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Early Holland

Amsterdam sand

Amsterdam is built on sand.

Public works almost always include sand — ripstop-nylon bags a meter-and-a-half cubic, full of sand, sitting on pallets as part of the materiel for construction.

Many streets and sidewalks in the city center are made of bricks tapped edgewise into leveled sand. This form of paving is remarkably stable; and easily reparable. With no mortar to break up, the pieces can merely be pried loose and resituated. Again, though, it is remarkable how stable these surfaces are. There are few irregularities to the level smoothness of most of them. This comes in part, of course, from the maintenance they receive. But part of it is in the nature of packed sand.

Vibration-packed, the sand supports bricks with remarkable stability. If they do sink out of alignment, their configuration is restorable without any kind of major work order.

And they look great.

This form of construction is not limited to maintenance of old works. This is often how new sidewalks and sometimes new road-surfaces are made.

New installation is obvious, because the telltale sign is all the excess sand lying about on top of the bricks. This comes not from carelessness, but design. Rainwater washes — and feet shuffle — and the apparently-excess dusting of sand falls into the cracks between the bricks. This packs the spaces more fully.

But the good clean Dutch sand isn't just for making foot-paths and roads.

To the west of downtown, towards Osdorp, where I lived, there is a large body of water called Sloterplas. This lake was created in the mid-20th Century for the resource that was needed to create a large part of greater metropolitan Amsterdam. Its sand was dredged and distributed about the surrounding area, to create the likes of modern Osdorp. The purpose of moving the sand was simply elevation — the land was below sea-level.

Now, it is slightly above — or at least slightly less below.

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