Engineering Society


Social Engineering in the Amsterdam Metropolis

The Consequences of Modernity

This is the first post in a new series called ‘The Consequences of Modernity’. In this series we will try to shed light on several large-scale, comprehensive social engineering practices and the related key figures which lay at the foundation of modernist urban planning. We will further try to use this practices as windows for the analyses of the ongoing influence this practices have on urbanization processes today.

This first article is dedicated to Georges Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891) who with his concern with the totality of urban space and the comprehensiveness and largeness of scale of plan and conception can be ranked as one of the founding figures of modernist urban planning. ‘Make no little plans’, as Daniel Burnham urged many years later was surely Haussmann’s way of thinking.

The moment Baron Haussmann (he called himself Baron) came into office as ‘Prefect of the Department of Seine’ in 1853, seven month after the declaration of the Second Empire, he immediately was given a mandate to remake Paris, according to plan.

At this time the city was still seething with the same social, economic and political problems which contributed substantially to the 1848 revolution. Economic recovery from one of the first full-fledged crises of capitalist overaccumulation was blocked by several barriers. Capital was not connecting to labor, strong tie artisan communities in the city still formed a strong political force and the fragmented, locally focused national market undermined the rationalization of national and urban space.

Paris was held down by a straitjacket of eighteenth century structure of social practices confined in a medieval frame of physical infrastructure. To alter this, Napoleon III and his advisers, implemented wide ranging measures. Most fundamental was probably the introduction of a modern credit system, breaking up with the conservative banking system incorporated by Rothschild, enabling small investors and developers to enter the market (credit mobilier). This state directed speculation strategy and state financed public works to absorb surpluses of capital and labor also enticed middle and large developers into the market and changed Paris into a landscape of permanent flux.

The old Paris is gone (the form a city takes
More quickly shifts, alas, than does the mortal heart);

I picture in my head the busy camp of huts,
And heaps of rough-hewn columns, capitals and shafts,
The grass, the giant blocks made green by puddle-stain,
Reflected in the glaze, the jumbled bric-à-brac.

Once nearby was displayed a great menagerie…

Paris may change, but in my melancholy mood
Nothing has budged! New palaces, blocks, scaffoldings,
Old neighbourhoods, are allegorical for me,
And my dear memories are heavier than stone.

Excerpts from The Swan by Charles Baudelaire.

During the eighteen years of the Second Empire (1852-1870) Frances’ national and urban space was entirely rationalized, with Paris as the beating heart. Under the lead of Haussmann railway tracks were built in a radial pattern, centered around the city, to facilitate transportation and to integrate the Parisian hinterland and rural France. The network was expanded from 1931 kilometers in 1950 to a web of some 17.400 kilometers in 1870. Equally, the installation of a national telegraph system and a network of roads throughout the country contributed to the ongoing rationalization of national and urban space.

via mtholyoke

via mtholyoke

Medieval Paris was thrown to the demolishers, undergoing probably the most drastic urban makeover in history. Slums were cleared around the city center, the ‘dangerous classes’ expulsed, to improve the capacity for the circulation of goods, military forces and people within the city. To interconnect rail stations, the city center and the periphery with places of recreation, industry and commerce, some ninety miles of grand boulevards where constructed and the flows of water and sewage were revolutionized under Haussmann.

via doorsofperception

via doorsofperception

via mtholyoke

via mtholyoke

Haussmann deployed a completely new conception urban space. Instead of implementing a collection of autonomous partial plans, he was concerned with the totality of urban space, paying extraordinary attention to details. He, for example, closely monitored the design of street furnishings such as gas lamps and kiosks.



Insalubrious neighborhoods were opened up for the free circulation of fresh air and light during the day. The newly installed gas lightning turned the boulevards at night into pumping veins were the public life of the city was taking place. Haussmann was also obsessed with details of alignments, creating local asymmetries to produce a symmetrical effect at a grander urban scale. The most bizarre probably being the displacement of a dome on the Tribunal of Commerce to place it into the sightline of the newly build Boulevard de Sebastopol.

To implement his general plan, he created a sophisticated hierarchical form of territorial administration, with himself positioned at the top and his close acquaintances spread over the different arrondisments. Also in terms of planning, building and engineering he employed a loyal network of different, talented people. Alphand to do the parks, Belgrand for water and sewers, Baltard to redo Les Halles, and so on.

