A society’s capacity to imagine landscape is an indicator of its ability to carry out a debate on desired spatial planning. That is the hypothesis discussed in this issue of OASE, Making Landscape Public / Making Public Landscape. Landscape is a ‘fluctuating’ objective in this regard. Sometimes it is the theme of spatial planning, of town and country, sometimes it is not. Often, landscape is nothing more than the indirect result of earlier technical measures, but it can also be a canvas on which to project ambitious designs and planning proposals. At present, partly driven by the new climatic challenges facing the Low Lands, landscape is once again the focal point of societal debate. The new challenges for landscape are drawing renewed cultural attention. An inspirational example of this is the sixth edition of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR), curated by landscape architect Dirk Sijmons. This past spring, the IABR made a strong case as a cultural venue at which – among many other topics, projects and proposals – discussions on climate can be translated into matters of concern through concrete proposals and projects. These proposals and projects create the space to carry out the debate on landscape in a public manner and in specific terms. The cultural work of the Biennale aspires to update and upgrade the new landscape agenda, so that the cultural perspective can also be adopted and translated into policies and projects.
In the spring of 2014, the editing team for this issue of OASE met with Dirk Sijmons, Frits Palmboom and Joachim Declerck at the IABR offices to (re)construe the debate on landscape in the Low Lands. More than anyone else, these three people have an idea of the changes that are going on in the Netherlands and Flanders, seeing as they have explicitly contributed to framing the spatial planning debate within a landscape setting, each in their own way.
Dirk Sijmons was co-author of the influential Plan Ooievaar (Stork Plan), conceived in 1986. This plan was the basis of the casco concept, and as such was a precursor of the layers approach1 that would later acquire an official place in Dutch spatial policy in the national spatial memorandum. It argues in favour of letting the spatially compelling, systemic nature of the subsoil structure and the geography steer the planning of the occupying structure. The object of the plan was to create a new, living landscape in which nature, soil hydrology and urban/agricultural development could all go together.2 Over the past several decades, Sijmons has contributed to the landscape debate in many ways: through his involvement with H+N+S Landscape Architects, which he co-founded in the wake of Plan Ooievaar; as Governmental Advisor on Landscape (2004-2008); as Professor of Landscape Architecture at Delft University of Technology (since 2012); and as curator of the sixth IABR (2014) with the theme ‘Urban by Nature’.
During the same period that Plan Ooievaar was published, Frits Palmboom sketched a crystal-clear picture of Rotterdam in his short book Rotterdam verstedelijkt landschap (Rotterdam, Urbanised Landscape, 1987). Rotterdam – and not Amsterdam for once – was presented as the perfect urban development laboratory, because a prosaic utilitarian outlook and a keen understanding of the geographical conditions here had led to an urban structure that could be understood not as the work of planners alone but of pragmatically continuing to build a dynamic structure.3 This view of landscape is evident in the many projects carried out in the Netherlands and Flanders by his firm Palmbout – Urban Landscapes, which he cofounded with Jaap van de Bout. Since 2013, Palmboom holds the Van Eesteren Chair at Delft University of Technology.
Through Architecture Workroom Brussels, a cultural think tank that he founded and directs, Joachim Declerck organises the workspaces and processes within which design and designers can contribute to the development of new answers to real societal and urban landscape challenges and transformations. The work and strategies developed in these studios (used by designers on their own or on commission) fuel the social and professional debate (and more and more frequently the policy) on urban landscape in the Netherlands and Flanders through exhibitions, publications, lectures and debates, with almost continual participation in the Rotterdam Biennale. Declerck is also a guest professor at the University of Ghent and teaches at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture in Versailles.
The hypothesis behind this issue of OASE is that landscape is a crucial medium through which the debate on ecology, climate, mobility, migration, culture and identity can and must be conducted. But in the more than 25 years that separate us from the Plan Ooievaar and Rotterdam verstedelijkt landschap, authority over landscape has changed drastically in the Netherlands. Whereas in the mid-1980s the government was still the main player, the designer still claimed a leading role, the building of new polders was still acceptable and the public still consisted of fairly homogenous and identifiable groups, today’s situation is radically different. Responsibilities for landscape and spatial planning have been relegated to a lower level, designers have lost their status, and public groupings have crumbled apart.
