The Inner Lives of Silos


Silos are fascinating structures. Their form is entirely rational and pragmatic, and yet their interiors are sublime in a vaguely spooky way. Standing inside an empty silo is like standing inside an empty cranium–psyche without spirit. The dual quality of silos–efficiently functional and yet eerily subjective–may account for the strangeness of two proposal for converting a pair of sewage treatment silos in the Amsterdam’s Zeeburg district.

Nl_architects_silo_08 NL Architects wanted to convert one silo into a theater and the other into a space for wedding parties and rock climbing. “Believe it or not but climbing has become a national sport in the Netherlands,” the architects inform us. They proposed constructing a 22-meter atrium or “cave” that will house public rituals, while the walls will feature “serious cantilevers and merciless overhangs,” which apparently are the sorts of things rock climbers like. NL designed the silos so that they would have serene exteriors and jagged, Expressionistic interiors–perfectly capturing the dual nature of silos. NL even claim their silos “will become an enhanced version of themselves; stretched and twisted, like most memories.”

Alas, the NL proposal did not win the competition; a weirder proposal won. Arons en Gelauff Architects were awarded the commission for their plan to convert the silos into a tribute to a Dutch children’s book author, Annie MG Schmidt. It’s hard to imagine a site less conducive to childhood fantasy: Zeeburgereiland is a small island crammed with industrial facilities on the fringes of Amsterdam. One silo will have a rooftop playground giving children the opportunity to climb onto a giraffe to get a commanding view of the surrounding warehouses and piers. (There are plans to clear some of the industrial facilities on the island to make room for a housing development.) The other silo will be topped off with a restaurant with brightly-colored fixtures meant to invoke childhood memories. The entire effect is like the Rainforest Cafe redecorated by Ikea: populist modernism coupled with corporatized visions of childhood. Oh, and the interiors of the silos will be stuffed an assortment of theater and cultural spaces.


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