This new scale of thinking, scale and form of extrovert urbanism is probably best exemplified in the transformation of the central market district of Les Halles by Baltard. Haussmann not only wanted to change individual buildings or the style of architecture, he wanted to create a whole new city texture. At Les Halles, the traditional, central market place of Paris, this amounted to the production and engineering of a whole quarter with a single, commercial function.

This gentrification strategy was in accordance with the rapidly growing demand for middle class housing and luxury space, leisure and spectacle. At the same the massive growth in numbers and socio-cultural diversity introduced new social and spatial divisions, with the creation of slums as a means to accommodate low income groups in the city.

In this article we followed to a certain extent the argumentation of David Harvey that urban planning is deployed, during the Haussmannization of Paris, but also in more recent urban restructuring practices, to solve large scale economic problems. Take for example the urban renewal offensive through the rescaling of big cities and widespread suburbanisation in the United States under the lead of Robert Moses as a means of lifting the country out of the Great Depression, or the ongoing building boom in China as the potential savior of the European and American economy.

see also

The Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre

Paris, Capital of the XIX Century (translation) by Walter Benjamin

Charles Marvin, amongst others, documented the urban restructuring process in Paris through hundreds of photos.

Paris en images

Filed under: Architecture, International Practice, Social Engineering, Theory, , , , ,


Zürich based howtopedia provides an excellent collaborative Internet platform for practical knowledge and simple technologies which can be of use in all areas of daily life. Read articles about stuff like how to build a no-dig garden, about basic beakeeping principles, about how to set up a publication or how to build a biomass roof.

Through the collection and propagation of simple, practical knowledge the library encourages bottom-up, low cost self help on a local basis. I think it is a great initiative since it uses the strength of the interweb 2.0 in a smooth way to create this information hub as a point of departure for empowerment and local self-organization. And since we got the our own playground right now, we’ll fall back on this for sure.

You can of course start an article yourself.

via urbaninform

Filed under: International Practice, Social Engineering, , , ,

Frascati presents Utopia/Dystopia

Frascati International presents Utopia/Dystopia, a programme made up of Dutch and international productions in which theatre-makers explicitly relate to our times. They speak out in an attempt to create order in a world from which the big ideologies have disappeared. You could call it documentary theatre in which the personal and the political meet.
Between October 27 and 31st this series of apocalyptic world views is staged. Whether this focuses on the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political situation in Beirut or the rise of a ‘liveability crisis’ in the Dutch town of Venlo; the productions that make up Utopia/Dystopia are all in search of ways to relate to (lack of) ideology.
Staalvilla resident Marjolijn van Heemstra, in collaboration with Julie Van den Berghe, contributs with 2012. The play is part of the After the Fall: Europe after 1989 theater project initiated by the Goethe Institute. Check the trailer right here…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Other contributions will be Void Story (trailer) by Tim Etchells – Forced Entertainment; 1: SONGS by Nicole Beutler; Theater with dirty feet by Rabih Mroué and Venlo by the Wunderbaum Collective.

Filed under: Social Engineering, , , , , ,

Urban Fruit and Vegetables

I just came across two great initiatives which could be very useful on the way towards a more integrated urban farming strategy for Amsterdam Noord.

In terms of mapping potential (semi-)public green spaces in the city the idea behind the Urbana-Champaign Fruit Map, initiated by the people from La Casa Urbana, is interesting. This Google Maps community map presents publicly accesible fruit trees in the neighbourhood of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Everyone can add to the map and make use of the map for his or her everyday dose of free fresh and ripe fruit.

via The Pop Up City

via The Pop Up City

Noord has a huge amount of unused or unmaintained ‘green’ structure, ranging from infrastructural residual space to plenty of messy, grown-over gardens in the old neighbourhoods. For an inventarisation of these spaces and their potential such a map could be very useful.

The second initiative is a public allotment garden on a small, unused plot in Amsterdam, Ijburg developed by Rudy Luijters for Het Blauwe Huis. The inhabitants of Blok 35  maintain the garden collectively and share the harvest, but also visitors  and people of the neighbourhood can use  the garden 24/7 if they want to. All of the plants in the garden are eatible.

via Het Blauwe Huis

via Het Blauwe Huis

This is a great example of how unused green space can be turned into a communal practice.

