From Industrial Ritualism to Urban ‘Behaviorology’


Research Questions

“Dealing with old buildings or sites can be scary, but what happens if we stop to consider a vacant site as a problem and we start to think of it as a trigger to stimulate new ideas for a future use? What happens if re-using just for the sake or re-using, we consider the spatial, material and formal characteristic of a vacancy as the starting point for a new project?”

The aim of this thesis is to open new horizons for re-use: the chosen location is the NDSM shipyard site, located in Amsterdam. Opened in 1894, it became during the XXth century one of the most advanced ship-factory of Europe and in the world: ships longer than 200 meters were built there, and in the 60’s the factory used to employ more than 2.000 workers. Many videos of the time show how the shipyard was precious also for the inhabitants of Amsterdam: in fact, during the inauguration day of a ship thousands of people used to go on the site, where workers, families, the princess and other important citizens gathered to experience the magic moment of the ship-launch, when a construction cycle was finished and the going away of the ship celebrated the hard and good work that was done in the factory, as well as the Dutch excellence in ship-building. Unfortunately, in the 80’s, the Asian competition led fast to the obsolescence of the company, that closed its doors in 1984, leaving a great frustration among the workers and the whole population of the city. In 2007, after twenty years of abandonment, the site was listed National Monument.

This “industrial ritual”, the movement of a new ship towards the water in which Dutch people could express their cultural belonging, has been analysed by re-drawing it (drawings 1, 2 and 3) to make a comparison with today’s use (drawings 4 and 5): nowadays, the site is almost empty and exposed to the harsh Dutch climate during the winter, while in summer the site hosts festivals, expositions and other outdoor cultural events. The problem is that these events happen informally, and the site is not used at his full potential: for example, the biggest ramp were the launch use to take place is now used as a gentle slope of an architectural amphitheatre for concerts, nothing more, and the emotions linked to the “industrial ritual” are disappeared. Then, a question arises:

“It would be possible to reconnect, even in an abstract way, the collective uses of today with the past feelings of the moment of the launch, giving to the NDSM a new sense of place that is indissolubly linked to a former ritual?”


The movement of the ship above the launching ramp was the trigger to start the design: to evocate this gesture, the design proposal is a Floating Events Hall, placed at the edge of the former launching ramp, close to the dry-dock gate. The building can give a better accommodation to the informal artistic or music events that now happens on site, or give space for experimentation thanks to the fact that the building can float and be moved with a tag boat .


To fit the context, the main reference for the project is the architecture of the ships, with their thousands of steel spines. At the same time, the building wants to be evocative and light, almost reduced to its skeleton: in this way it is clear the distinction between the new addition and the old parts.


The building wants to create the atmosphere of being inside the belly of a ship’s hull. Moreover, the sequence of steel “spines” helps to focus on the background of the Event Hall, that thanks to the glass wall is made by the ever-changing landscape of Amsterdam.


Drawing sections has been useful to lay out all the different behaviours and the different experiences that one visitor can have inside the Floating Hall: who wants to participate actively in the play that is held in central part of the building, who wants to take a moment of rest and enjoy the panoramic view from the corridors and from the balcony, who needs to have a second of peace on the roof or drink a café at the top level.


The Floating Events Hall has the capacity to change according the different uses: it can be transparent and appealing from the exterior whenever a festival is taking place, or it can be closed inside with acoustic curtains, in order to better focus on a theatre play or on a more intimate event .


The intervention uncovers a part of the old structure of the ramp and creates a promenade through it: in this way an entrance is given to the surface of the slope, that with the building that floats contributes to create the story of a jouney through an historical monument.


The project has as ultimate but important goal that of foster the experimentation of uses: by moving the Floating Events Hall in different spots of the IJ lake, new and unexpected possibilities can be reached. The drawings propose already three possible scenarios: the building used as outdoor cinema; as a venue for festivals to expand the room for fun on the water; as beach resort, since the IJ lake is becoming cleaner and cleaner and the building can encourage people to use it for leisure and swimming.


How important was the drawing as means to both compare (as between historic and contemporary conditions) and for the development of the project?

The act of drawing has always been a fundamental medium of representation typical of the architectural profession, used both to study and depict the built reality or to materialize on paper an idea, a vision of a design.

