Page 1





Fig 2. Timeline by author




I would like to thank my supervisor Dr Max Sternberg for his continued guidance and invaluable expertise.


I would also like to thank my tutors, Ingrid Schrรถder and Aram Mooradian, without whom this work would not have been possible.

An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil Examination in Architecture & Urban Design 2015-2017

ARTIFICIAL NATURE AND THE LANDSCAPE OF DUTCH ARCHITECTURE IN THE 1990s CONTENTS Introduction Chapter 1: The Rise of Neo-Liberalism and the Reassessment of the Modern -

The Rise of Neo-Liberalism


The Reassessment of Modernity


Second Modernity in the Netherlands

Chapter 2: Rethinking the Edge: Residential Homogenisation and Urbanisation -

Patchwork Landscape


Artificiality in the Dutch Countryside – Improving on Nature


Perceptions of First, Second and Third Nature


Urbanisation in Holland


The Randstad as a Case Study

Chapter 3: OMA, West8 and MVRDV: Critical Proposals -

Common Themes


Critical Approach


Polemic Proposals


Fig 3. Artificial Nature, Dutch Flevoland

Abstract In this essay I will discuss the unique conditions of the Dutch landscape and the themes that played major roles in shaping the country as we know it. These themes break down into three chapters. First, the unique socio-political environment in the Netherlands during the 1990s and the search for a ‘second modernity’. Secondly, a breakdown of the Dutch territory in a physical sense, with an argument that there is no natural landscape in the Netherlands and that it should instead be understood as an artificial nature. Within this I will also analyse the development and unique formation of the Dutch urban conurbation as a response to these conditions. Finally, a critical analysis of hypothetical projects which question the direction of Dutch architecture and its place in wider architectural discourse. Through consciously critiquing these themes and existing architectural proposals in this essay, I hope to inform my design work and use this as a framework for my own investigation.

Introduction “The outlying residential areas in this country steer a middle course between a proletarian version of Los Angeles and a cranked-up allotment garden complex of the type found in the working-class Rotterdam areas. They are typical Dutch compromises: not spacious enough to pass for a bona fide American-style suburb and too spacious to possess the intimacy and manageability of truly compact development”.

(Hulsman, 2000)

The Netherlands is widely known for its large scale engineering feats which defy the forces of nature, however, as urbanisation in Europe’s most densely populated nation increases, the boundaries between nature and man-made interventions are pushed continually closer together. This juxtaposition creates new conditions for the built environment and challenges our understanding of nature within landscape. Across the world we are seeing new forces of globalisation resulting in the fragmentation of historic cities into the countryside, the blurring of programs and increased pressures on landscape and the environment (Lootsma, 1999). Rem Koolhaas is particularly critical of the endemic condition in the Netherlands, where sporadic growth from the cities into the countryside has seen the landscape become filled with the “lowest quality and least dense architecture”. Even protected regions such as the Groene Hart are being populated with homogenous, repetitive and non-descript developments which give the country a sense of “semi-fullness or quasi-emptiness” without intent (Koolhaas, 1993). By taking Koolhaas’ proclamation as a hypothesis I intend to investigate the accuracy of his statement and provide an architectural response that will simultaneously analyse the Dutch condition and form a response to this specific condition. The world has always seen Holland as a place of progressive cultural and social experimentation and the favourable economic and political climate of the early 1990s allowed architects with very individual preoccupations to form part of a wider identifiable ‘Dutch’ approach to architecture. The cultural reform of the late 20th century demanded a reassertion of the Modern, which would form an explicit architectural response to the dynamics of social and economic modernisation in a country that has been extensively, and somewhat aimlessly, rebuilding since World War II (Grafe, 2005). In the publication SuperDutch Bart Lootsma argues 8

