The occasion was especially the desire to electrify the (horse)tram (steam)cranes of the Eastern Docklands. The oldest, eastern part of the machine building, dates from 1903 and formed together with a boiler room and a large coal shed at the side of the Entrepotdok the first plant of the Municipal Electricity Works. Special was that it was a double station. In addition to direct currents for tram and cranes they also supplied AC power for small businesses and domestic consumers. The location was chosen favorable, near the Eastern Docklands, but also not too far from downtown. Coals for large boilers could be delivered easily through the water of the Entrepotdok.

Archive photo of the interior of the machine hall
Archive photo of the interior of the machine hall

Soon the demand for power was found to be much larger than they had anticipated in 1903. Therefore, the plant was increased in 1908 where the machine hall at the Hoogte Kadijk was doubled in size to the west and reached its current size. The total floor area was nearly doubled with this expansion, making this complex to become one the largest warehouse complexes in Europe at that time. The difference between the old and the new part is barely visible. Both parts have a sober brick architecture with distinctive large arched windows.

Until 1931, the plant was completely in use for electricity. From 1946 the power production was transferred to other locations and the machines were removed from the building. In 1955 followed the partial demolition of the boiler room and coal shed. The very heavy basement of the coal shed still stands and was used in 2001 as a base for a by Liesbeth van der Pol designed residential building, named Aquartis. The engine house has been preserved and still plays a crucial role in the Amsterdam power supply: the eastern part, and oldest half of the building is used as a switching station in the 150,000 volt installation of 2 electricity companies. They still provide more than half of the city center of power. In the western half of the building, energy museum Energetics opened in 1999 its doors. When the museum ceased to exist in 2007, the hall was used for storage and temporary expo’s. This week several dozen students have to come up with a new feature for this tough industrial monument.

Interior of the former power plant
Interior of the former power plant

From May 19 to 23, 2016, the fourth edition of the Empty Building Week takes place. Students and teachers of different disciplines from all over the Netherlands work in groups to make plans for this vacant building. The Week of the Empty Building started from the need of the Chief Government Architect, the State Real Estate Company and the National Office of Cultural Heritage to encourage stakeholders and interdisciplinary cooperation between architectural courses. The Amsterdam Department of Monuments and Archaeology will contribute as a guest expert and are represented in the final panel.