Yearbook Landscape Architecture and Town Planning

At last it’s out: The new edition of ‘Landscape Architecture and Town Planning in The Netherlands 01-03’ from Thoth Publishers. Recognisable design and almost identical to the previous four volumes. Containing some forty well-chosen, inspiring and not-so-inspiring projects, the book offers a survey of town planning in the Netherlands today.

The aim of the selection commission (Ruud Brouwers, Ton Hartman, Sylvia Karres, Martin Knuijt and Frits Palmboom, and chaired by Tineke Blok) was to present a number of innovative, alert and critical designs that could serve as models for other designers. A feature this year, in comparison with earlier volumes, is the large number of completed schemes. Despite the recession, quality still seems to get built. The designers of these plans are the by now familiar, established offices like West 8, H+N+S and BVR. Only one design for a Vinex district has been included: the castles of Haverleij. Given the scale and impact of the many Vinex locations, it’s worth considering why more of these projects weren’t included. Despite the mediocre standard of the average Vinex district, it merits more discussion here, all the more so since this yearbook purports to be an overview.

The book is spiced up by ten essays that examine a number of relevant new developments. Ivan Nio, for example, describes the difficult search for new forms of collectivism in urban design. Further on, the book includes a number of innovative projects that address this theme, among them Friezenlaan in Tilburg and the new village-like settlements of Techum and Cronenburgh. In another essay, archaeologist Jan Kolen offers a sharp analysis of the dilemmas that come with built heritage, the Belvedere government paper on cultural history, and the harking back to a ‘lost world’. The static-looking map of the Netherlands accompanying the essay shows that almost half of the country is considered valuable (and therefore sacrosanct) from a cultural-history perspective – a dubious state of affairs for what is a relatively new and artificial landscape.

The forty selected projects are divided into seven categories: urban expansion plans, city restructuring, parks and gardens, public space, work areas, infrastructure and regional plans, and designs for rural areas. The volume includes many restructuring plans that address not only 1960s housing districts and former factory areas but also renovated city parks like Erasmus Park in Amsterdam. There’s also an un-Calvinistic ‘extreme make-over’ for the centre of Lelystad. Urban restructuring is clearly where the work lies in the future. The book rightly points out that an understanding of the past is essential if we’re to come up with adequate responses to this new challenge. That is not to say that designs should simply copy the past. Every one of the ten selected plans in this category displays a clear approach to the problem.

The plans in the category public space are something of a disappointment, and the selection commission deemed just three designs worthy of inclusion. Does this have something to do with shrinking budgets? Or has the much-praised integral approach to outside space degenerated into a loveless, cosmetic, and routine procedure? The simple but very pleasantly designed Friezenlaan plan forms a welcome exception, as does the promising scheme for the Csaar Peter district in Amsterdam, which is still under construction.

In the category infrastructure, two new public transport routes are featured one after the other: an interesting ‘View from the road’ study for the A12 motorway, and the rather three-dimensional plan for Sijtewende in Voorburg.

The last category, regional plans, presents a number of modest though interesting plans in which water takes central stage. It’s a pity that a separate essay doesn’t delve more deeply into the theme of water, for example within the framework of developments like Meerstad near Groningen or housing development outside the dikes.

The brand awareness of the biennial ‘Landscape Architecture and Town Planning in The Netherlands 01-03’ now reaches far beyond Dutch shores. In addition to the bilingual European edition, a Chinese edition is already on sale in China! In short, a worthwhile purchase for anyone who seriously wants to get involved with spatial design.