Bram Kuypers

The Intervention tracks   2014-2015

Research project upon one square kilometer in Amsterdam

The Intervention Tracks was organised in September 2014 by Het Instituut

in Amsterdam with the aim to experiment with a new form of

education in artistic research from which a new post-academic study

could be established. For this an architect, a designer and an artist all

developed a praxis from the same starting point: one sqaure kilometer of

urban landscape, including the KNSM-island and Sporenburg.

- Most of the research existed out of perfomance based intervention in the

social sphere. Apart from the video, there was no primary focus on

registration, but more upon gaining experience as knowledge.

To preserve this experience the output of the presentation adapted a

style of story telling. Thus, the report contains only abstract graphics.

Project presented in De Balie in January 2015


We have been saddled up with one square kilometre in Amsterdam as the starting point of

our research. The area is located in the eastern docklands and involves the KNSM-island

and Sporenburg. It is a former harbour and industrial area that has been turned into a

residential district in the beginning of the nineties from the past century. Since then it has

remained quite the same.

To become able to say anything about the place I needed to spend time there, which

I did by just walking around and doing observations. I brought a camera to make

registration of what I found interesting and ended up with a few video's.


I filmed the trees because they where the only moving things in this static architectural

environment. Although the place is in the middle of the city and a residential area to quite a

few thousand people, they seemed to be absent. But the presence of the wind also made

clear to me that the place is isolated, because of it being an island. And that wind could

trespass so easily because it moves above water. People don't do that, so to them the

place is isolated and needs a particular reason to go to. But the function of the island as a

residential site does not attract people from outside to come and spend time there. So the

island is an appendix, and is only important for those who are continuously and intrinsically

involved in the place. Therefore there is an absence of people, because they are not

trespassing, and the absence of trespassers means there also is no exchange with them.


Emotionally I felt that the place was really dull, and that the dullness establishes itself over

and over again because the lack of exchange. To question this dullness there was a need to

interact with the place, to do interventions that alienate the daily context and make it doubt

by the viewer (which would mostly be inhabitants).


But this idea of dullness was only based upon my own feeling which is scientifically totally

ungrounded. Since this was a research program I felt the need to do more research to see if

my ideas where true. I did not know what kinds of methods could be used, but that gave me

the freedom to develop my own.


So with research as an argument, I did three interventions that are chronologically

based upon the results of each other. They are attempts to create contact based upon

a poetic statement, which aims at gathering information and stimulating reflection.

1. Enzo

On the end of the KNSM-island stands a circular building, surrounded by a circular road.

Even more: the end of the island is round shaped, and its build this way because the head

architect believed that it would prevent to give people the feeling of falling of the island.

This seems to be a very typical top-down way of thinking. I was intrigued by this idea and

thought about the island as a place with no end, which therefore is continuously looping back

those who try to go there. This means the narrative of the island as a story doesn't exist,

because it has no ending.


The looping mechanism made me think of a documentary from the nineties about people

who lived on the nearly finished island. They were mostly yuppies who only came to the

island to eat, sleep and leave again towards work.


I also measured the distance of the circular road and it turned out to be 400 meters, which

is also the size of an Olympic velodrome on which they do bicycle races.

I imagined being stuck in this looping-mechanism and decided to cycle 100 kilometres

around the building.


  • It took me 3,5 hours.
  • Rode almost 250 rounds.
  • I saw almost nobody.


It was interesting to spend so much time and energy in one place and I really felt connected

through doing it. Not with people however, because nobody responded to it. Maybe some

people saw it from behind their curtains, but no one got tempted to ask what the hell I was



The lack of seeing and connecting with people during the cycling confirmed to me that the

place was as silent and dull as I witnessed before. But there was no reason to believe that

the inhabitants shared this idea with me, because there was no connection established

through in which I could ask. So thats want I wanted to, but a context was needed to start

a conversation from.

Based upon this longing, a second intervention appeared.

2. Pilgrimage - I'm just trying to get to know something

I thought about the island as a place where there used to be a lot of movement of travelling,

because the place was a harbour. The surrounding of water, which then connected the island

with the rest of the world, was now causing an absence of movement, because the place

became isolated. There is only one way to go, and the same way leads you backwards, away

from there.


