It was in December 2012 that I discovered a field which I named The New Prairie and it has now been a bit more than a year since I started to follow and work with the field. With construction work about to begin, we face a new phase in the story of The New Prairie, where it will take on a different shape than before, however as you will see, it’s never just stayed the same.
Looking back at the past year, it’s been a time of constant discoveries, and from thinking that you now know what the field is, going to not knowing if you’ll be able to walk across the grass the next week.
To take you back from the beginning, it was on a sunny, crisp day, that I discovered The New Prairie for the first time. I was biking around in the south of Amsterdam in search for green place to work when passing by Station RAI, I found a gravel road leading through a stretch of land just below the highway. Following the road and taking a left turn through an open gate, I got on to a road leading away from the highway. And there, after passing a couple of high office buildings, there was a big empty green field with four benches facing it. I sat down on one of the benches and gazed out over the horizon. Looking at this field it reminded me of how as a kid I used to run out over the fields to try and catch the last of the sunset. Yes, it was a kind of romantic feeling and perhaps that is why I decided to call it a prairie: a field of possibilities.
Seeing myself as a discoverer of the place, I started to write a logbook for The New Prairie on January 14 2013. It was a freezing cold day, I spotted 16 doves and measured it to be 268 big steps (bs) around the field.
The first snow arrived a day later, measuring thumb-deep and I found fascinating bird tracks. By the end of the month the amount of snow had increased and I decided to do some snow shoveling. Realizing my physical limits, that I would not be able to shovel the whole field by hand, I decided to instead shovel an area of 10% and in that way estimate the amount of snow laying on the ground. Drawing some attention from the neighboring office workers, a lady named Wilma approached me to ask what I was doing.
I explained I was a student at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and we started to talk about the field. She told me that they were going to build student houses. After 6 hours of snow shoveling by hand, a rectangular of 306 bs² was cleared of snow.
After the snow melt in the end of January I proceeded with discovering various features of the ground. Different plastic objects in grey and blue, receipts, porcelain, apple cores, empty cigarette packages, metal foil, an empty snail house and a broken branch. I found the deepest point, the Hole, which was as deep as the length of my legs.
The highest point, in the north east corner, I measured to a chest height, and noticed that it sometimes has a windy sound to it.
In the end of February The New Prairie started to see some changes.
All the bushes on the western hillside were cut off, leaving vertical slashes and the rabbit holes in the hill fully visible.
After a quiet March, I noticed in the beginning of April that the Hole had completely dried out. I also discovered 10 small wooden markers which were spread in two straight rows along the long sides of the field. The markers were all sprayed with neon yellow color and numbered from 6 to 33 (south to north). The first 8 markers were numbered 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 and followed a certain order as if a=6 makes a+1+a. However the last two markers: 32 and 33 didn’t follow the same pattern as the difference between 28 and 32 only made 4 and not 6 (a). This left me with some mystery, puzzled by the number order and not knowing what the wooden markers stood for.
Curious if this was a sign for construction work, I approached a construction worker to ask when they were going to start to build, but he didn’t understand my English or my little Dutch. I had however found out where the city planning office for this neighbourhood, called Zuidas was, so I went there to ask. At the office I got the answer that they are going to start to build student houses in September 2013. They will be there for 10 to 15 years and after that they will build the permanent project.
Knowing that they would build on The New Prairie for sure and that they would start in September, made me start to think about how I could make the most of the remaining time. I started to imagine galloping on a horse across the field, planting a prairie garden oasis, or arranging a day of celebration with baseball, rhubarb juice and ginger cookies. I biked to a nursery outside of Amsterdam to check what kind of prairie flowers they had and realized that nothing would have time to bloom before I would leave to Sweden for the summer. Feeling a bit disappointed about not being able to see the flowers bloom, I still decided to plant the seeds of “The Prairie Sun” or Rudbeckia Hirta as it’s called in Latin. On a warm sunny evening, May 28, I planted the seeds of the Prairie Sun in a circle at the middle of The New Prairie.
