Photo exhibition Almere: ‘At first there was nothing and then suddenly a big city’

Memory for big people, that’s how Michel Langendijk calls the realization of the exhibitionAlmere Boven’. For months he studied thousands of aerial photographs of the Flevoland city – the oldest taken in the 1960s, the newest only a few months old. For the exhibition, which from today can be visited at four locations in Almere, he selected old and new photographs taken at exactly the same location. In combination they reflect the history of the city.

The exhibition is designed to show how quickly Almere has grown from polder to the eighth largest city in the Netherlands, says Langendijk. “That’s fascinating.” He mentions three photographs that show this development in a nutshell. The first was made in 1967, of the pumping station De Blocq van Kuffeler. “That’s what I call the first photo of Almere,” says Langendijk, although he is aware that the city only came into being years later. “But you can already see exactly the contours of the dike where land will eventually come and where the city will rise.”

On an aerial photo taken a year later, part of the area behind the pumping station has been emptied. The third photo, taken earlier this year at the same spot, shows – next to the pumping station again – a city with a skyline in the distance. “At first there was nothing and suddenly there is a big city”, Langendijk describes the process. “There are all sorts of steps in between, of course, but still. Compare it to Amsterdam, that city has been there for more than 700 years. Almere hasn’t been around for 50 years and more than 200,000 people live there now.”

Look below at the aerial photographs of Kuffeler’s De Blocq pumping station from 1967, 1968 and 2020:

According to Langendijk, the photographs not only show the history of Almere, but also tell a broader story. “You can see what trends there have been in architecture and urbanism. In the 1970s, for example, they wanted to turn Almere Haven into a small, sheltered part of the city. The photo shows all sorts of winding streets in what was later called a cauliflower district. That is typically something for that time.”

A few years later, a different philosophy was chosen for the part of Almere Stad, the current city centre, says Langendijk. “All districts are at an angle of 45 degrees to each other. The neighborhoods are much more right and on a larger scale than Almere Haven.”

View the construction of Almere Haven in 1977 and the current district in 2020 by moving the red button back and forth (for the app user: click on the image first):

And that the Netherlands was not doing so well financially in the 1980s, Langendijk sees this reflected in the choices that were made then. “Not too many details, fast production. On the photos you can see from above what was thought up on the drawing board at the time.”

It is clear that developments have been rapid in Almere. “Sometimes the aerial photographers had to come back every month because a new neighbourhood had been added,” Langendijk knows. “And the city is still in the making.”

Swimming

The compiler doesn’t have to think long about what his favourite picture of the exhibition is. It’s actually a “viewing plate”, he says, of the beach in Almere in 1975. “You see a lot of people. There isn’t a single house in the whole of Almere yet, but these are Amsterdammers or people from the Gooi region who must have thought: in that new polder you can have a nice swim” It was not until decades later that the Almere Poort and Duin neighbourhoods arose behind the beach

View the beachgoers in Almere Poort in 1975 and in 2016 by moving the red button back and forth (for the app-user: click on the image first):

The photo sets – old and new – that Langendijk has selected for the exhibition can now be seen at four locations in Almere. All thousands of aerial photographs will also be published online on a special website.