1. Reading Landscape
Frits Palmboom [FP]: Many people who read my book Rotterdam, verstedelijkt landschap thought I meant that the substratum produces itself entirely, and that there is no question of there being a cultural hand at work in this process. The book was indeed provocative, with the idea of putting the focus on the process of ordinary landscape formation and thus offering a counterbalance to Rotterdam as a showcase of modernism. It was an attempt to retrospectively conceptualise the ordinary shaping of landscape. I have always been aware that there are inherent systems within ordinary landscape that produce big lines, patterns that repeat themselves, that conform to locations and different junctures. This rather invisible layer – at least, in the debate or the historiography – was something I wanted to bring to the fore this time. In real terms, I noticed that after the idealistic CIAM [Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne] approach became less influential, Rotterdam returned to the pragmatism of continuing to build upon the existing city. Very practical: if the blocks are a little too close together, we’ll eliminate a few of the streets between them. It’s a tactic we nowadays call ‘adaptive’. I had a strong urge to look for long lines here – and found them in landscape. Rotterdam verstedelijkt landschap – ‘Rotterdam, Urbanised Landscape’ – was in fact descriptive. The project for this urbanised landscape came later.
Editors [Eds]: Since the publication of Rotterdam verstedelijkt landschap, it seems that reading the substratum has become central to your design practice. A drawing is an important tool in this regard. You use drawings as a way of getting very different parties to sit around the table, understand the landscape and all end up headed in the same direction. Given that the public has become so disparate and that parties seem to be striving for completely different interests, thus making situations increasingly complex, do you think your method can hold up in face of this increasing complexity?
FP: You in fact are asking about the use-by date of the drawing as a tool, such as we use it in our office. In Flanders, where we currently often work, we encounter a disordered, heavily privatised city – the lot-by-lot mode. My feeling is that the use-by date of the drawing has by no means arrived, and that in this complex context, it proves itself all the more. What can definitely be questioned, however, is the designer’s matter-of-course legitimacy and natural authority – the notion that everyone listens to you and does what you say. Designers have to prove themselves each time. For us, the drawing is the most important tool in that regard. We use drawings to seek a common ground with which all parties can identify. In the end, all urban development is a kind of ‘development after the fact’. There is always a pre-existing city, always a pre-existing landscape. Uncovering that is finding the common ground. Naturally, it’s not true that as soon you focus on landscape as an almost mythical concept, everyone immediately thinks: ‘Oh yes, landscape, that’s important.’ It’s still always about what you read at the location, at the specific site. It comes down to visualising the long term and the underlying structures – and drawings are a perfect means of doing that. Even with assignments whose brief calls for a tremendous transformation and where you are invited to undertake major works, like with Ypenburg or IJburg where you have to hugely increase the carrying capacity of the substratum, the location and the surroundings are not a blank slate; the trick is to tap into several layers at the same time.
Joachim Declerck [JD]: If I understand correctly, what you just explained involves two things: an underlying, natural structure, on the one hand, and the expertise that has been developed over the course of time with regard to an attunement between nature and societal development, on the other. So it is not only about making landscape legible, but also about the principles with which you attune things to each other.
FP: It indeed is about a lot more than just making the natural system legible. What actually made Rotterdam, verstedelijkt landschap a breakthrough was that I retraced the spoors of the Delta, and in doing so had Rotterdam’s traffic circulation in my hands, as it were. The underlying landscape determined the infrastructure. I was able to conceptualise this. It’s not about reading an original landscape, but about reading the process of landscape formation as it evolved. And that’s something that continues throughout the ages. I always notice that it is incredibly important when communicating with the public to present the reality that people see around them as something that has a history and is developing, in which everyone can find a place for their own development and lifestyle.
Eds: The particular drawing you use to read the landscape is usually a bird’s-eye view. The long lines that stand out in these drawings give a kind of coherence to the landscape. I can imagine that this is appealing in today’s dispersed city; but at the same time, it might be inconsistent with our experience of life, which is much more fragmentary. How does this perspective relate to the cumulative? Certainly considering that you work in the Flemish situation, where the landscape has never been as important as it has been in the Netherlands, where there was strong public control for the sake of a vital public space that is connected with the structure of the landscape, which is also an infrastructure.