that the emergence of a generation of young, exciting but untested architects in the 1990s was as an inevitable response to a new phase European societies were entering off the back of communication and infrastructural developments. This generation, which includes the likes of MVRDV, West 8, NL Architects, Van Berkel & Bos (now UN Studio) and many more, would adopt distinct individual approaches with optimism and zeal as they tackled projects from across the architectural spectrum (Lootsma, 2005). Just as the social and political conditions are major factors in the approach of Dutch architects, so too is the physical form of the country. When talking about the Dutch landscape we often imagine a scene with the pastoral innocence of the 17th century paintings by Jacob van Ruisael, laden with clichĂŠ Dutch constructs such as windmills, baroque steeples and panoramic skies. However it can be argued that in recent times the landscape has become less of a painting and more of a landscape mosaic, which has been uniquely configured to simultaneously alleviate the pressures of flooding and also geared towards regulating urbanism (Feddes, 1996). In order to appropriately assess the extent to which urbanisation is affecting the landscape in the Netherlands (and viceversa), it is important to understand the landscape itself. Raymond Williams argued that a “working country is hardly ever a landscapeâ€? and suggests that the very idea of landscape implies separation and observation, which raises some challenging contradictions about what purpose a landscape serves, especially for arguably the most cultivated territory on the planet (Williams, 1975 p. 120). The constant regurgitation of land, from flood plain to polder to habitable land and back again has provided an engineered framework through which nature, and in turn landscape, is mediated and it is perhaps this sense of a fabricated nature which has had the most telling effect on Dutch urban developments.



Fig 4. Dutch Suburbia VINEX District, Bergen


Chapter 1

The Rise of Neo-Liberalism and the Reassessment of the Modern The Rise of Neo-Liberalism Dutch architecture of the 1990s is a remarkable success story, however this shouldn’t surprise us. A wave of young Dutch architects responded with fervour to the domestic social and infrastructural challenges they were tasked with. They took the mantle of a previously benign Dutch architectural movement of the 20th century and located it centrally within international architectural discourse as they semi-consciously, but not explicitly, defined the SuperDutch movement.1 Their unorthodox design approaches and experiments became the trademark of a modern form of cultural export, as Dutch architecture became internationally known for its pragmatic, self-assured and uncompromisingly modern style (Grafe, 2005). It was the unique social and political environment which created a vacuum into which these architects were drawn. From the 1980s the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) party applied Keynesian social-economic policies to make the Netherlands one of the most developed welfare states in Europe. However, the Dutch drive towards neoliberalism intensified after 1994 when a government coalition of the long-time reigning socially-democratic party PvdA and the rightwing, secular VVD party saw the housing and labour markets liberalised, and railways, healthcare, social security and pensions privatised.2 The liberalisation of the Dutch housing market began in 1989, when the dissolution of social housing associations (which accounted for 40% of the market) transformed the market almost entirely into the private sector. The unanimous acceptance of the free market meant that any criticism aimed at ‘the system’ or ‘society’ was now at best ventilated through social order (Ibelings, 2000). Although this condition was not uniquely Dutch, what is remarkable is the willingness and speed with which forms of collective control were being forgotten. The well-established system of public debate and control of Dutch planning left the market as the only

1 Bart Lootsma coined the term SuperDutch in his book SuperDutch (2000) and uses it to describe a generation of architects whose innovative and experimental work proliferated during the 1990s. It includes; Wiel Arets, UN Studio, Erick Van Egeraat, Atelier Van Lieshout, Mecanoo, MVRDV, Neutelings Riedijk, NOX, OMA, Oosterhuis, Koen Van Velsen and West 8. 2 12

mechanism for regulating housing in Europe’s most densely populated nation (Grafe, 2005). As a result the cultural setting that the Dutch architects faced for their projects was at once a microcosm of very specific conditions and also a reflection of wider Dutch society, as they grappled with tumultuous economic and political decisions on a local and national level. Grafe highlights the wholesale change in Dutch culture at the time, critically identifying the period and catalysts for transformation, as the Dutch went from a “conformist, conservative nation of groups locked into their respective subcultures to an open secular society with a vehemence that was without parallel or precedent in Western Europe”. The outcome was that the Dutch renounced any sense of cultural resistance and they saw a sudden, self-imposed modernisation take hold across all sectors of Dutch society. Set against this background, the explicit rejection of architectural tradition during the 1990s is not so much a reassessment of the inter-war modern avantgarde, but instead a response to the dynamic social and economic modernisation of a nation (Grafe, 2005 p.100).

