Play Noord

Activating a Masterplan on Hold

Play Noord is a negotiation game for a central area of Amsterdam on the brink of a crisis.

purpose: Creating an alternative masterplan for Overhoeks in Amsterdam Noord
client: Tolhuistuin + La Fabrique de la Cité
engagement: 100 stakeholders in 4 game sessions
project duration: January 2011-August 2012
co-funders: Stichting DOEN, Mondriaan Fund
players: Click to view players joining October 2011 Sessions 1, 2, 3.

The legal plan of Overhoeks is slowly but decisively progressing. We ask what would be the most desirable form of an organic development around the Shell Tower and Grootlab? Do we really need 70.000 sqm of extra offices in Overhoeks as the legal plan suggests? How to organize the remaining 200.000sqm of housing job? Can small entrepreneurs be the authors of this task replacing a giant investor?

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Urban Challenge

The urban plan for Overhoeks, 20 hectares of the new urban centre of Amsterdam, is on hold since the fiscal crisis of 2010. We created this game to simulate alternative scenarios for its development, proposing that small and medium size enterprises could collectively replace the giant investors who stopped short of taking risks, leaving this area frozen. Could multiple stakeholders develop the site organically replacing the halted corporation-dependent blueprint?
Are the 70.000m2 of new office space, as suggested by the old plan, still desirable after the crash? How could 200.000m2 of housing best be distributed and built?

Areal View, Overhoeks

20121106-1428 Het voormalige Shellterrein verandert de komende jaren in een stedelijke woon-en werkwijk met culturele voorzieningen en horeca.


In December 2010, our team was briefed by the director of Tolhuistuin about this urban challenge. After interviewing over 20 local stakeholders, we mapped the interests of 160 potential participants. The majority of these stakeholders joined in one of the four game sessions held in October 2011.

In 2012, a respected Parisian think-tank, La Fabrique de la Cité, requested two new sessions of Play Noord to learn the method. This helped us to reconnect to some of the previous players as well as engaging new ones in re-envisioning the future of Overhoeks.

Project Results

The introduction of such an innovative method into an ongoing legal planning process was a radical step. And it delivered results. By 2014, the legal plan was altered. An incremental development strategy was internalized by Project Bureau Noordwaarts. The game proposed a variety of other outcomes which still have traction:

Integrated Program replaced the mono-functional Urban Plan
Players agreed to convert half of the 70.000m2 of new office space mandated by the existing plan into affordable studios for creatives in the first phases of the game. Through the process of playing, these spaces were transformed into other alternatives as the land gained value, such as tourism or work and living mixed development. The conclusion? Not a fixed typology set in a plan, but rather acknowledging the strategic value of using the empty land and allowing it to change in use as interest in it increases. This could be a model to re-develop the empty Shell sites in Overhoeks, which have already seen a series of creative spaces take over part of the Shell Lab.

Self-built Neighbourhood
Organizing the construction of 200,000m2 of housing is a challenge, and more so for small and medium-scale investors. But Play Noord found some answers. Players representing investors and collectives joined forces with entrepreneurs to realize the big housing task in the game by integrating retail, offices and leisure.

The New Activist
Play Noord hosted an extensive debate on the possible roles of a ‘New Activist.’ Could the activist initiate developments instead of spearheading resistance to it? Can 'action on the ground' be redefined as bricks, mortar and debate rather than picketing fences and rallies?

Media Coverage

Play Noord at the French National Magazine La Gazette
La Fabrique de la Cité on City Gaming as Future City Making
TU Delft News on Ekim Tan

Data from our survey of Noord
Noord neighbourhoods
Play Noord Game Table
Play Noord Game Table
Play Noord Game Table
Play Noord Game Table
Play Noord Game Table
Play Noord Game Table
Game Play in Noord
Negotiation and Design during Play Noord
Discussion of a central collaborative proposal
Integrated development replacing the office spaces
Play the City in La Gazette 01
Play the City in La Gazette 02