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Giant billboards may keep Amsterdam off World Heritage list

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August 13th, 2009 | Last updated: September 12th, 2011

Amsterdam, Aug. 13, 2009 — Unesco advisers say they were ‘shocked’ by the sight of huge billboard and video screens covering buildings in Amsterdam’s historic city center, which has been nominated for World Heritage Site status.

The ads cover scaffolding erected during the renovation or cleaning of buildings throughout the center of Amsterdam. Printed on canvas they take the place of safety netting. More often than not the giant ads cover much of the building’s facade.

Billboard in Amsterdam
Billboards in Amsterdam.
© Copyright DutchAmsterdam.nl. Want to use this photo?

In some instances, the screen-prints consist of photographs of the building behind the scaffolding, such as at Central Station, where the canvas protects the building’s façade during building activities for the new underground metro line.

More often than not, though, the screens catch the eye with giant advertisements.

Unesco has strict rules governing the preservation of sites on its World Heritage list, and some people are concerned the outsized ads could lead the organization to reject Amsterdam’s nomination.

Ad revenue

Preservationists and other concerned Amsterdammers have long expressed their displeasure with the ads. However, Els Ping, chairwoman for Amsterdam’s Center borough — in which most of the ads are seen — has said the billboard provide a much needed source of income.

But local preservationist Rudolf Rijpma disputes this, telling NRC Handelsblad “The borough initially predicted 1.5 million euros in revenue from facade advertising. That’s neither here nor there. It is the owners of the houses and the advertising company Mega Media that are making all the money. The borough has gotten 200,000 euros at most. That’s not even enough to renovate one historic building.”

One Amsterdam council member stated that in some cases scaffolding has been erected merely to provided advertising space.

Els Ping disputes this, while acknowledging Rijpsma’s claim, saying that income “has been less than expected.” She nevertheless says that she prefers the ads over the unadorned safety netting that usually covers the scaffolding.

The Center borough also suggested that the promise of advertising revenue may actually stimulate building owners to renovate their buildings.

Europe’s largest LED advertising screen

Meanwhile, local TV station AT5 recently announced it will start broadcasting some of its programs via a giant video screen at Rembrandtplein. At 114 square meters the LED screen is Europe’s largest LED display.

Permission to place the screen, which dominates this historic square, was said to have been granted by mistake. A spokesperson for the Center borough, which for years tried to prevent the screen from being placed, agreed that the screen is too large for that location, but said that the borough can not legally cancel the permit.


Last June Het Parool reported that — with the nomination for the Unesco World Heritage Site list in mind — the Center borough is eyeing a ban on scaffolding ads at Dam square and the canals.

Amsterdam billboards

Ads in other locations would have to be toned down so that they are less dominant. The council suggests ads should cover only 50% the scaffolding, with the rest of the screen carrying a photograph of the building’s façade.

The Vereniging Vrienden van de Amsterdamse Binnenstad (Foundation Friends of downntown Amsterdam) says a 50% reduction in advertising doesn’t mean much. It wants the borough to ban scaffolding advertising altogether.

Unesco nomination

The city’s desire to see its historic heart, along with Amsterdam’s unique ‘belt of canals,’ placed on Unesco’s World Heritage Site list is not shared by everyone.

Some opponents believe that a World Heritage Site listing will come with rules and regulations that may damage Amsterdam’s laid-back reputation. A few consider the city’s efforts at combatting organized crime in the Red Light District as an attempt to gentrify the area in order to curry favor with Unesco.

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