FP: Is that really true? Actually, the Flemish manner of urbanisation is also a controlled process. The close-knit network of neighbourhood railroads, the means that spurred on dispersed urbanisation, was also steered by the government. There too, there was an interplay of top-down measures and bottom-up processes to facilitate. And those top-down measures are not to be sneezed at. Look at how many railroad lines have been pushed through Belgium.
JD: I can’t say that landscape is a tool with a lot of social support in Flanders at the moment. I’m polemicizing: right now we are astraddle two movements. On the one side, people are beginning to realise that there is a system beneath the urbanised landscape that we can no longer ignore, which is steered by the soil hydrology, the ground conditions, the utility systems. A large part of this structure is still unexplored territory because local governments took advantage during the post-war suburbanisation of Flanders and also did not pay much attention to it. On the other side, there is the private allotment rationale, in which, going against the grain of the structural rationales, development has systematically continued. That logic is bumping into its limits. You can see this in more and more aspects: the supply of land for expansion is becoming depleted and lies increasingly further from urban centres. The underlying landscape is making itself felt more and more. The latest allotments are the first to be forced to deal with flooding. What’s more, the suburbs are getting older. Homes no longer meet present-day energy requirements and cannot be sold to young families who do not want to be stuck in traffic jams with two cars.
The big question for Flanders now (and it’s also a bit true for the Netherlands) is: How do you connect the two – the prevailing lot-by-lot development and the natural system lying beneath it? The tension and possible alliances between these two is the real task for both design and policy. So, it’s not only about landscape as an aesthetic concept, but also about the challenge to find structures and organisations that think beyond the single lot. In Flanders, we will never get around to the kind of central planning that can make a natural structure so legible and can be proposed in such a politically sexy way to all administrators that it can become the ultimate project. That’s not part of our culture. And I think that the question is also evolving in the Netherlands, what with its withdrawing central government. The question today is how to gradually develop a different relation between urbanisation and the systematic management of territory. In Flanders as well as in the Netherlands, we need to do something other than reconstruct the landscape as a gigantic compensation for the often-noxious urbanisation processes that we have known and that are still dominant. Merely making what once existed legible is interesting as a countermove, but it does not interfere with the driving force of development. What is really necessary is a spatial development logic that is no longer based on more consumption of space on the one hand and compensation in terms of landscape on the other. We need to seek developmental principles – contextual, financial, juridical, governance – that can make new links between existing urbanisation, underlying systems and present and future spatial needs. These possible links are a perfect example of the Anthropocene, which Dirk [Sijmons] introduced at the Biennale. This is not about landscape as a kind of aesthetic concept or as a compensatory project for the consumption of raw materials and space, but landscape as a new relation – a short circuit – between human activity and the natural system. The ‘machineries’ that were developed in the Project Atelier BrabantStad are attempts to design these spatial, administrative and financial links. In Flanders, this means that we must be able to enlist the dynamics of the lot-by-lot mentality in a spatial development process that further develops the existing urbanisation into a new, resilient pattern.
FP: I also think the trick is to develop this bit by bit, as it were. That’s what we do in our practice in Flanders. We don’t suddenly come up with a whole new bird’s-eye view, but start from the existing city and try to work our way up. The idea of landscape isn’t even mentioned. We often talk about pieces of urban space that have been ascribed a public quality: a market, old factory complexes, old monasteries, a railroad. These are elements that rise just above the structure of individual lots and are capable of assimilating something of a public nature. We’ve noticed that there is an interest in this: How can you connect them with each other? Can you do just a little more here than with an individual project?
2. The Changing Viewpoint
Eds: We have grown up with the layers approach. The version described by Dirk Sijmons particularly made an impression on us, with his linking of the entire landscape casco tradition and a dynamic interpretation of the relation between the abiotic layer, the infrastructure and the occupying structure. The relatively non-dynamic abiotic structure could be seen as a carrier for the highly dynamic occupying structure. During the IABR, however, the focus seemed to be on a metabolic viewpoint: designing with flows. Firm ground was more likely to be sought in the iron logic of systemic connections and less in the structural logic of the abiotic layer. Does the IABR represent a departure from landscape as a structuring principle?
