An integral part of Amsterdam’s charm lies within its quaint and confined city centre, which continues to attract tourists by their millions each year. In comparison to other great European cities, the size of Holland’s capital is relatively small and it suffers from limited parking resources.

Such is the intensive use of space and the high demand for mobility within the area that Dutch construction firm Strukton has developed a unique proposal to solving, among other issues, the city’s severe traffic and parking congestion. Entitled AMFORA (alternative multi-functional underground space Amsterdam), the proposal is based on the concept of creating a ‘city under the city’.

According to Bas Obladen, senior consultant at Strukton Engineering, the project is aimed at protecting Amsterdam’s historical centre while creating a more sustainable future for the city.

“I was born in Amsterdam and today when I drive through the city centre I am completely shocked at the amount of cars parked everywhere. There needs to be a solution so I came up with the idea of creating underground parking beneath the canals,” says Obladen.

“By creating more space underground for parking and other amenities such as supermarkets and cinemas, there can be space for tourists to walk above ground and a number of green spots or parks could be added,” he adds.

“Holland’s capital is relatively small and it suffers from limited parking resources.”

Layered approach

Amsterdam’s canals are built up of varying layers at the bottom of which is a platform of clay located at approximately 32m below ground. Strukton believes this could become the top limitation of AMFORA, which would have a number of other layers constructed beneath it.

Strukton has estimated that about six to seven layers would be required to meet Amsterdam’s future parking demands each measuring approximately one million square metres. Up to three of these layers would be dedicated to transport and parking, while the other three to four would be available for a variety of functions, including shops, sports halls and storage.

“Currently, the number of cars roughly parked in the city centre is about 100,000. Each layer underground would measure one million square metres which is enough for approximately 50,000 cars,” says Obladen.

“There would also be a layer for underground piping and cables, which at present is causing problems in Amsterdam as their maintenance involves digging up the roads. We could create a ‘piping and cable street’ underground that could be easily altered and maintained when needed, and because of the non-humidity underground the lifetime of the cables would be increased. Also we have examined the idea of putting a waste disposable system underground which would transport waste in pipes.”

Network below the ground

Enclosing Amsterdam is a ring road called the Ringweg A10, which Strukton believes could be utilised to access an underground network below the canals. The road would be used as the main transport link for traffic accessing AMFORA through a number of strategic spots on the A10 which will have slip roads leading into the complex. This would in effect give radial entry points and allow all local traffic from the Ringweg to go underground via the canals to all parts of Amsterdam.

“The AMFORA proposal is based on the concept of creating a ‘city under the city’.”

“You would be only able to access AMFORA via the ring road,” says Obladen. “But by distributing the traffic underground, the historical centre would have much less traffic and would therefore become a much safer environment for the general public.

Furthermore it would keep the present roads free for the emergency services, allowing them to reach any accidents within ten minutes instead of always getting stuck in traffic.”

Stukton’s plans also compliment the transport network with vehicle identification systems that would use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to manage traffic streams. Each vehicle entering AMFORA will be recognised by the detection systems. The computers would check whether the vehicle is authorised to enter the complex as permit holders would be tagged with an RFID chip while visitors would be able to collect a RFID ticket from a machine.

In this manner, the computer systems can map out all traffic flows in AMFORA and use the data to generate traffic forecasts. The same data could also be processed into dynamic traffic management systems which help to better utilise capacity within the lanes and parking spots.

AMFORA would also be fitted with detection antennas that vehicles follow through the underground network. Through the use of intelligent sensors every parking space could be monitored via camera systems, which at the same time could also act as a security measure for the complex.

“We will know exactly how many parking spots are empty and, through the dynamic parking systems, be able to steer the cars into the correct spots. We could also generate underground signals to a communications system which would be another huge advantage,” Obladen says.

Environmental advantages

Obladen says he believes one of the greatest advantages of the AMFORA project would be its environmental viability. Although the idea of planting huge concrete structures under the earth hardly sounds the best step forward for the environment, AMFORA involves the possibility of cleaning the underground ventilation air of harmful gases.

“Stukton’s plans compliment the transport network with vehicle identification systems.”

The project would become CO2 neutral through the application of heat and cold air storage under the canals. The walls of AMFORA will be lined with pipes linked to the prefabricated steel reinforcement that will assume the soil temperature of Amsterdam, which is about 10%-12%. By combining this temperature via a heat wheel with the outside air temperature, the underground space could be kept at a stable 18% all year long.

Furthermore, as the underground is unlikely to need cooling, a surplus of cold air will arise.

“By using thermal energy, AMFORA would be able to use the excess cool air and water to distribute to the air conditioning and cooling systems used in the shops above ground,” says Obladen.

“This proposal could tackle a number of environmental and health problems in the city. It meets PM10 regulations, is CO2 neutral and has been praised by the environmentalists I have spoken to so far.”

The response so far

Obladen is keen to generate interest in the concept and in recent months has staged a number of presentations to various governmental and non-governmental parties. This included a positive reception at this year’s Enlightened Underground International Congress organised by the Netherlands Centre for Underground Construction in Amsterdam. “All the delegates were delighted with the proposal,” says Obladen.

“I have made presentations to the Amsterdam City Council as well as the department responsible for transport, Holland’s chamber of commerce and various political parties. This will be followed up in October with further presentations of pilot projects so we are still talking and there is a great deal of interest in the concept.”

The proposal has also attracted interest from local architects and universities. In particular, a graduation programme has been proposed to link the project with the Delft University of Technology.

Dream or reality

The sheer scale of AMFORA distinguishes the project from other underground parking complexes. If given the go ahead, Obladen estimates it could become the biggest of its kind in the world, which perhaps explains why the revolutionary idea is still in its infancy.

“Computer systems can map out all traffic flows in AMFORA and use the data to generate traffic forecasts for Amsterdam.”

One area of caution is the construction process itself, but Obladen believes it has developed an approach that causes minimum disruption to the busy city centre. The Dutch company has vast experience in the construction industry, turning over approximately €1.2bn each year through a range of projects that most recently include a 3.2km-long immersion tunnel in South Korea.

“We have the capabilities to match the scale of the projects. We would use building construction methods designed to have minimum disturbance on the town and the people living there. However, because of this, the construction period itself would be affected and therefore could take some 20 years to complete,” Obladen says.

The AMFORA project is a unique vision of Amsterdam’s future. Alongside firmly tackling the city’s mounting parking problems, it also addresses other transportation and environmental concerns. Yet it remains to be seen if the proposal’s lofty ambitions will be adopted by local officials and how long the city is willing to wait for such a radical transformation.