The history of the ADM: a lesson for the future
When the sand was being poured on fertile farmland west of Amsterdam in the postwar economic boom of the 1960’s to create the ‘Westhaven’ wharf of the Amsterdam Drydock Company (ADM), no-one could foresee the fertile and creative future that lay awaiting. The old drydock company ADM was one of the pioneers in the western reaches of the Port of Amsterdam. Limited space in Amsterdam North was a reason to venture west and build bigger and better facilities. When crises in the shipbuilding industry forced her to leave little more than a decade later she made way for one of Europe’s largest cultural freehavens and eventually the ADM as we know her today was born.
The ground that the ADM built on was sand piled on top of fertile clay – metres of it, to bring it above sea level. With this the ADM ‘Westhaven’ became an island of industrial activity in an extensive agricultural polder landscape. While it lasted. Finished in 1965, the huge hall and office building were in use for only 12 years before financial troubles became evident. The company ADM could not keep her head above water and had to retreat from the western harbour with her tail between her legs. The first occupation by artists was in 1987 and the ADM has been used for cultural purposes for almost 30 years with the current ADM community having grown over the last 18 years. The new inhabitants of the ADM live amongst trees in gers, wagons and self-made houses, or on boats in the shallow harbour. Since the occupation a forest has grown on the ADM and it has become an oasis of green in an extensive industrial landscape.
The company ADM specialised in reparations of large ships. Floating drydocks lay in the harbour and were accessed by one small high pier and one long low pier. Cranes ran on rails along the long pier and could carry items into the huge, wide, open hall where they were repaired. Metal was cut, bent, riveted and welded to ensure the floating industrial giants could carry on in their work carrying resources from poorer to richer countries. However, the economic boom that had motivated the building of the new wharf in the western harbours did not last and the ADM went bankrupt. Nonetheless a few decades later the sound of welders is still to be heard in the hall on the ADM. Artists and builders use scrap metal to build wood-heaters, theatre decors, furniture and sculptures. The ADM is home again to craftsmen, but to those who prefer to re-use resources rather than building the vessels with which resources are sucked dry.
From the moment of her creation the ADM has been the toy of real estate speculators. Riding on the postwar economic boom the company ADM purchased a leasehold property – then still a piece of agricultural polder. They poured sand over the fertile soil, dug out a harbour, built a huge hall and an office building and fixed a few ships. As the industrial boom they were riding on crashed they were offered a lifeline – to buy the property outright for a very small sum (1,5 million gulden) so that they had an injection of capital and could afford to pay their workers. As the company ADM sank into bankruptcy the ownership of the property ADM ‘Westhaven’ was shuffled through different companies. Eventually, twenty years after the bankruptcy the notorious real estate speculant Bertus Lüske bought the property for a miserly €27 million in a dodgy deal. The new owner tried several times to sell the property for many times more than his original buying price but this was prevented by the legal conditions in the property contract. Again, eighteen years after buying it, the heirs of the late Bertus Lüske are trying to remove the ADM community so that they can at last make some money over the back of the municipality and the people of Amsterdam.
Meanwhile, the current ADM community tries to consciously live with as little money as possible, focussing on re-use and recycling as a way to live efficiently and cheaply. The rigid arms of bureaucracy have little influence on the decisions that are made, and space and time can be spent freely. While so much of the outside world seem to be wrestling against gravity trying to make money out of nothing, on the ADM people are doing their best to make something, without money.
The story of the ADM is the story of the fate of industrialisation. While world leaders in oil and gas are pulling out of this business the Port of Amsterdam continues to blunder forth towards an outdated future ideal of continual industrial growth. While the gross of society is talking about finite resources and local production and consumption the ports think they can grow endlessly. Let the past of the ADM be a lesson, and let the current ADM play a part in testing an alternative diverse and interesting future •