Dirk Sijmons [DS]: Three misunderstandings have been introduced here in one question. Let me try to clear things up. In short, the casco concept and the layers approach are two different things; and no, the IABR’s examining of metabolism is not a departure from landscape as a structuring principle. With all three, this is about a specific way of connecting landscape patterns and processes within a design perspective. A landscape can then be seen as temporarily congealed processes, and these processes can be investigated in relation to their landscape-forming potentials. At the IABR, we consider this relation in three ways. First of all, with urban landscapes we must take a new, critical look at how we have mediated the relation between nature and society in the past and the present by means of gardens, parks, nature conservancy and the development of nature. A second aspect is metabolism. We must do something about the environmental problem in the world’s major cities. That’s the key to the global environmental problem: it can only be solved at the city level. The metabolic viewpoint, the flow of goods and materials in the city and between city and countryside, foregrounds what we used to call the ‘grey environmental policy’ – that’s the rather technical side of environmental policy: air quality, water quality, the way in which our food is produced, transported and distributed, the way we deal with waste. We have to bring those things back into the design. That’s where a difference can be made. But there is also a third way of viewing things, and that’s the ‘old-fashioned’ geographical approach, in which we look at urban landscapes worldwide, an amalgam between built areas, unbuilt areas, natural elements and infrastructural bundles, where you could say that urbanisation has become a landscape-forming force and therefore can also be manipulated in a landscape-architectural manner. In this regard, the Brabant design studio under the leadership of Joachim [Declerck] has caused a stir, for instance. In the geographical viewpoint, things like the carrier approach are completely back again. I believe that the geographical approach will remain important, also in the future.
My interest in the metabolic approach is therefore not at all a departure from the carrier approach or other things that I have done earlier. To give an example, the Plan Ooievaar, after three or four big successes, ultimately turned into the ‘Room for the River’ programme, which pumped 2.4 billion into reinforcing the river area. That’s certainly a project in which collective goals are the central focus. In my opinion, however, what makes this project unique is governance. Not even 30 years ago, the Department of Rijkswaterstaat (Waterways and Public Works) would have handled this project like a military operation and dictated it to other parties. Now, they made a kind of tour through the land to all the municipalities and district water boards in order to ask what they thought of it, and they looked at who would do what in a decentralised manner. For instance, Rijkswaterstaat had assigned the municipality of Kampen a project to lower the water value. Right away, they saw that if they could solve this problem with a bypass, they would be able to create two new waterfronts and an expansion area. This is a central government that says: ‘This is our goal, but we’re going to carry it out in a decentralised way, with a coalition of the willing.’ I consider this evidence that thinking about landscape in terms of large infrastructures that still have to be realised is a very powerful means of sustaining design attention for landscape, also in the future.
FP: Is this an aftereffect of the reversal that made itself felt in various corners in the 1980s, or is it the beginning of a new approach? In the Delta Programme, spatial quality seems to have been pushed far to the background.
DS: That’s a problem. In the Delta Programme, of which ‘Room for the River’ is a precursor, attention for spatial quality has considerably eroded.
FP: Is this a cyclical matter or is something really changing?
DS: I think something structural is going on that has to do with the evermore technocratic nature of our civil administration, which has a tendency to increasingly entrench itself in separate sectors. Instead of formulating ideals, it has become a world of Excel sheets and transparent objectives, and therefore exceedingly bureaucratised. A Dutch political discussion is about targets and figures.
Eds.: Through those Excel sheets, we shift the social discourse to a social cost-benefit analysis. As an analytical tool, this can provide very interesting material for consideration, but if you also use it as a policy tool, you’ll be deceived before your very eyes.
DS: Sectoralism is a deadly poison. As designers, we are more or less ‘the last man standing’ when it comes to casting a synthesising and generalising eye over all these terrains. That’s where our strength lies. But I notice that it has to be defended every time.
Eds: Was that your experience as Governmental Advisor? Or was it a slightly different time back then?
DS: When I became Governmental Advisor, my first question was: ‘Where is everybody? What happened to the institutional design?’ I came from the Staatsbosbeheer (Forestry Commission) practice of keeping up with the modernisation of agriculture and expressing that through landscape. That was a very strong service that collaborated with other strong services. Staatsbosbeheer worked with one or two landscape architects per province and a central landscape architecture department consisting of 18 people who were involved in all of the road projects, new polders and land use projects in the Netherlands. In the 1970s and 1980s, around 250,000 hectares of the Netherlands were always being worked on. But now, we don’t have any central projects ‘on the land’ anymore: the land-use machine is rusting in the barn. So, I tried to open up other paths as Governmental Advisor on Landscape. For instance, I focused on all sorts of topical landscape-shaping processes, such as the ‘horsification’ of the Dutch landscape. To see if you could do something with that trend, namely, the increasing number of horses per thousand inhabitants and the increasing number of stables, to see if a sole actor could help shape the landscape. I applied the same principle to the factory farms and to the new energy landscapes, the wind farms.
