Tagged : history

Tornado Alley

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something. Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part ten; “Tornado Alley”.

From Bourbon Missouri we drove right into Tornado Alley, an area hit by tornado’s every year. One of the cities we passed by was Joplin. About a year earlier, this city was hit by a massive tornado. About 8000 houses were destroyed, a whopping 25% of the city was wiped off the earth.

Because of past year’s events, I wanted to see Joplin for myself. How does a city look after such disaster? The answer: Not good.

Tornado Joplin 1Above you see one of the neighborhoods. There’re almost no houses left and look at that tree…

Tornado Joplin 2

I’ve never been in Pompeii, but I guess both cities are remarkably the same these days. For example, this is what’s used to be a house. The devastation of this house en the entire neighborhood was so complete, it hard to imagine how Joplin looked before the disaster happened.

Speaking of disaster, the next (and final) stop of our USA trip was Norman Oklahoma. Since I’m a huge IMAX fan, I watched a movie in the brand-new Moore IMAX theater. This building is amazing, the screen is huge and the sound system is massive. However, less than a year after I visited this IMAX theater, a tornado hit this building and the surrounding neighborhood. Oklahoma truly is Tornado Alley.

Moore IMAX before and after tornado

My final stop: Oklahoma

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world
Part 7: The color of luck
Part 8: Willow Creek Church
Part 9: Bald Eagle

Fyra fiasco

Icedome Almere, fiasco in the making

Forget the financial crisis, global warming or conflict in the Middle East. A high speed train and national ice skate arena is all we currently talk about in the Netherlands. Why? Well, one of these topics is a fiasco, the other will be in a few years.

Fyra, which is should be a high speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels, is something that turned out to be too good to be true. Several years ago, the government and railway officials of Belgium and the Netherlands painted a bright future with two possible outcomes. 1) Everything would work out exactly as planned, thus creating a perfect train connection between the two countries… or 2) the project becomes a fiasco… guess what, it’s the fiasco that happened.

In 2013, exactly the same is about to happen with the national ice skate arena.

Here’s the situation

1. The Dutch are crazy about ice skating (it’s one of our national sports)
2. All the major national and international ice skate events allocated to the Netherlands take place in a single ice skate arena, which is Thialf.
3. Thialf, our national ice skate arena is outdated and needs to be modernized
4. Local politicians waited too long before making any decisions regarding a modernized Thialf
5. This prompted the Dutch national ice skate federation to write out a competition. ‘Which city wants to build the next national ice skate arena?’
6. Three cities responded, including the city where Thialf is located. But another city, Almere, has the best plan thus possibly wins.
7. There only seems to be one problem… Icedome Almere (the best entry), feels too good to be true…

It’s all about the money

Thialf, the current arena, presented a plan which costs about 80 million euros. The plan is divided in three phases, the first and most important one costs 50 million, which is covered for by the local government. The other contender, Icedome Almere, presented a much more ambitious plan which costs over 180 million. Paradoxically, this plan doesn’t need support by the government. Instead, businesses cover all costs involved. Although this sounds great, it feels unrealistic. Especially when the initiators are tight lipped about any (possible) investor involved.

In addition, Icedome Almere expects 1,2 million annual visitors, which equals more than 3000 people a day. To be fair, they plan to host non-skate events like musicals, festivals and concerts as well. Still, it’s a large number which feels a bit optimistic. What if ‘only’ 600.000 people visit the arena (still a huge number). In that case, who’ll cover the investment of 183 million euros + 15 million in annual operation costs?

A perfect stadium or fiasco?

Let me rewrite the second paragraph, but instead of Fyra (the train), It’s Icedome Almere we talk about. Here we go: Recently, initiators of Icedome Almere painted a bright future with two possible outcomes. 1) Everything works out exactly as planned, thus creating the perfect ice skate stadium… or 2) the project becomes a fiasco (which forces the government to help out, again)… Guess what, I think the latter.

Let’s see how this project develops. I’ll keep you posted.

Koning Willem Alexander - Koningin Maxima - Amalia - Alexia - Ariane - kroning Amsterdam

Meet the new Dutch royal family

On April 30, 2013, I was one of the tens of thousands of people who stood outside the royal palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam. Via huge screens, we watched Queen Beatrix end her 33-year reign with the stroke of a pen, signing the act of abdication in the palace. Doing so, she transferred power to her son, the Prince of Orange who’ll be the first king in 123 years. It was a historic moment for sure!

After a short wait, the new king, queen and their three daughters emerged on a balcony above the square. It was great to see King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Princess Catharina-Amalia, Princess Alexia and Princess Ariane from this close (see my photo above).

Any rational person would say a monarchy is nonsense and we should get rid of it. However, I just think we’re very lucky to have Willem-Alexander and Maxima as our new king and queen. I wish them all the best!

Meanwhile in Amsterdam…

Tomorrow, Queen Beatrix abdicates the throne, thus her son Willem-Alexander becomes King. This all happens in Amsterdam, which is now buzzing with activity.

