Geert van Itallie, director of Paradiso, stands on a wild lawn at the Weteringschans in Amsterdam and gestures around him. “Here comes an underground passage of seven by thirty meters, as a new entrance to the building,” he points from his feet towards Paradiso’s flank. “And here,” he steps through the knee-high weeds, “comes a new building with five stories of extra space.” He looks satisfied.
The transaction is completed. As of last week, Paradiso has owned the vacant lot to the left of the pop hall for more than a century. Thanks to this purchase, Paradiso will be able to realize all kinds of improvements and plans. Although first around 30 million euros, a rough estimate, must be collected to pay for the new construction, to repair and improve the existing building and underground accesses on both sides of the Paradiso.
Some of the plans have arisen out of necessity, Paradiso must be tackled. The building has been renovated several times in the 54 years that have passed since it was put into use as a pop hall, but now no longer meets current standards for the environment, safety and noise. Recently, when the crowd was rhythmically jumping at a punk concert, the dust in the basement knocked off the stones, according to Van Itallie. The arched gates began to loosen (they have since been reinforced with planks). The website about the plans is therefore called ‘100jaarparadiso.nl’: Paradiso wants to celebrate its centenary in 2068.
The roof and foundations are outdated, the walls are rickety, the furnishings are outdated. A future-proof Paradiso will also use sustainable energy and no longer cause noise nuisance. Van Itallie, who became director in 2020, thought: If we are going to renovate, can we also expand? He contacted Klaas Hummel, then owner of the ‘land’. Despite the interest of other candidates, Hummel was willing to sell the land to Paradiso.
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Doubling of surface
During the purchase process, which lasted more than a year, the plan for the new site was developed: a five-story building, which means an expansion of the current area of more than 1,200 square meters. Paradiso’s policy developer Fred Bond says that side issues such as office and technical installations will be accommodated in the new building. It creates more space for the public in the main building, for example on the beautiful third floor, which now houses offices.
In addition to the new office premises, the new building will have an underground entrance, which will probably contain a cloakroom and exhibition space. There may also be a shop with merchandise and entrance tickets, and according to Bond, there is a need for facilities for ‘artists in residence’. “So foreign musicians who are already here can stay for a few days and record music.” Van Itallie also envisions a collaboration with the Amsterdam Conservatory. “We can create a teaching space where guests give workshops to students.”
After the renovation, Paradiso gets a new job description: from pop venue to ‘cultural centre’. Or no, it sounds old-fashioned, says Van Itallie. “Now Paradiso is often called a pop temple, so we want to be a ‘temple of culture’.” In the cultural temple, several art disciplines receive attention: for visual arts, perhaps for film screenings, and to expand existing activities such as dance performances and lectures.
Furthermore, Paradiso will bring back a feature from the early days when the building was known not only as a concert hall, but also as a ‘community centre’, where ‘children’s afternoons’ and activist meetings took place.
Van Itallie calls this the function of a ‘community centre’, or better: living room. “A living room for young people in Amsterdam.” He says the last word with emphasis. “We hope to attract a younger audience again.” He will do this thanks to ‘high-profile culture’, with inventive nightly programming and personal input from the public and young creators. “People themselves will be able to contribute ideas for events.” He cites the Sexyland.World art project in Amsterdam-Noord as an inspiration for this, where outsiders organize evenings: one evening an ‘ode to the sea breeze’, the next a masked ball. Paradiso will soon implement this plan: from 2023, a ‘public idea’ will be realized every Tuesday in the upper room.
In addition to the new construction on the small plot on the left, Paradiso is also expanding to the right in the short term. The underground bike shed between the building and Max Euweplein is empty (because it has moved to Leidseplein). This space will be ‘clicked’ to the main building via underground excavation, as a temporary access exit. This approach is inspired by renovations such as the Mauritshuis in The Hague, which also has an underground access. This has the advantage that the actual building of the Paradiso, a monument, is not affected.
The need for a new entrance is linked to the current noise nuisance, which is gradually becoming acute for a number of local residents. Municipal volume meters showed too high a number of decibels: from the music vibrating through the walls and from the audience talking in the street – especially after a club night. Local residents have united in an action group and are trying to get the night permit revoked. Therefore, Paradiso wants to build this underground exit as soon as possible. It would have a psychological effect. “According to research, people are often noisy when they come out of a room with loud music, but when they are out of that tunnel, this tendency is less.”
He hopes not to have to insulate the walls of the building itself, because then they will be half a meter thicker, at the expense of the hall space. Instead, he wants a glass enclosure on both sides of the building, an ‘acoustic and thermal shell’ that should remove a lot of nuisance.
And then “ideas bubble up,” says Van Itallie. Paradiso wants to become more sustainable in a broad sense. But first you need money. Paradiso bought the land independently with a mortgage loan – which was acquired by business director Laurentine Pels Rijcken from Rabobank, an extraordinary investment of commitment to the subject – but has no capital for the new construction and renovation. “We depend on the municipality, foundations and private donors for that funding. Officials, political parties and the Arts Council are aware of the plans and are positive. To interest donors, we will soon launch recruitment campaigns.”
Van Itallie does not know how long the renovation will take. To begin with, a ‘requirement programme’ is now being drawn up, which, for example, prescribes how many kilos of lamps the roof must be able to carry. Then architects start making a design. Little can be said about the shape and style of the new building. Van Itallie: “At first we envisioned something sober. But then I thought, why? Maybe we just want a bubbly building.” He smiles. “It might be somewhere in between.”