Filed under: Amsterdam Noord, International Practice, National Practice, , , ,

Urban Century Audiovisual Archive

That’s how we like it. Tons of movies, documentaries, lectures and discussions on the urban condition, all availible for free. As part of the Urban Century project the VPRO provides an excellent, ever evolving audiovisual archive. The footage is accessible as free download, stream, torrent or podcast. You can select content wheather by geographical location, theme, director or just alphabetically by program. Some of the footage is only provided in Dutch, but hey, pictures speak for themselves, don’t they?

Also in this respect, the 5th edition of the International Amsterdam Film Festival will host this years Re-Imagining the City Forum from 9-11 October. They have got plenty of films worth seeing, workshops, the MAFIA exibition and loads of other stuff. Check the website for more information.

Filed under: National Practice, Press, , , , , ,

all over the kiez

all over the kiez is a photographic exibition taking place in St. Pauli, Hamburg, that in fact is not a photographic exibition. It is a project that focuses on the concept of giving and taking. All photos on the website can be geolocated through Google maps. The coordinates of the city grid become the titles of the images. The actual photographs can then be found on the very same spot they have been taken.

all over the kiez

all over the kiez

all over the kiez

all over the kiez

What I like about it, is that there is no actual gallery, the neighbourhood is the gallery. It is also a nice way to map a surrounding and your personal impressions of it. And remember, the real pieces can only be found on location in the heart of the city. When? From now until… all exhibits are stolen, taken away!.

via popupcity

Filed under: International Practice, ,

2059 Speculative Peculiars

speculative peculiars

Futureology is going strong lately.  2059 Speculative Peculiars is initiated by Femke Lutgerink en Partizan Publik Urgestein Christiaan Fruneaux. The series is an imaginary and visionary glance at the future of urban landscapes. It is an interdisciplinary program about the possible and the impossible, the politics, subcultures, developments and conventions that will govern and shape Amsterdam and Montreal 50 years from now.
Speculative Peculiars wants to explore how we’ll live, work and socialize in the future. What kind of places we would frequent and what kind of people we would meet. It wants to map how we would give meaning to our surroundings.

The second edition will take off next Sunday, October 4 th, at 4 pm at the Sid Lee Collective Canteen Gallery featuring

Edwin Gardner: architect, web-editor and theorist working for Volume/Archis and Partizan Publik.
Rutger Groot Wassink: policy advisor on labour market and social security at FNV vakcentrale and fraction chairman of Groen Links in Amsterdam Westerpark.
Liedewij Loorbach: freelance journalist.
Daniela Bershan: artist.

And what about future lingua? Our ‘Dichter des Vaderlands’, National Poet Ramsey Nasr wrote a poem called mi have a droom, a poem about his city Rotterdam in 2059. Is it Dutch? Yes, no, a bit…Check it yourself.

Filed under: National Practice, Theory, , ,

The Freestate of Amsterdam

The exibition ‘The Freestate of Amsterdam’ (dutch website), which is the contribution of the municipality of Amsterdam to the 4th IABR, curated by DRO director Zef Hemel, opened its gates to the public yesterday. The exibition takes place in our backyard, the Tolhuistuin.
Nine Dutch urban design offices present their visions on the future of Amsterdam, in nine large models for sections of the future metropolis. The offices were given, as it is said, a free hand to make their designs without predetermined rules or restrictions. Their models intend not to show plans or blueprints for the city as such, but rather inspirational ideas for the long term.

Urhahn Urban Design

Urhahn Urban Design

Rietveld Landscape I Atelier de Lyon

Rietveld Landscape I Atelier de Lyon

Already twee weeks ago Dutch public broadcaster VPRO screened a documentary entitled Amsterdam Makeover 2040, where at least some guys dropped some critical notes on the vision of the Physical Planning Departement. VPRO also initiated the Urban Century project, which is really taking off at the moment en forms a nice platform for divers information on the urban cauldron.


