De Nieuwe Ooster is the largest cemetery in Amsterdam and a national monument since 2003. It has been laid out in three phases: in 1889, 1915, and 1928. The first and second phases were designed by Leonard Springer. The designs of the first two phases have a clear spatial quality. The design of the third phase was of significantly lower quality. Moreover, modifications and extensions have made this section unstructured and without identity.
Karres en Brands created a new identity for this third phase, but also a new structure for the entire site. Instead of the three zones linked spatially to each other, each area gained its own character. By increasing the contrast between them, a clear division of the cemetery emerged which supports the qualities of each individual area.
The basis of the new design is a zone with parallel bands of different sizes. Each band has its own organising principle. Hedges divide the space into small-scale plots. The existing graveyards and the meadow for scattering ashes are incorporated in the zone as areas with green margins. Throughout the area are birches with multiple trunks, which constitute a common feature. The long pool and urn wall form spatial accents in the area, offering a special kind of urn garden.
The columbarium is a long volume crossed by paths. From the outside, the volume appears as an introverted and sturdy zinc sculpture of 120 metres long, 5 metres wide, and 5 metres high. The contrast with the inside is great: the interior spaces present themselves as private, quiet, white rooms; only the white terrazzo walls and the sky are visible. Openings in the walls offer a glimpse of the surroundings, and let in filtered light. The rooms are a refuge, giving space for reflection and contemplation.
For the jury, De Nieuwe Ooster and the design by Karres en Brands are a perfect example for the adaptation of a historic park – or in this case a cemetery – to modern needs. Here very modern architecture respects the historic design and creates a blend with benefits for both. It is best practice for many other cemeteries in Europe that are in need for courageous interventions too.
(Text by Christian Gruessen for the presentation during the awarding ceremony. Foto: karres+brands)