‘Soon Europe will be one urban nebula.’ This fascinating statement refers to the character of urbanisation processes in the second half of the twentieth century. The urban nebula is a new kind of urban space whose morphology is not immediately apparent. Furthermore, the spatial manifestation of the urban nebula reflects a unique concept comprising economic, infrastructural, socio-political and visual layers of meaning. The urban nebula also contains a digital layer, for which a host of metaphors are in circulation, such as virtual city, digital highway, datacloud and network city. The appearance of the urban nebula can be studied at the level of the plot of land, the typology of the buildings, the traffic and transport network of goods and people, the image/perception of the region and the relationships between the network users and the public space. 

The Schiphol region, with the airport as its centre, is perceived as one of the most exemplary urban nebulae in Europe through its connection with virtually all international networks and its extremely Dutch local and regional traits. Although Schiphol has more or less the same array of facilities as an average city centre, it is a contemporary alternative for, rather than a parallel manifestation of the city as we know it. We must realise that positively tinted marketing terms such as ‘airport city’ and ‘mainport’, and academic, negatively tinted, terms such as ‘non-place’ and ‘heterotopia’ are applied to airports, and that thereby, diverse meanings are projected onto the airport time and time again. This makes the region a very interesting research project.

The research is divided into four subprojects, each looking at a different aspect of the urban nebula, and from a different perspective. The key explanatory term, adopted by all of the subprojects, is collective arrangement, a concept that attempts to explain the complex layering of the urban nebula, but yet a concept which is still in development. Changes in collective arrangements of the urban space shall be studied from four interrelated viewpoints: planning concepts, infrastructural networks, physical structures and urban visual culture.

The goal of this VU research project, which is a component of the new NWO (Netherlands Institute for Scientific Research) research programme Urbanisation and Urban Culture, is the understanding of the morphology, spatial presentation and communicative concept of the urban nebula Schiphol.

Project management:

  • Prof. Koos Bosma (Chair History of Architecture and Heritage Studies)
  • Prof. Karel Davids (Chair Economic and Social History) 
  • Dr. Heidi de Mare (Director IVMV-Foundation, stichting IVMV, instituut voor maatschappelijke verbeelding)

Project implementation:

  • Drs. Marieke Berkers (freelance architecture historian) is researching the infrastructural developments at Schiphol and the surrounding region in the last thirty years. (Infrastructural networks)
  • PhD candidate Iris Burgers, MA, is researching the image of Schiphol (1920-2000) in relation to the various growth stages of the airport. (Urban Culture) 
  • PhD candidate drs. Michel Geertse is researching the international urban planning history on the basis of developments in the ‘International Federation for Housing and Town Planning’. (Planning concepts) 
  • Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Abdel El Makhloufi is researching the institutional economic and spatial processes behind the growth of Schiphol from landing strip to airport city. (Physical structures)

Further associates of the research team:

  • Tim de Groot (student of economic and social history) is studying the transition from Schiphol as an urban airport to Schiphol as a national airport, and is a student assistant.
  • PhD candidate (CLUE) Sae Matsuno, MA, is researching the planning and implementation history from Berlage’s Amsterdam-Zuid (1915-1940) (Amsterdam-South), also in relation to urban expansions in other comparable large European cities and to developments in the northern flank of the Randstad.
  • Jan-Willem de Wijn (student of economic and social history and aviation expert) is concerned with seeking out material, archiving, and writing articles for various journals and history books.

Design, concept, and technical implementation for the image database and website:

  • LUST, The Hague
  • Technical drawing experts, VU Faculty of Arts