Eds: Actually, your metabolism study is also a search for new actors.
DS: Yes indeed, and in my opinion we should also bring engineers into this.
JD: That’s what I find so fascinating about the Dutch approach; at least the way Dirk presents it. On the one hand, it’s a kind of absolute reading of the underlying structure, which you want to make co-determinative for the layer above it; and on the other hand, it’s a kind of ‘going with the flow’ and building new landscapes. You’re actually saying that if the dynamics are going in a certain direction, we should accommodate them in a certain way, not by leaving them alone, but by taking a hands-on approach. Working with dynamics doesn’t produce an overall plan in itself, but principles can be devised for this – for which, however, you do need new areas of knowledge. Which cities don’t have a food strategy? But are there cities with good food strategies that create new landscapes? I don’t know of any. Which cities are not improving the quality of their water? But where is water quality a guiding factor for the urban landscape? In other words, we must forgo the typical waterfront approach – ‘here’s the water and there’s the city’ – and move on to a kind of reward model and a kind of combination of development principles.
Eds: So, how would you define the public’s role in comparison to several generations ago?
JD: The Dutch ‘Room for the River’ programme started out as a top-down project, but a principle of decentralisation was chosen for its realisation. Flanders does not have that central capacity. Never did. But you do have many local dynamics. In that sense, the two systems are moving towards one another. The ‘Room for the River’ programme actually is about realising objectives at the systemic level through dynamics at the local levels. Since we don’t have that central level in Flanders, we start by looking at everything that happens side by side, and you have to conceive the regional assignment from the bottom up. I think this is the major difference. We have fewer platforms in Flanders, if not none at all. That makes it difficult to think collectively about the link between the technocratic, parts-of-the-problem approach and the integrating phase. At the same time, I’m optimistic that this is on its way.
DS: The Dutch approach initially was to integrate societal changes within the existing landscape structures as much as possible. In the end, that approach no longer held. At Staatsbosbeheer, after a while we were receiving requests to reallocate certain areas for the fourth time. We said to our minister: ‘What landscape structures do you actually have in mind? Come into the field with us and see what this looks like.’ We realised that you will ultimately end up empty-handed as a society if you don’t propose new strategies. The Plan Ooievaar was a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate that another view was possible: a view of the future in which great economic drive and ecological objectives can go together.
JD: We are very much lacking that in Flanders. I just concluded by saying ‘I am optimistic’, because the technocratic Excel sheet approach is becoming totally unworkable and everybody realises this. Despite the political dynamic, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we can only carry on in a meaningful way if we couple the various actors and sectors and start producing something that goes beyond individual lots and the respective sectorial interests. Either we evolve from a relatively passive to a very active negation of the effects and costs of our urbanisation dynamic in Flanders – which to my mind comes down to culpable negligence – or we make sure that the private dynamic is attuned to public and social objectives. And that requires political courage and new developmental platforms.
3. Cultural Events and Collective Goals
DS: In the most literal sense, an awful lot has happened in landscape, of course. The modernisation of agriculture in the twentieth century had led to a complete privatisation of our landscapes. Almost 30,000 km of unpaved roads, livestock-herding lanes and paths were eradicated. What was left was the worst possible imaginable. In the mid-1980s, you had no choice but to ride your bicycle on a provincial road. Since then, a great many walking paths have been reintroduced, and cities are again connected with rural areas. That all started in the 1980s and 1990s. The regaining of landscape as public space in its most literal sense has happened in very many places.
Eds: That’s quite interesting: What is perceived as a public project, land use, actually led to privatisation.
DS: Indeed, just as the opposite movement is not directly a public project. The revitalisation of long-distance walking paths in the Netherlands was not only done by the government but also by private clubs, who bought up bits of what still existed – sometimes with government subsidies, to be sure – and connected them with each other.
