Featured in our Model City walk, KNSM and Java Islands are considered to be Amsterdam’s urban renewal success story. Urban planners from all over the world still flock to the city to see how this former harbour area, which housed a large community of squatters in the 1980s, has turned into a residential district of sturdy, high-density apartment blocks for the rich and famous alongside pioneering social housing.
Despite being called islands, KNSM and Java together make up a peninsula of reclaimed land, constructed using a historical method typical to the Netherlands. Created in the 19th century, the islands were initially used as a breakwater for the Eastern Docklands area, before land levels were raised with soil dredged from the North Sea Canal.
KNSM stands for Koninklijke Nederlandse Stoomboot-Maatschappij, the Royal Dutch Steamboat Shipping company, which used to have its headquarters and its docks on the island. After decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, the KNSM gradually shrunk, finally leaving the island in 1977. Not long after, squatters moved in, but were forced to leave again in the 1990s to make way for redevelopment.
Two bridges connect the peninsula to the mainland. Urban planning on KNSM and Java has been generally well received, and is based on Amsterdam’s traditional ideals of prioritising pedestrians and cyclists, as well as providing plenty of recreational outside space for communal use.
Many of the old buildings on KNSM Island were preserved, such as the old cafeteria, the shipping company offices and a storage building, now called Loods 6, which today is home to artists' ateliers and galleries.
Java Island was given its name when the area was reassigned for housing in the 1990s. The atmosphere may not live up to the expectations of its exotic moniker, which harks back to Dutch colonisation of Indonesia, but it's certainly not an unpleasant place to be. Cosy cafes, houseboats and galleries punctuate the watery landscape, with its postmodernist canal houses and the well-loved Azartplein.