Fig 5. WOZOCO Building - Amsterdam “Pragmatic, self-assured and uncompromisingly modern” MVRDV (1997)


The Reassessment of Modernity – How modern is Dutch Architecture? The Netherlands was becoming increasingly exposed to internationalisation from the 1980s onwards, which was to have a significant effect on every aspect of culture and society. The delayed formation of the NAI (Nederlands Architecture Institute) in 1988 helped kick-start a race to catch up with international trends. It was at this time that a reflection on national traditions and identity caused a reassessment of modernity as the Dutch considered what they might contribute to international discourse.3 Lootsma suggests that any awareness of tradition was dealt with in a recalcitrant way as the architects examined the international principles of modern architecture in a contemporary Dutch context.4 The seventy year period of Dutch Modernism is scattered with rich buildings however it lacked any definable and concerted initiatives. Rem Koolhaas tried to break free from that era when he declared that it was “an architecture without aims, a triumphalist modernism totally harmless, its teeth removed, sterilised. Nobody will get worked up about it.” Koolhaas said in 1990, which set in motion a reaction against the old Modernism of the 20th century and prompted a search for a new style to take into the 21st century (Van Dijk, 2000). Many architectural movements are defined by the principles of a previous era – either as a reaction or a continuation of their predecessor. Grafe suggests the Dutch’s lack of any real association with a previous movement means their work is “blissfully unrestricted from the ideological battlefield of the previous decade” (Grafe, 2005). This was highlighted in 1990 when Rem Koolhaas organised a symposium at Delft University titled “Hoe modern is de Nederlandse Architectuur?” (How modern is Dutch Architecture?). At the event students and architects questioned to what extent the Dutch practice of “idolising pre-war modernism” was still a style that bore any relation to contemporary modernity. In the absence of definable style prior to 1990, the responses “quote extensively from the catalogue of modern architecture of the interbellum period and the 1950s, referring symbolically to the social housing tradition of the 1920s and 30s”. Following the symposium it was suggested by Rem Koolhaas that the lazy imitations of modernism were in danger of a “new descent into a maelstrom of modernity”, which only served to heightened the awareness of a lack of tradition (Lootsma, 2000, p.17).5 3 Dialogue with foreign architects became commonplace from the 1980s onwards thanks to the NAI. Lootsma, SuperDutch, Rotterdam 2000, p13. 4 Hans Ibelings characterised the Dutch entry for the 1991 Venice Biennale as “modernism without dogma”. Hans Ibelings, Modernism without Dogma, Rotterdam 1991. 5 Bernard Leupen et al. Hoe modern is de Nederlandse architectuur?, Rotterdam 1990, p.11-20 14

Second Modernity Second Modernity and the theory of Reflexive Modernisation were terms coined by sociologists Scott Lash, Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck to describe the period following the modern period. These terms go some way to clarifying the developments of Dutch architectural theory of the late 20th century as well as wider Dutch cultural movements from the 1980s and early 1990s, as it becomes increasingly clear that the foundations for a second modernity were laid some time before it occurred (Sassen, 1991). According to Lash et al we understand first modernity as the industrial epoch that formed the majority of the 20th century, where traditional social forms were embedded through industrial ordering. While the reflexive modernity breaks up the premise of industrial society and opens paths to another modernity – the second modernity. Reflection in this sense means ‘self-confrontation’ which allows a realisation that social transformation is happening as a victory for capitalism but without the class struggle as suggested by Marx.6 Lash stresses this is not a result of the failed utopias of socialist society and the first modernist era, but rather a revolution that is bypassing political debates and decisions in parliament. Consequently, the second modernity becomes a new environment built around infrastructure, transport and polycentric nodes (Beck, Giddens & Lash, 1994). Roemer van Toorn summarised this theory succinctly when he wrote, “Social inequality and social class are no longer determined by one’s position in the production process but by one’s place in the information network”.

6 See Harmony and Conflict in Modern Society by J. Pen for further reading on conflict theory and how the Dutch circumvented the conflict of social classes as prescribed by Marxist theory. 15

