"Play with the imaginary and see how far you can go with realizing the imaginary"

Students of the University of Amsterdam explored the city and interviewed local City Makers. This summer we will publish these interviews weekly. Raina Graham and Renske Marseille interviewed Elmo Vermijs of the Hotel Buiten initiative. 

Elmo Vermijs is part of the Hotel Buiten initiative. They hope to make use of the land and water of the Sloterplas by connecting individuals back to nature as an alternative to standard hotels. Combining his love for architecture and nature, Elmo is creating a space for the community.

Can you tell us about how Hotel Buiten was created?

Together with some colleagues, I witnessed Nieuw-West’s cultural finances and possibilities for work drying up. We wanted to create the possibility to sleep on the islands located in the Sloterplas, which had been unused for the past ten years. We wanted to create an international event space in which individuals could sleep in an alternative space to hotels. The municipality was working with a café in the space that was not able to start up due to the financial crisis. We were able to gain the permit from the municipality in the summer of 2012, and the year after, we gained a temporary permit for three years. Then we could start the plans for a safe neighborhood area in which individuals could connect.

What is your role as a city maker?

As designers we made a guide booklet to note how individuals could develop a space step by step. It laid out the preparation, organization, and how one can build a group of interested and dedicated individuals who are in the space and what that group looks like. This document grew into a vision document to bring awareness to our cause. Bringing the community into a space where they can interact and feel safe builds the neighborhood. We used the local potential, in the areas labor, materials, knowledge and education, as a starting point for the development of our plan. We then tested our plan to determine what did and did not work. By working on this project, we are making the Sloterplas more visible within Amsterdam.

What do you think the project means to others and the community within the neighborhood of Sloterplas?

There is more than just the direct community around Hotel Buiten. One has to look at the different spatial areas spanning possibly as far as the world. If you look just at the direct neighborhood within the surrounding area, one can see the effect on individuals and the happiness this project brings. They finally have a space that is theirs in Nieuw-West that is by the water.

What are some of the obstacles and challenge you face as a city maker?

With experimental projects come obstacles. It takes time and motivation to develop, as we are handling five projects within one on a voluntary basis. Not only do we have the differences of opinion within the organization as to how aspects should play out, we also have to help the municipality understand what we are achieving. Projects such as this often have the battle between time one has to invest and the money you have in order to get somewhere.

Finally, what have you gained from working towards creating the project?

I feel the scale of the project is an important aspect. I think like a designer, not just about making a cafe, or designing a stage on the water, but about all the different elements within a larger perspective. I find it fascinating how this project will evolve within the Sloterplas. Developing a vision is another important aspect I have gained: it is not only about tomorrow, but rather focusing on a much longer period of time and figuring out the steps one must take to come to the development he or she seeks. I think this is relevant in Dutch cities, but also beyond them: realizing and showing different ways of building—a way that enhances social and local cohesion, while showing the potential use of alternative material, ecology and durability.

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