Today, I was fortunate to see the Queen on the last full day of her reign. This unedited video (above) is shot at the rear entrance of the Royal Palace on Dam Square.

A new capital for Australia, part 1

A while ago, a friend and I participated in an international architecture competition. The task: Design a new capital for Australia. Unfortunately, we didn’t win (oh well, it was a longshot anyway). Nonetheless, I’d like to share our thoughts about this new capital with you.

Why does Canberra look the way it does?

It’s not that hard to figure out which factors influenced the 1912 design of Canberra. Old design documents mention the capital should “suggest grandeur” and “effectively symbolize a national capital”. Which makes sense. After all, back in 1912 Australia was a new country with little to no history (apart from the Aboriginals). They were in need of something that would unify them. A capital possibly?

The leaders of Australia hoped their new country would be a perfect democracy, a perfect country. They tried to reflect this on the nations capital, because this city could be the symbol for their new nation. This is exactly why Canberra is a perfect master planned city with plenty of parks and lots of public services. Ironically, because of its master planned characteristics, many Australians view their capital as a city unlike the rest of Australia. This is something which could be fixed with a new capital.

Does Australia need a new capital?

Tthe not-so-good feeling many Aussies have about Canberra doesn’t justify a new capital. Instead, there’re more compelling reasons, like the rise of the Internet, global warming, terrorist attacks and a global economic crisis. These are factors which influence our daily lives in a big way and couldn’t be more different than a hundred years ago (when Canberra was founded). This new reality brings new challenges and prompts questions like:

– Can Canberra be transparant and terror-proof at the same time?

– What does the rise of the Internet mean for government?

– Government grows bigger, while individualism is on the rise. How can a capital bridge this ever growing gap between individuals and the (mega) government?

In a way, the current Australian capital represents the old (check out the Canberra mega parliament building below). But times have changed. This all leads to a single question: Is a conventional capital like Canberra even capable of fulfilling her duties in this modern age? One could argue that a new capital is needed to represent the new and modern Australia.

What is a capital

OK, so we might need a new capital (without the need for a new capital, there wouldn’t be an architecture competition anyway). But what’s a capital exactly? In my view, a capital is just a city… a place where a lot of people live, work, study and relax. But there’s one major difference between a capital and any other city. The capital is a symbol. A symbol of power and, for western countries, democracy. It’s the symbol for what a country is or wants to be. For western countries, this symbol is embodied by a parliament building, a home for democracy. Since Australia is a democracy, a parliament building should be the centerpiece of this new capital as well.

But this home for democracy can be more than ‘just a building’. It’s much more powerful when it embodies the era in which it’s built. Which is true for buildings like the US Capitol and the German Reichstag.

US Capitol (1811)

This parliament building embodies the era of democracy, which started just after the US became independent from Britain. Democracy is the reason why the US Capitol is built on a hill in the exact center of the city, thus visible throughout Washington DC. It shows everyone that the people are in power. Which is also why the US Capitol is much bigger than the White House, residence of its head of state (bigger = more power). Until then, this was something unheard of in other western countries. It’s not surprising why people regard the US Capitol to be a symbol of democracy.

Reichstag (1999)

The historic Reichstag with its new glass dome symbolizes the era of unity, and not just for Germany. Instead, it symbolizes the unity of the entire western world. Inside, graffiti from both Nazi and Communist soldiers is preserved, thus reminding everyone Germany won’t forget its history. The glass dome, which tops the Reichstag symbolizes the long wished for transparency of government. And, not coincidentally, it was designed by a British (!) architect, Sir Norman Foster.

These two examples illustrate the era’s in which these parliament buildings were built. Currently, we live in the era of the Internet, which changed everything we know, including politics. Which prompts the question: Why not create a parliament building which symbolizes this era?

Where should the capital be located?

Well, that leaves us with one final important issue. Where to locate this new capital? That’s a tough nut to crack, since the size of Australia’s land surface is incredible. Still, the country is one of the most urbanized in the entire world. An incredible half of the population lives in just four (!) cities. Let me repeat that: Half the population lives in four cities! For the new capital, this could be an ideal situation. Why not situate the capital near these four cities, which allows the city to serve at least half of the countries population. And it’s easily doable, since there’s only 4000 kilometers separating some of these cities… hold on… did you say 4000 kilometers?

I guess that’s not gonna work.

Another option is to locate the capital in the exact middle of the country (near Alice Springs). However, this results in a natural barrier of thousands of kilometers for almost the entire population. That’s no good as well.

Let’s go unconventional

Apart from the everything mentioned above, constructing a new capital involves more than just erecting a parliament building. For a new, conventional, capital, an entire ecosystem of houses, offices, stores, entertainment and public services is needed. It takes some time to build, but ultimately this new city won’t be that different than Canberra. No problems will be solved, but a lot of money is wasted.

This is why we believe a conventional capital is not an option. Let’s go unconventional.

End of part one.