Chapter 2

Rethinking the Edge: Residential Homogenisation and Urbanisation Patchwork Landscape It is often claimed that the Dutch territory is ‘shrinking’. Rather than refer to its proximity to the water level, this tends to refer to the growing sense of ‘fullness’ within the country (Hooimeijer, 2005). The Netherlands has been steadily bloating its intermediate spaces to fulfil the often quoted mantra that it is the ‘most densely populated nation in Europe’. The ‘fullness’ is a result of low density urban sprawl encroaching into the enclaves of the countryside, where almost every patch of usable space is monopolised. The growing fullness of the Dutch landscape is highlighted through an increasingly acute contrast in typologies, as the landscape has become a complex patchwork of ecological, scenic, industrial and recreational topographies (Lootsma, 1999). The landscape that emerges is a physical framework which structures often contradictory programs through regulated forms and, as a result, the countryside – arguably more so than the historic city - has become a place that is the result of innovation and transformation to accommodate the site’s individual program (Van Dijk, 2000).7 What happens is logistical and site specific issues like zoning, program and water management tend to be the driving forces, rather than designs that are the product of formal, aestheticised visions (Berrizbeita, 1999). Adriaan Geuze of West 8 comments on the surrealist nature of this patchwork to accommodate even the most disparate functions. He describes the cemetery as “an urban fringe phenomenon on the same footing in society as vegetable gardens, breakers’ yards and gypsy encampments” and writes about the analogy between graves and tended vegetable beds, mortal remains and wrecks of cars, corpses and social outcasts (Lootsma, 1999). To further understand the Dutch landscape as a patchwork, Alex Wall suggests the Netherlands has seen its countryside undergo a “synthetic regionalisation of its components, bringing together polders, reclaimed farmland, greenhouses

7 Van Dijk suggests this “consciousness of the landscape is a palimpsest of man-made interventions and a geographical patchwork of fragments of occupation activities”. Dijk, Hans Van., and A. Geuze, Colonizing the Void, Rotterdam 1996 p.12. 16

Fig 6. Patchwork Topography Boskoop, Zuid-Holland

and compact cities to comprise a functioning matrix of connective parts.� In this instance the landscape has become an active surface, structuring the conditions for new relationships and interactions among the things it supports. This is furthered when he proposes that the term landscape no longer invokes the innate pastoral innocence it used to, but instead reflects an environment of not only objects and spaces but also dynamic processes that move through them (Wall, 1999).8

8 Also see Willem-Jan Neuteling’s Tapijtmetropool (Carpet-Metropolis/Patchwork metropolis) concept 1990, where the composite structure of the surface of the earth and its contemporary patterns of use were idealised as unavoidable and therefore a desirable concept. 17

Artificiality in the Dutch Countryside – Improving on Nature “In Holland, nature does not exist, only landscape”

(Kees Christiaanse, 2001)

The Dutch landscape is often rebuilt and it is this sense of cyclical construction that gives an inventive approach to the environment. A large portion of the territory lies below sea level and throughout history the Dutch people have used artificial means to protect their land from flooding. It is estimated that currently around 18% of the Netherlands is re-claimed land from the sea, which has been systematically drained to make it usable. Other areas have subsided as a result of centuries of cultivation or been flooded as a consequence of the rising sea levels. Presently, modern forms of water management, such as; dikes, dams, sluices and quays combine to form a unique nationwide hydraulic system. Between 1927 and 1967 the Netherlands added 1,600km2 to its territory, with 1/6th of the country

Fig 7. Built environment, Veluwemeer Aquaduct


covered by bodies of water while of the remaining 34,000km2, 27% is constantly below sea level. (Metz and V. D. Heuvel, 2012). Such geographical factors are influential determinants in both the physical shape of the landscape and the social perception of nature. Perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world, the built environment is a derivative of the landscape. However, according to Hans Van Dijk, “the planned colonisation of Dutch polders negates the innocent receptivity many avant-guard urbanists dreamed of.”9 What happened instead was the re-claimed land became a contested battlefield where many parties, such as; political parties, economic lobbies, institutional networks, community planning groups and civil engineers, competed for control and had to settle for compromises. The existing conditions tend to be a consequence of deliberate design decisions in a previous generation and a result of an “unpredictable planning machine” (Van Dijk, 2000). Hans Ibelings argues that this unusually dominant infrastructure implies nature is a manipulable component and consequently the concepts of naturalness and artificiality have lost much of their original meaning and are not necessarily manifest opposites any more. He even suggests the red and green topographical maps, which depict opposite land uses are now considered equal components of a larger artificial landscape (Ibelings, 2000). To expand on this we can begin to understand the contrast between town and country as different nuances of artificiality (Polo, 1994). Rem Koolhaas recently spoke out about the artificiality of the Dutch landscape in its most literal sense. He suggested that farming in the Netherlands had now simply become an extension of the city, where farmers work like city workers – from an office, directing drone tractors on digitalised pixels of land for different programs of agriculture and husbandry. The vast swaths of greenhouses which cover the Dutch countryside are the epitome of artificial nature; detached from seasonal cycle and housed in adjustable climates, they provide artificially induced crops all year round (Koolhaas, 2014).

