Local talent

For Rau, a practitioner of sustainable architecture, this a major selling point. But he adds that Amsterdam has many other advantages, including its compact scale, creative population, and strong design tradition. "The Netherlands has always produced great architects," he says. "Think of Berlage, Rietveld, and, more recently, Van Berkel and Koolhaas." He also relishes the major investments the Netherlands is making in its infrastructure, and the growing emphasis here on the 'green city' concept

New ideas

"I'm in the most stimulating setting imaginable for my work," he continues. "The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is Europe's centre for sustainable building, and I believe we will eventually hold that position globally. "Currently, some 500 architects specialise in forms of sustainable architecture in the region. The development of energy-neutral and biodegradable real estate is becoming a sought-after export product."

Recent projects reflect this. Last year, a number of creative media companies moved into the Kraanspoor building in North Amsterdam, a renovation project realised with sustainable materials and new construction techniques in the northern harbour area of the city. A few kilometres north, environmental consultancy Search opened a zero-energy office. Stadshaven Minerva will soon have a "sustainable incubator" for new creative companies, and Almere the world's first energy-neutral supermarket. Close to Schiphol Airport, in Hoofddorp, work has begun on a business park based on the 'cradle-to-cradle' concept of Michael Braungart and William McDonough. All materials used will be either recyclable or biodegradable.

Tulip island

Rau believes that the Netherlands is an ideal lab for developing new solutions like these. "Dutch legislation and the construction sector can be just as stuck as in other countries," says Rau. "But when a problem is seen to affect everyone, then everything suddenly becomes fluid. Nothing is impossible, and even the most envelope-pushing solutions are taken seriously. Take the Delta Works, which is still the world's largest coastal reinforcement project. And now there's great interest in the idea of mooring an artificial island, in the form of a tulip, off the North Sea Coast. "

"Perhaps it will take a couple of years, but that tulip island is definitely coming," he says. "And it goes to show that the Netherlands is still ahead when it comes to knowledge and experience in the field of water defences. This is just the sort of pioneering work the world needs in order to find the right sustainable solutions."

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