Roeterseiland: A Monolith of modern academia

Roeterseiland: A Monolith of modern academia

The term “monolith” really suits UVA’s Roeterseiland campus: home to three different faculties, nearly 20,000 students and sitting on almost 50.000 square meters, nothing about Roeters- or Rec as it’s more commonly known- can be described as small. Large and ever-expanding the area has grown into the UvA’s main campus. Is this something to be celebrated, however? Or has the sheer size, exacerbated by the amount of funds, led to a loss of community amongst students at the rec campus?

As the name might imply, the Roeterseilandcampus (Rec) is located on an island that dates back to the seventeenth century. The original canals were constructed to facilitate the increasing numbers of wealthy citizens moving to the east of Amsterdam. This wealth and prosperity continued into the 19th century, with the island then housing most of Amsterdam’s lucrative diamond trade -an operation being run from the building that now houses Crea.  A decade later, in the 1970s during a flurry of expansions, the university of Amsterdam commissioned a building on the island, designed by polish-born Architect Norbert Grawonski. Granwoski, who arrived in Amsterdam on the back of a tank, decided he liked the look of the city and then stayed.  

For the longest part of its existence Rec predominately hosted the Science and Physics faculties, until those eventually moved to the much more spacious and better equipped Science-park campus in 2010, where they still reside. Following this change, much of Rec was torn down and renovated in 2012, a project overseen by AHMM architects. The renovations opened the canal and modernized the front facade. In 2014 The REC we all know (and love?) was born.

REC consists of 10 buildings organized (largely) alphabetically from A to K, ‘Stichting Crea’ being the only building not alphabetically labeled. Rec is easily the most kitted-out building within the UvA:  it has countless luxuries, a sleek and modern design that really makes it feel like the epicenter of the UvA world. Besides its internal facilities, the campus is also well-located, near several bars, restaurants, shops and a student ran cinema (Kriterion). 

The luxuries that Rec offers, however, have also been subject to criticism: most of the buildings the UvA commissioned in the 70’s alongside of Rec have, by comparison, been slowly withering away or done away with completely. The Bunghouse (current day Soho-House) has been sold, the PC is slowly falling apart, the original occupants of Rec, the science faculties have been ostracized to the far East of Amsterdam and the Oudemanhuispoort gives the impression of being nearly as old as the men that sell books in its passageway. Rec, by contrast, is overflowing with state-of-the-art tech and facilities and is endlessly being featured in all promos the UvA puts out. Taking a class in any of the non-Rec faculties you start feel like a neglected child living underneath the staircase, while the children in Rec get all the good toys.

 Those toys also come at a price, however: a massive modern building housing most of the student population can come to feel somewhat like a machine instead of a campus. Students don’t really connect with one another anymore but instead, scuttle to and from their lectures within a massive ant farm of a campus while those decaying buildings with fewer students feel like their own little communities. The feeling of rot that has set in can even serve to amplify the sense of fraternity amongst students, in the same way people who live in modern luxury apartment buildings don’t really know their neighbors, but small working-class streets feel like worlds of their own. 

Maybe that same loss of community highlights the identity crisis inherent to Rec. UvA’s history is intrinsically linked to both the city and a student tradition of leftwing academia; The emphasis that Rec puts on Shiny expensive buildings and appealing to international students directly flies in the face of this tradition. Perhaps Rec is the first sign of a new status quo in the UvA. Or is it a last-ditch attempt to pry the school away from the warm embrace of the left wing?

Rec, for all its monolithic size and modern beauty, comes with drawbacks: a loss of community, feeling alienated from fellow students as well as becoming a target for other more left-leaning campuses surviving out in the rubble of old-world academia. Despite all this though, it has succeeded in becoming what it was intended to be: a hub for international and wealthy students who love the building that was laid out for them. For anyone else, the view of Rec and its student body might be limited to Patagonia quarter zips and chai lattes, but, hey, who are we to say those don’t belong in the UvA?