9 Van Dijk suggests the re-claimed land might wrongly be perceived to have the adventurous spirit with which Dutch settlers occupied the “New Land” in the 19th century America and founded NewAmsterdam. 19

Perceptions of First, Second and Third Nature The modernist laws of First and Second nature provide an understanding of our own actions in relation nature and hence the relationship between city and landscape, town and country, centre and periphery; where First Nature is defined by terrestriality and Second Nature by territoriality. To expand, first nature is understood as the unblemished natural landscape, untouched by man and recognisable as terrestriality. Second nature refers to the material landscape, as a process of production and particular consequence of the industrial era, which finds expression in territoriality. Within this definition, nature’s varying forms are pluralised as human interplay is positioned in the two nodes of nature’s influence (Luke, 1999).10 Arie Graafland writes widely about these theories and cites the necessity to expand on John Dixon Hunt’s theory and proposes we include Tomothy Luke’s proposal of Third Nature as a response to the digital and media sphere of the 21st century. Third nature’s “electromagnetic spectrum” bridges a gap between the global and local geographic barriers built by first and second nature. Here the domains are not constructed by mountains, seas, walls or buildings but by RAM, microchips, dominions with disks and companies with code. (Luke, 1999)

Fig 8. Cultivated land, Kamerik farms 10 See John Dixon Hunt’s Garden Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory for a fuller explanation of the cultural landscape as derived from Cicero’s ‘second nature’ in De natura deorum. 20

To place this theory in the context, the spatially designed countryside of the Netherlands is a place of territoriality, of second nature. Since the Frisians first began draining dikes in the 11th century water-management has always been the overarching condition. Within this the Dutch understand that their nature is not a natural given but exists by virtue of human ingenuity. Ibelings suggests that “within Dutch society there is an awareness that the artificiality of every spatial intervention is part of a collective consciousness and deeply rooted in the mental attitudes of those who design it. As a result the Dutch are less inclined than other nations to see nature and culture as mutually exclusive� (Ibelings, 2000 p.14).

The Dutch Metropolis For the Netherlands, as with many European and American conurbations, the process of urbanisation fundamentally changing during the 20th century. Traditionally, the dominant form of urbanisation was concentric growth with suburban peripheries closely built to the historic city centres.11 However, towards the end of the 20th century a sea change was occurring in this process, as urban areas sprawled out eccentrically in undirected clusters. Globalisation has brought new level of mobility, through infrastructure and digital communication which has caused contemporary thinking to challenge the notion that the city is considered as single unit, but rather an overlapping and interlocking myriad of social, spatial and conceptual functions with indistinct borders. Critics suggest that empirical analysis (geographic, economic, political or social) does a disservice to the complexity of flows and fluxes we see in modern urban conurbation and that in order to understand the city we need to account for this in a new way, where the city has become a process that links an archipelago of networks, people, materials and infrastructure in time and space (Graafland, 2015). For these cities, a differentiated pattern of urbanisation is emerging and producing a fundamentally new urban landscape. Networked, polycentric urban regions form not only in the vicinity of metropolitan centres but also around small and medium sized cities in the hinterland (Schmid, 2004). According to Edward Soja, where we could once speak of the city as a system within a national system of

cities, what is emerging now can be better described as regional city networks 11 See Susanne Komossa’s The Dutch Urban Block and the Public Realm p.189-209 for a detailed explanation of the Dutch Compact City. 21

connecting into a hierarchical global web of city regions. Soja cites Ian Chambers’ analysis that the contemporary city is becoming increasingly unmoored from its spatial specificity and increasingly complicit in our perception of the landscape (Soja, 2000, p.150).

