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Culture of experimentation 2.0 in Amsterdam

For executing a culture of experimentation, Amsterdam is in a league of its own.


The words “experiment” and “Amsterdam” may conjure up all kinds of interesting associations, but in the execution of a culture of experimentation, the city is in a league of its own. The construction of a novel cleantech playground is currently under way in Amsterdam, to enable co-operation between companies and the university in creating new business through practical trials. In an old harbour area, the polluted soil is being cleaned up using plants (phytoremediation), and abandoned houseboats are being renovated into office spaces for innovative start-ups.

The waterside district of De Ceuvel in north Amsterdam is a former boatyard. At some point, in the hope of lower production costs, the ship-building activities were moved elsewhere, and all that was left behind was heavily contaminated soil. Now, after many idle years, the area has been given a new lease on life. De Ceuvel is being turned into a testing ground for Amsterdam’s creative and resource-wise entrepreneurs.

Up to a few weeks ago, De Ceuvel‘s site on the northern shore of Amsterdam looked like a huge construction project, but behind the heaps of building materials, you could see a glimpse of the final product.

In 2010, the City of Amsterdam organised a competition for the development of De Ceuvel. The winning idea was an innovative project by Metabolic lab, which combines new types of urban development, architecture, and sustainability. The idea was to transform the heavily polluted wasteland into a planned park-like workplace that will be energy and nutrient self-sufficient and also act as a testing ground for various cleantech solutions and distributed systems.

Re-purposed for the Ceuvel site, 16 abandoned houseboats have been retrofitted using recycled materials, to serve as workspaces for start-ups. The lush green plants growing everywhere also have an important role to play on the Ceuvel site. They are used in research to identify the plants that are most effective in phytoremediation, which is the mitigation of heavy metal concentrations from contaminated soils. Here and there, you can see growing boxes and pools. Rainwater collection systems and dry toilets, for example, are being developed in De Ceuvel.

The Ceuvel site is a novel concept: a cleantech playground that enables co-operation between companies and the university in creating new business through practical trials. The development of ideas involves immediately turning them into practical trials. Low-tech solutions are intended to be productised for the markets of developing countries in particular.

In De Ceuvel, the culture of experimentation is embedded in everything. In addition to business activities, area aims to establish itself as a living room by the canal for the residents of Amsterdam – a place for getting together. A hotchpotch of business and research activities and practical trials is especially appealing to people in the creative industries, and future plans for the area include organising various events and concerts.

A café will also be opened soon in one of the area’s retrofitted houseboats. The café roof will house a growing box for permaculture gardening. Mushroom pasta was served for lunch on the visiting day. The mushrooms had been picked from the nearby neighbourhood of New Energy Docks, where they are grown in containers of beer mash using a symbiotic urban farming method.

Everything and everyone at De Ceuvel is strongly forward-looking. The operations and the scope of the practical trials will be expanded in the near future. Off the coast of De Ceuvel, the plan is to build a floating garden to take agriculture out to sea and further experiment on urban farming methods.

If successful, the experimental approaches used on the Ceuvel site will help create well-being far beyond this cleantech playground.

This blog entry is part of the “Resource-wise firms around the world” blog series for discussing next-generation business concepts, business models that save natural resources and reduce emissions, and the insightful ways of marketing them.

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