XXX: Resexifying Amsterdam’s Red Light District
XXX is an architectural invitation to rediscover sensuality and intimacy in the heart of Amsterdam’s historic De Wallen.
Amsterdam’s sex work industry has always been intrinsically linked to the city’s development, dating back to its beginnings as a harbour city in the 1300s. Over the years and through changing legislation, sex workers have seen street work evolve from exposed and unsafe into a more controlled and secure widow work. This work-behind-glass typology is typical of the Dutch urban landscape.
De Wallen, a central neighbourhood in the heart of Amsterdam, is notorious for its rowdy atmosphere and its confronting windows – and even more so for the women standing behind them. The Red Light district sees over 8 million visitors a year; the size of the area combined with the lack proper infrastructure results in a saturated and over-capacitated neighbourhood. The municipality of Amsterdam sees this as an opportunity to push an intensive gentrification project meant to close down windows, remove sex work and bring in a different kind of tourism, by means of an alarmist Red Light narrative. In an attempt to relocate sex workers, the municipality has been developing an ill-conceived and insensitive “erotic hotel” which would push the sex work community outside the city.
Consequently, sex workers are faced with a myriad of uncertainties. With an ever-shrinking number of dedicated workspaces, room rentals become increasingly unaffordable, and many sex workers see themselves working from home in unsafe conditions or simply going out of work.
How can we create a more balanced solution which listens first to sex workers’ needs, all the while benefiting the city and its inhabitants? How can we learn ways to rethink a public space which has been overwhelmingly designed for the heterosexual masculine fantasy?
Guided by an intuitive artistic approach, a sensitive collaboration with Amsterdam’s sex work community was born. Through a series of intimate conversations with sex workers and meticulous observations of the area, precious details, stories, needs, and dreams came out as the building blocks for our project.
XXX playfully provides a fresh answer to the city’s current controversial questioning on how to deal with its evolving Red Light district. This intervention unapologetically gives back the city to sex workers by inhabiting and densifying the inner roofscape of a typical Amsterdam city block – Blauwlakkenblok – which once hosted a myriad of sex work windows. It recognises the variety of sex workers’ needs by providing qualitative workspaces to over 70 sex workers and communal facilities. By the nature of its design, XXX alternates intimate courtyards of fresh vegetation, delicate lighting and layers of flowing veilings with larger, breathing and resting public spaces for the city.
The result is a project that offers sex workers and the city’s users a delightfully slow-paced, mysterious Red Light experience and honours the key role sex workers play in our society.
Graduation date: 30 August 2022
Graduation committee: Hiroki Matsuura (mentor), Dafne Wiegers and Chiara Dorbolò
Additional members for the exam: Marcel van der Lubbe, Dingeman Deijs .