“With this semiotic extension in details, and a simultaneous loss in focus, references to an “outside” increasingly fall away. At the most there is the sweeping urban fringe of endless suburbs, satellite towns, and ribbon development, or else inner-city housing projects, unofficial subterranean economies … But the earlier separation between an obvious “natural” exterior and an “artificial” urban interior weakens and tends towards collapse. The referents that once firmly separated the city from the countryside, the artificial from the “natural”, are now indiscriminately reproduced as potential signs and horizons within a common topography. It is this habitat, the metropolis, as much an imaginary reality as a real place, that has become the myth of our times”.


(Chambers, 1990)

Case Study: De Randstad

“The Randstad is regarded as the model city of late twentieth-century culture. It is the unfolded metropolis, a variegated and well-connected-conglomerate of enclaves that reveals how mass culture has brought a historical delta to life�. (Geuze, 2000) A pertinent case study for the development of landscape in relation to urban development is the Randstad region in the west of Holland. The literal translation of Randstad is Ringcity, which is an apt name for the conurbation. This metropolitan region accounts for 7.1 million inhabitants and is comprised of four major cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and De Hague which form a rim around a large government protected green area in the centre known as the Groene Hart (Green Heart). Within the enclosure of these cities are some smaller towns but generally the land is used for agriculture, husbandry and recreational purposes (Boelens et al,. 2010). Notably the invasion of this protected region has begun and been steadily increasing for some time, however, as the peripheries are dotted with tight clusters of housing and large scale infrastructure, such as motorways and railways cut through the Green Heart and are allowing the proliferation of more settlements (Boeijenga et al,. 2008). To place this in a European context, the Randstad is paradigmatic with its connection to high speed European rail networks, international freight links and access to a major airport all essential components. Similar metropolitan developments to the Randstad are occurring in the German Ruhr area, the Flemish Diamond and the Lille-Roubaix region, which are contrasting developments to the traditional large European cities like Paris or London (Hall and Pain, 2006). These large metropoles gradually spread and absorb increasingly distant towns and villages in a tentacular manner.12 Their growth is a physical process for the periphery that liberates the interstitial spaces for new appropriation. Areas that used to be docks, factories, shunting yards, abattoirs, auction halls and power stations form new civic spaces as a result of the growth (Hulsman, 2000).

12 If current growth rates continue then 50% of the Randstad will be urbanised by 2050, compared to 19% in 2000. Boelens, 2010. 23

Fig 9. De Randstad urban conurbation West Holland


Through the growth of the Randstad the traditional understanding of the Dutch city as a historical centre surrounded by post-war suburbs has changed and been replaced by a polycentric sprawl into the countryside where several centres are connected by networks of transportation and communication (Ibelings, 2000). What this means for a metropolitan region like the Randstad is the distinction between city and countryside become blurred as the flows of people and infrastructure have become more significant than the static political and spatial boundaries (Wall, 1999). Much of the horizontal expansion can be seen in the countless new-build districts on the re-claimed polders which form the interstitial land between the historic cities. As the boundaries between city and the surrounding terrain have become more ambiguous, it has led to the proliferation of a non-agricultural countryside that Rem Koolhaas refers to as the ‘intermediate’ (Iconeye, 2014). In the ‘intermediate’ one typically finds new peripheral residential developments which are homogenous, compact urban clusters that have very little garden space. These centrally planned districts had notions of the ‘compact city’ and were meant to be the “paragons of ‘the new urbanity’” (Hulsman, 2000 p.15)



Fig. 10 Growth of De Randstad 1970

2000 25

Chapter 3

OMA, West8, MVRD: Critical Proposals “Is it possible to reconsider this situation by carrying densities to an extreme and ruffling the texture with inserts or polarities? Is it possible to imagine ultra-dense areas that can soak up programme like a sponge and save our pastoral landscape from being totally suburbanised? Might we go as far as to regard our territories as a confluence of areas with a dense and more permanent, near-monumental status and others with a much ‘lighter’ mode of urbanism? Can we examine the possibilities and impossibilities of these extremes and discover their prospects and limitations?”