The combination of travelling and connecting with people made me think of hitchhiking, where

geographical movement is only happening through intervening the personal space of a driver.

And because there is in hitchhiking no choice of whom you go with, and where they go to,

coincidence seems to be very present.


I longed for a coincidental connection with inhabitants, so I decided to hitchhike

over the island. 


People who stopped were a bit disturbed of what a hitchhiker was doing there, and mostly

said they would love to take me, but that there was a dead end they could only take me for

500 meters. So I told them that I hitchhiked over the island to make a mental travel instead

of a geographical, and that the more they told me about themselves and the island, the bigger

my journey would be. Everybody understood this. And what happened quite often is that I got

in a someones car and we drove to a parking place, where we then sat for a while in the car



  • Duration of these 'rides' varied between 1,5 minute to 15 minutes or even 1,5 hour.
  • I got 15 rides in total.


As a mental journey it was a big success because what people told me really broadened my

view upon the place. Through their stories I got to know that everybody finds the quietness,

that I defined as dullness, was the main quality of living on the island. Which confirmed to me

that my 'dullness' was indeed establishing itself over and over again, but through those who

maintain to see this as a quality.


There was another thing in particular I asked everyone about,  but which people had such

contrasting statements on: The social cohesion. I noticed that my longing for interventions

came from the feeling that such a quiet place could not have a positive effect on how one

perceives others, because that what is strange to the place never comes there without an



The quietness, which people saw as a quality, enlarges even the smallest dissonant and

could make people very sensitive to things that not occur in their daily life. I had the feeling

that this would not promote social cohesion at all, in the place itself, but even more to what

is outside of it.


This is problematic if you think about social cohesion as existing between the borders of a

space that is defined as one that is shared. This can be a building, street, village, or even a

whole country. I wanted to know more about this cohession and came up with a third


3. How you doing sugar?

The circular building also has this shape because of the idea the courtyard would function

as a logical meeting point for the inhabitants. This would have a positive effect on the social

cohesion in the building. But the courtyard can't be crossed at all, because there are bushes

and trees in the middle. So it does not function as a square at all, but more like a circular road.


I wanted to intervene into the social cohesion, so I decided to borrow a cup of sugar      

from everyone in a particular building.  


In the hitchhiking people had the decision themselves whether they would like to take me or

not. But now I was ringing the doorbell so if people opened the door they were already

participating, apart from if they would spend some sugar. As an argument, I told people that

I was doing research about how social cohesion functions through the architecture of the

Emerald Empire. My research existed doing an experiment by borrowing a cup sugar in the

entire building.


Nobody understood how this could be method for research. Was I going to measure the

social cohesion by weighing the sugar? But still most people where glad to give some.

I also got invited inside a couple of times to explain what I actually was doing.


This is where it became very interesting.


Two people which invited in me where on the board of the corporation for house owners in

the building, and they just did a survey on what people liked and disliked about living in the

Emerald Empire. Based upon the results which also connected the sort of inhabitant to sort

the irritations, they were concerned about the social cohesion in this building. Their seemed

to be a problem with understanding each others way of living there.


Also the round courtyard seemed not to promote social cohesion because of different

interpretations of how it should be used. For example: playing kids produce noise which

resonates through the circular shape. So one would say it should not be used, while it is a

perfect place for parents to keep an eye on their kids.


These people where very interested in the results of my research. Unfortunately for them it

is not about results, because there is no aim too. The research only is an argument to

intervene with the circumstances, but the intervention is based upon a context I intuitively

found problematic: the dullness not being promotive to a broad perception of how life could

be lived. I was already creating events that would intervene the context that later on seemed

to be in need for these kind of interventions.

So I basically worked the other way around. Instead of having a question from which I

started to work, working itself was included experimenting with the situation that

I intuitively found problematic. Through doing that I was able to define this problem

as one of social cohesion, and would suggest that more of these interventions could

have a certain influence on that.

Built with Berta