Filed under: Architecture, Design, National Practice, Social Engineering, ,

Maakbaarheid at the IABR

IABR Open City Designing Coexistence

Yesterday the 4th edition of the IABR opened it’s doors for the public. The theme of the 2009 edition Open City: Designing Coexistence raises the question of social cohesion in and access to the city in relation to the contributions architects and urbanists can make for improving the quality of the urban condition. The curator of the exibition is Kees Christiaanse. The main exibition will take place at the NAi in Rotterdam until january 10 2010. 

One of the highlights of the exibition, at least in terms of relevance for this blog, is the Maakbaarheid (makeability) exibition sub curated  by Crimson Architectural Historians. As part of the exibition Crimson, together with numerous local and international partners, reveals the persistent belief in the makeability of urban society that has infomed urban policies and projects throughout the Netherlands for more than half a century. ‘Facts on the Ground’ is a case study of the post war urban landscape of Rotterdam in which the large scale social engineering projects from the 1950s onwards, form the inspiration for nine bottum-up design proposals for existing locations in Rotterdam. Other parts of the exibition are the ‘Make No Big Plans’ Manifesto, which argues that the time is not yet right for the Big Solution, but rather argues for architectural interventions on a scale that still allows for perspective, and the film ‘Story of an Open City’ which shows, how time has left its mark on the city’s structure.

Anyway, there’s plenty of stuff going on at the IABR the coming months. Check the exibition calendar for detailed information. The event program will focus on Maakbaarheid from 21 to 25 October.      

Filed under: Architecture, Design, Social Engineering, , ,

Moving Movement

We haven’t been posting for a while right now,  and the same will be true for most of august. This is mainly due to our insatiable need for holiday. But also, after the well deserved holiday break, our office will be moving to this great new location in the Tolhuistuin (former Shell headquarters), right behind Amsterdam Central Station. We are very excited and looking forward to move into the Staalvilla, which is the former cooperate hospital of the Shell Foundation, together with exciting co-inhabitants like Archis, Golfstromen and many more.
But this whole holiday thing is not to say that our primary drifts are satisfied, even if we are not working, working. Just a few weeks ago Joost bought this huge good old German bus, which is right now located directly at the IJ in Amsterdam and turning slowly into a workplace-hangout-garden-apartment. Just a small bike ride north, I bought this allotment-garden-290 square meter-playground which hopefully is turning more and more into a small Freistaat during the summer.

We’ll keep you updated on the progress.

Filed under: Amsterdam Noord, ,

Engineering Society

Social engineering is a controversial and highly politically incorrect term. We know. The practice of engineering societies is associated with colonial and apartheid repression and oppressive rule. We despise. In our brave new world in which colonisators, colonials and postcolonials battle for identity and space social engineering might be more complex, but nevertheless just as present. We REclaim.

Engineering Society is the publicationplatform for recent developments in social engineering and the interdisciplinary university program 'Social Engineering in the Amsterdam Metropolis!'

Social Engineering is een controversiele en politiek incorrecte term. Daarvan zijn we ons bewust! In de alledaagse praktijk is de maakbare samenleving vaak verbonden met apartheid, onderdrukking en tyrannie. Dat verafschuwen we! In onze brave new world waar kolonisatoren, gekoloniseerden en post-kolonialen strijden om identiteit en ruimte is social engineering misschien complexer dan ooit, maar minstens zo actueel! Point made!
Engineering Society is het publicatieplatform voor actuele ontwikkelingen omtrent de maakbare samenleving en de interdisciplinaire minor 'Maakbaarheid in de Grote Stad!'

Office for Social Engineering

The Office for Social Engineering is a foundation based in Amsterdam and a joint-initiative by Partizan Publik and Martijn van Tol, Lecturer at the Political Science Department of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and radio journalist at the wereldomroep.

Office for Social Engineering is een vanuit Amsterdam opererende stichting en een gemeenschappelijk initiatief van Partizan Publik en Martijn van Tol, docent politicologie en internationale betrekkingen aan de Faculteit der Maatschappij en Gedragswetenschappen van de Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) en journalist voor de wereldomroep.

Tolhuisweg 1
Amsterdam The Netherlands
T +31 (0) 20 5535173
F +31 (0) 20 5535155
E maakbaarheid [at] partizanpublik [dot] nl

Masters of Intervention

Masters of Intervention #1

Masters of Intervention #2

Masters of Intervention #3

Masters of Intervention #4
Masters of Intervention # 4 James C. Scott