(Maas, 1996)

In 1990 the Fourth Report on Spatial Planning was published, which was a 10 year plan (of sorts). The Dutch acronym for this report is VINEX, which is undoubtedly the most used word in Dutch urbanism of recent times. Initially the VINEX report decreed that 1 million new homes were to be built by 2005 on dozens of designated sites in the intermediate throughout the Netherlands. Many architects were critical of the suburban ‘matter’ which was filling up the countryside with “low-cost housing-with-gardens, low rent offices, warehouses, factory-style farms, motorcycling areas and other elements with a low-ish density”. They questioned the value of these low-density, lightweight urban forms that lacked clear organisation and which, despite their superficial difference, were very homogeneous. To counter this, firms like OMA, West 8 and MVRDV proposed projects which challenged the direction of Dutch planning and it’s preference for quantity over quality. From the 1980s the growth of the Randstad region was becoming an increasingly pressing issue, leading to seminal proposals by OMA and West 8 which questioned the value of the Green Heart as well as the success of the nationwide Dutch suburban VINEX proposals. In 1993 OMA presented a controversial proposal which instigated a discussion about the existing policies for treating new settlements as mere city extensions (Lootsma, 1999). The Point City and South City project led by Rem Koolhaas put forward two proposals taking housing policies to extreme scenarios focusing on the future urbanisation of the Netherlands. Point City relieved pressure on the existing cities of the Randstad by centralising the Green 26

Fig 11. De Randstad urban conurbation West Holland, by author

Heart as a new capital through an efficient infrastructural network. Koolhaas cuttingly remarked; “what is the point of having an empty heart?” South City, an alternative option, proposed to restrict all future urban development to the Southern half of the country. Primarily to become more inclusive within Europe but also to generate a void in the other half of the country that would respond to nature, leisure, history and tourism (OMA website, 2015). Through the project Koolhaas was critical of the existing policies, claiming the country had been dulled to its sense of territory thanks to the safety of the Deltaworks. He also drew attention to the fact that the existing cities were not designed to deal with the burden of urbanisation on the scale that was happening (Lootsma, 1999). A similarly polemic proposal was put forward by Geuze in 1995 for Alexanderpolder in Rotterdam when he opposed densification strategies by conversely enlarging the private realm. According to Van Dijk , Geuze was critical of the “process of decentralised cannibalisation of the hypocritically defended “green” area” through the uncontrollable appetite of suburbanisation (Van Dijk, 2000). West 8 built an enormous model of the 800,000 houses required by the VINEX and the result was “an endless sea of houses so vast that the individual layout of parts was completely submerged in the whole” (Lootsma, 1999). Through the 27

model Geuze mapped out the ‘texture’ of the Randstad by showing the patterns of the watercourses, polder structures, motorways, railways and ecological zones (Geuze, 1996). The horizontal dissemination was instantly problematic as these ‘maps’ highlighted the “void” spaces however Geuze argued that for the Dutch landscape, even areas that had previously been considered empty (or “void”), were part of a larger continuous re-arrangement of the map of the Netherlands in its entirety (Ascher, 2000).

Fig 7. 800,000 houses, West8


Conclusion It is difficult to be critical of the Netherlands. Generally speaking it is a nice place to live, with open-minded people, good healthcare and good schools. The voices of criticism tend to arise from the architects designing the spatial surroundings, rather than the residents themselves. However, they have a point. The intermediate landscape is being consumed by homogenous developments, and without due direction will result in a hinterland that serves little purpose. The archipelago style urbanisation of the Randstad and Groene Hart is in line with a second modernity of networks, communication and infrastructure. The increasing flows and autonomy of people will perpetuate the blurring of programs and, as the traditionally defined boundaries of cities become harder to find, one can picture the appropriation of all the interstitial spaces. The landscape mosaic that has been mentioned by architects and critics alike will form strange juxtapositions between surface programs. Consequently architects must simultaneously respond to demands for fixity and mobility in the periphery outside the old cities. Proposals like those by OMA and West 8 have highlighted the disparity between policy decisions for both the public and private realm and demand that urban and landscape are considered under the same terms. The recycled nature of the countryside is seeing a proliferation of ever more concentrated forms and typologies and although the colonisation of reclaimed land is not new in the Netherlands, the mobility of its inhabitants mean the pressure on previously unoccupied areas is accumulating rapidly. To a large degree the bucolic nature of landscape in the west of the Netherlands has been losing value for some time, with the Green Heart it’s last remaining legacy and one has to be concerned for the region’s future should the incessant sub-urbanisation continue to swallow up the landscape.


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Artificial landscape and the nature of dutch architecture stefan wolf  
Artificial landscape and the nature of dutch architecture stefan wolf