In this master thesis project the drawing, thanks to its ability of synthesizing along with its clarity, allowed me to get a better understanding of the data gathered during the research phase and to highlight the most relevant information to use afterwards during the design phase. After this process of selection, comes the rediscovery of the lost atmosphere of the abandoned shipyard. The drawing played then a key role in comparing between the past and the contemporary conditions and led me to the basic idea for the project that is the integration, in an abstract way, of a former experience in the contemporary uses of the area.

In the second phase, as far as the development of the design is concerned, the drawing was necessary firstly to order and list in form of sketches the abstract visions that I had for the building, secondly to control and carry out the final proposal, throughout a process of perfecting and analysis of pros and cons.

What defined the different mediums of representation employed in the project? How does each one address a specific aspect of the proposal?

This project faces fundamental issues linked to the practice of re-use: elements like the relationship with the context, the choice of the materials and of the form, the impact of the building in the current activities of the area, the flexibility and the possibilities of use (behaviours) that the new intervention will engender, the reproduction of the act of the movement are at the base of the choice of the expressive means. For this reason, the longitudinal sections and the facade have been deployed to represent the different modalities of use of the floating building together with the ramp: the moment when it hosts a festival and the ramp is full of people or when it is used as a floating theatre and leaves the ramp to be moved across the IJ lake; at the same time these technical drawings also indicate the kind of structure and the massiveness of the ramp and of the former ships.

On the other hand, the transversal sections have been used to show all the experiences that a visitor can have in the different floors thanks to the different design of the space. The collages and their colours are instead the best way with which the feelings and the atmosphere linked to the new intervention can be expressed, that change according to the views from the windows and to the variable climate of Amsterdam.

Finally, the models in different scales are the most direct mean to show the choice of materials (model in scale 1:50), the volume and the proportions of the floating events hall (model in scale 1:100), the new entrance of the ramp ad the relationship between this and the building (model in scale 1:200) and the landscape of the area with the new intervention (area model in scale 1:500).

Did you ever think of exploring mediums as that of the animation to capture the feeling and movement of the movement?

Nowadays, the techniques of the video or animation are increasingly used as a mean of representation of architectural projects. In fact, especially if filmed from the human eye perspective, an animated image can be very realistic. On the other hand, I preferred to not use this tool and to follow a more “classical” approach, because certain details or proportions are only readable if seen through the means of technical drawing or through a perspective image.

What role does the model hold?

During the phase of development of a project, the realisation of models is equally important as the act of drawing, because it shows aspect of a design that are not visible in a 2d image. In fact, the building of a 3d prototype is an immediate reality-check of the volumes, proportions and of the qualities of a space. As in the drawing, the trial models should be subject to a process of analysis of pros and cons and of perfecting, in order to arrive to a good final solution.

What defined the language of representation for the last few images when you reveal the final launch? What is the effect and purpose of the use us/lack of colours?

Each project needs to be expressed with a graphic language that is suitable to its “character”. I found out that the technique of the collage, together with a palette of cold colours chosen for the materials of the building and for the water and sky of Amsterdam was the best way to communicate the harsh, industrial feeling that a visitor can experience at the site, more personal that an hyper realistic render. In the final images of the launch, the colours have been omitted because these pictures are technical schemes of the movement, and there are no details that need to be highlighted more than others.

What defined the identity of the silhouettes? How do they inform the space?

In order to make an intervention suitable to its context, that could remember in an abstract way the former presence of huge ships on the ramp, the main formal reference for the silhouette of the building is drawn from the architecture of ships, from their round shape. As a result, a visitor who enters the building will have the feeling of being inside the belly of a ship’s hull, like the former workers of the factory. Moreover, this round shape, combined with the use of acoustic panels of different materials, resonates as a sound box during a festival or a concert and helps to spread the sound on the ramp’s surface or on the IJ lake.

Do you see this project as a feasible possibility? Did you think of proposing it to the local government?

Being a thesis project, the design was developed as a theoretic and ideal building to face an issue of “vacancy” in a not ordinary way. No feasibility was envisioned at all. By contrast, after living and working in Amsterdam for the last few months, I found out that the city is expanding and is experimenting a lot in architecture, especially on the IJ lake banks, with remarkable projects like the Pontsteigergebow or the Eye filmmuseum. Seen this trend, the idea of the Floating Events Hall becomes a starting point for a project with a high potential for the city.