Even though I had had some conversations about the field with a few people, not many knew about what The New Prairie was and what had happened there. So to spread the news about The New Prairie’s existence and inform the near public about what’s been going on at the field, I decided to make a local newspaper. With some help from Seungyoung Moon (Common Factor, graphic design), Luella Godman (Expressive English, language services) and the screenprinting workshop at the Rietveld, I printed a newspaper of four pages in an edition of 50.
These I distributed in the beginning of June in the mailboxes at Krooswijkhof, de Boelelaan, Antonio Vivaldistraat and Barbara Strozzilaan. I also invited my class on an excursion to The New Prairie on June 3, when I guided them around the field, and gave them each a newspaper and a ginger cookie.
After a long summer break, I returned to The New Prairie on September 7. Surprised to see that the construction work hadn’t started, I still found the field in a different shape than how I had left it. The whole western hillside had disappeared, opening up the field to expand westward. The road north of The New Prairie had been taken out and instead there were logs and a new gravel road going straight east.
By the benches I met Raymond and he told me that he used to work at the sport center a the time when they had tennis courts on the field. He said that even earlier there used to be farms there and that this was now the most expensive piece of land in Amsterdam.
Coming back to the field a couple of weeks later, the grass on the original part of The New Prairie had been rolled into 5 round bales, leaving the cut field a bit brownish, whereas the new expanded field towards the west still was green.
I continued to visit the New Prairie throughout the fall, tense to see if the construction work would have started when I got there. In November I found 8 big wooden markers with orange tape spread out over the field, not in a clear pattern, but somehow aligned with each other.
During the fall I noticed the water in The Hole was changing levels aswell as spotting spiders by the opening.
Even though the western hillside had disappeared I could still find fresh rabbit spilling and rabbit holes in other parts of the ground.
Entering 2014, a huge sign saying “Welcome studenten op de Zuidas Amsterdam” had been put up on the field announcing that a new experience for 800 students would be built.
On the corners of the sign, two flags were waving in the air with the text “Student Experience” on it. Now, knowing that they were still planning to build the student housing, I found it intriguing that it was called Student Experience.
A week later I noticed a kind of container building had been placed on the north side of The New Prairie. A sign saying “Student Experience Welkom” with an arrow pointing towards the house was placed. I went into the house to ask about the building plans.
The man I talked to said they would start very soon and that it would be ready in December 2014. He gave me a flyer and told me I could apply for a room online.
Wanting to arrange an outdoor experience for a group of students, I approached Student Experience to ask if I could get permission to arrange an event for a group of 5 to 10 students where we would make a tour around the field and sleep over under bare sky. After talking to one of the directors, she told me that it would not be possible. When I asked what exactly they didn’t have permission for (people walking on the field or sleeping over), she could not give me a clear answer and said that they didn’t have time to give me such a permission.
Feeling disappointed and a bit frustrated, I went to The New Prairie the next day. There I was greeted by two signs saying that the area would be closed off from 6 a.m., on February 17 and that after that, trespassing was forbidden.
It was now February 13 and realizing that this might be the last days I could walk freely across The New Prairie, I decided to sleep over on my own on the weekend. On Saturday the 15th, I set out to sleep under bare sky, wearing six layers of clothing and bringing a couple of thermoses of tea, two sandwiches, chocolate peanuts, a head light, a knife, a hammer, string, my passport, a tarpaulin, a ground cover and a warm sleeping bag. Arriving warm, it seemed like I would get a pleasant night, but shortly after I got there it started to hail and I realized I would need to use the tarpaulin to stay dry. After watching the clouds pass over the moon, I crawled into a kind of cocoon I had made of the tarpaulin which I attached to one of the building markers. Comfortable, but still not being able to go to sleep directly, I could hear bass tones from a party in the sportcenter close by.
Next morning, I woke up to birds singing and crawled out from under the tarpaulin and had some breakfast. By the time I started to eat, the sun had begun to shine and I could watch crows and sea gulls flying around. I took a walk around the field and packed up my stuff. Tired but content I headed back home.
Returning to The New Prairie after February 17, the field is still open, even if it’s a matter of time until the area will be closed off for construction work. “You never know”, seems to be the saying of The New Prairie, and it is with this we head out into the unknown future, where The New Prairie dosen’t cease to exist, it just changes form.