Old world, new world: Lessons from the past and future

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Rijkmuseum
The Nightwatch By Rembrandt
The Night Watch by Rembrandt

It is a stretch to connect art (and architectural) history to construction marketing, so several hours at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might lead to inner insights but hardly provides content directly relevant to readers here. Yet, as we looked at the Rembrandt and Van Gogh’s original works — and countless other Dutch artists from the Netherlands’ Golden Age, I am reminded of how little we experience transcends five centuries, yet how important these time-transporting insights can be to understanding the future.

Amsterdam, of course, has led the way in other life aspects, including elements I’m not prone to test with immediate first-hand experience. Prostitution may be legal in the Red Light district here, but what I can see in reading about it suggests that this neighbourhood is just as seedy and desperate as red light districts where the drugs and sex are not officially sanctioned. And, yes, you can get something more potent than coffee in “coffee shops” in this town.

In a more practical level, Amsterdam has foreshadowed urban planning concepts now catching on in North America, especially the extensive acceptance and use of bicycles, with strong restrictions on automobile use in the central areas. Today, as well, I plan to visit a 3D house construction project, to see how this experimental technology may, in the not-to-distant future, reshape the building industry.

Vacations can be enlightening, and transcend perceptions. The “why” we are here is explained by the arcane rules of frequent flier points program, and my desire to experience some first class travel (in a three-class plane). But the discoveries remind me that visiting really old European cities can awaken both humility and confidence in the future. There is much to see and learn from the past to apply to the future.

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