John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The ages of Dutch structures are shown as glorious, prismatic blasts in this obsessively detailed map.
What you're looking at above is not the viewfinder of the Hubble Telescope. It's a section of a map that shows every building in The Netherlands, all 9,866,539 of them, each color-coded by the age it was constructed. History buffs, pick up your jaws now and get exploring this crazily detailed visualization, which offers details for every structure at the click of a mouse button.
Here's the color key:
Bert Spaan, the maker of this nerdy freakshow, was inspired by that seminal piece of open-data historical cartography, Thomas Rhiel's horde of 320,000-something buildings in Brooklyn. The Netherlands version slides right in with a host of imitators, including age maps for Portland and the five boroughs of New York, although by comparison it's a bloated giant squeezing out the competition. I believe it's the largest map of its kind in existence – but used to think that about the New York wonder, too, so if anybody knows different please fling in a comment.
The data supporting this maddening masterpiece comes from The Netherlands's land registry, the Kadaster. The map sometimes has date discrepancies from what's promulgated in the larger historical record, but more or less it seems to be on target. Let's take a brief tour, beginning inside the angry red eye of canal-streaked Amsterdam. There, some buildings hail from the 13th century (and to believe the Kadaster, even a couple centuries before that):
In the timeworn heart of the city is the 1600s-era Beurs van Berlage building, former headquarters of what's reputed to be the oldest stock-swapping center in the world, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (now called Euronext):
The interior is quite impressive in an airline-hanger kind of way:
Bluish late-century growth overruns the municipality of Westland like architectural mildew, although you still can see hoary city centers embedded in the newer connective tissue:
This is the creaky city of Maastricht, home to the oldest church in the country (it's the chalk-red structure to the left of the central blue square):
Map created by Bert Spaan and hosted at CitySDK