Form Follows Finance – The City as a Spreadsheet



What are the costs of a building or urban development? How do financial flows influence the appearance of the city? For many people, this is a black box. In the exhibition Form Follows Finance – The City as a Spreadsheet, we delve into the history of Amsterdam’s leasehold system, provide insights into the construction costs of recently completed buildings, and look to the future with the impact of climate risks on various neighbourhoods in Amsterdam.



Due to the leasehold system and municipal land ownership, the City of Amsterdam can generate revenue from construction projects. Through the Equalization Fund (Vereveningsfonds), the municipality uses these revenues to finance unprofitable projects. In this exhibition, we map out construction costs, square meter prices, and land revenues, and investigate how quality requirements in tenders shape buildings.

A look into the future reveals a lot of uncertainty. The City of Amsterdam’s land positions are finite. Meanwhile, climate risks are becoming more significant. (How long) will banks and insurers continue to financially guarantee construction projects in risky areas of the city? And (how) can we continue to build if traditional sources of income in construction come under pressure?

Save the date!

On the afternoon of Friday, July 5, we are organizing a mini-symposium from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM in collaboration with our exhibition partners, featuring Follow the Money and a film by HouseEurope. The exhibition will be officially opened at 5:15 PM by Carolien Schippers, Director of Land and Development for the City of Amsterdam, followed by a reception until 7:30 PM.

Starting at 7:30 PM, we will open the exhibition The Sensitive City by Architect in Residence Jacopo Grilli with a short lecture program (in English).

Background story

Everyone is familiar with the famous credo “Form Follows Function,” which advocates for a clear relationship between a building and its purpose. A recognisable office as an office, a house that looks like a house. But we can equally assert that it is not only function that determines the form of a building, but also the financial flows materialised within it.

Looking back over the past century and a half, we see a period where the government was responsible for building large quantities of houses, schools, cultural facilities, and public spaces on substantial public land (roughly between 1920 and 1990). This was followed by a more recent period where many public properties were transferred to the market (roughly between 1990 and 2025).

In recent decades, the range of financing forms (within a neoliberal context) has expanded enormously. Housing legislation and new living arrangements enable new financial constructs in borrowing and renting (from housing cooperatives to friends’ contracts, from foreign investors to anarcho-capitalists). This exhibition presents the relationship between financial flows and buildings – and how it manifests. In the construction world, we see the relationship between money and form in various ways. Under the pressure of higher material and construction costs, homes are becoming smaller. Certain housing types or energy-saving measures become more common, driven by subsidies or tax incentives. In the background, money plays a role that we cannot always comprehend or see. For example, how is the land price determined? How do tender requirements influence form? How are construction costs or environmental impacts calculated?

We now seem to be in a period where the market no longer wants to (or can) bear the risks associated with building alone. The costs of sustainability requirements, climate change, and societal demands (affordability, accessibility) are too high. The quality of construction is increasingly being questioned (from squatter movements to urban boxification, from the Building Agreement to True Pricing).

Thus, the call for government intervention, even in the Amsterdam region, is growing louder. However, the government has few steering tools left. The land still owned by the City of Amsterdam is running out, and so are the opportunities to profit from it. Much regulation is determined at a supralocal level. The impact of climate and energy transitions is hard to foresee. In short, how are we going to pay for this?

In collaboration with, among others:
  • City of Amsterdam, Land & Development: Ten years of tender policy in words and images, or: how tender criteria shape form
  • Follow The Money: The effects of climate risks on loans, both to investors and individuals
  • Scape Agency: Blockchain technology as the great equalizer in financing and investment
  • Space & Matter: CrowdBuilding as a social, accessible financing form for residential people
  • Carlijn Kingma: The Waterworks of our money
  • HouseEurope!, IABR, and Academy of Architecture: On reuse as new value
Practical info:

Location: Arcam, Prins Hendrikkade 600
Dates: 6 July – 10 November 2024
Opening hours
Tuesday – Sunday, 1-5 pm

Tickets Arcam (all exhibitions included)
Students: € 2.00
0-18 years: € 0.00
accompanying person of a visitor with a disability: € 0,00
Entrance with I Amsterdam City Card: €0,00

Arcam is wheelchair accessible. All floors are accessible via our lift and there is an adapted toilet on the ground floor. If required, we also offer assistance, please feel free to contact us at

Website by HOAX Amsterdam