Building

Every day, on the long way to the train, I ride past an architectural wonder. It’s a whole city of makeshift houses, constructed from skids, pallets and discarded wood by frustrated (and probably misunderstood) teenagers.

They’re beautiful.

Beautiful because they keep changing. Shape. Form. Height. Purpose.

Some look like they’re about to collapse in on themselves

while others hold an intricacy in design that could only be from the mind of an obsessive teenager.

It was set up 50 years ago by the police as a place for kids that might find themselves in trouble if they didn’t have something like this to work on. A place to get rid of excess energy, but also to make something from scratch, something to figure out and ultimately, to finish. There are no screens to stare at, no joysticks to hold, no unsavoury, influential characters on street corners beckoning convincingly.  This place is on the eastern edge of Amsterdam, tucked in behind a petting zoo in a vast park not all that easy to reach. It’s got an enormous shipping channel that leads to the Rhine on one side, a highway on another; not a place to hang out if one wants to be cool.

But they do hang out here, making fantastic things. They can construct and deconstruct at will, and in that they must find a kind of freedom that is denied them in other parts of their lives.

My neighbour recently led a workshop for 1st year architecture students. Her plan was to get them to think differently, so she asked them to make structures using slices of bread. And every single one of them made a traditional house. Something recognizable, already done.

Perhaps in those few years between being a teenager and becoming an adult the mind already begins to close, precisely when it should open.