Eds: In fact, these are all collectives that fulfil a kind of public role in society. If you look at the transitional arena, for instance, this can go in two directions. It can lead to a society of clubs that folds in on itself. Everyone with their own little allotment garden, growing vegetables for themselves among like-minded souls. But this also and especially gives occasion for new coalitions, which collectively can develop a new public dimension of the urban landscape at a higher level.
JD: But for that, you need a design; and in order to be able to realise that design, you need a platform.
Eds: Who sets up these platforms through which the future can be shown? Is the setting up of cultural events something that you see as a task for architects and designers?
JD: The answer is ‘yes’, but it’s not simply a matter of making what already exists known by means of an exhibition. You offer something in order to show the future. You are also shaping the future at the same time. You present the problem, and then it comes down to getting the social actors to go along with you and turn their individual interests towards a way of thinking that contributes to collective goals. By showing the future, you put a real problem on the table and you also help make the future. But it’s also about the next steps: through an exhibition, which is more or less a cultural freeport, new methodologies and toolboxes can be developed, and the public can have a better grasp of the assignment. To put it another way, I see a cultural event not only as a freeport, but also as a platform for forging new collectives.
DS: In the economies of scale, you have to realise plans for larger facilities with each other or with society. That’s also true for the energy transition to a large extent.
Eds: When it comes to new initiatives of heating networks, for example, or the water issue, you see a return to the roots of urban design in the response to the city’s hygienic crisis, whereby urban design assumes the task of alleviating the collective crisis through a kind of retooling of the city with new systems. Sewer and transport systems in the first place, but new spatial structures for the city have also been produced in that process.
DS: A good example is the operation by Haussmann, who coupled the modernisation of Paris’s sewer system with the construction of boulevards. The sewers made it possible to reclaim nitrogen from human excrement, which then was used to fertilise huge collective farms around Paris. So you can see that Haussmann’s retooling of the city not only resulted in splendid boulevards, but also in an innovation of the urban metabolism, which subsequently became formative for what Paris looks like. The circle is now closed, seeing as the sewage works of Paris’s Ile-de-France district are located on the former site of these enlightened farms.
4. Design and Challenges for the Future
FP: Haussmann’s intervention took place in the second half of the nineteenth century, a kind of harbinger of the rise of a strong government and national state that takes responsibility for such plans. We now are in a comparable situation in terms of assignment. But where is the state that would take it up? Doesn’t the state have a tendency to try to keep away from it nowadays?
DS: I think that not only the role of the government but also the understanding of the profession is gradually being reformulated. Our profession has been instrumental in making cities. After centuries of organic growth, we designers intervened. What you see is that the entire modern movement produced a great many externalities in the form of environmental problems and social costs. Everything that went wrong was swept under the carpet, on the principle that ‘modernism is about emancipation and freeing ourselves from the fetters of nature’. The funny thing is that those externalities are gradually crawling out from under the carpet and putting themselves on the table. They themselves are becoming the project.
JD: Do you have the feeling that they are going to dominate the project, then? That design will be pushed off the table?
DS: We have to make sure that this doesn’t happen. We designers have to take the engineers, the technicians, by the hand and try to steer the big operations. We congratulate ourselves for all the things we can achieve in the cultural space of the Biennale, but why doesn’t that happen automatically? It comes down to making workable relations between the parallel universe and the spatial reality.
JD: It’s about internal and external rationales again. On the one hand, we stimulate development, the effects of which we design in the form of buildings and public facilities; on the other, we design answers to the external costs that this entails. We won’t get there this way. We have to go along with ordinary processes of development. Work with local associations of agriculturalists who are already beginning to organise their soil hydrology themselves. This may appear minimal on the scale of the huge challenges facing us, but it is a methodology with which one can get results without becoming bogged down in the inertia of existing rationales. On condition, indeed, that these local initiatives can multiply. But this way, the parties involved have a productive relation with their own surroundings instead of a consumptive one. This leads to a different paradigm of development and spatial use.
FP: This indeed brings us to the question of what exactly is the terrain of urban design. Are we running into problems that should be left to urban planners or social geographers or political scientists?
DS: This may sound like a platitude, but the profession is also dynamic, isn’t it? Didn’t the whole idea of planned housing start with the cooperatives of workers’ associations? I think we should not see the profession as being too static, but that we should continue to think along with the big social issues.
FP: Urban design in the nineteenth century had a strong bond with civil engineering, in the twentieth century with architecture, and now there’s a tremendous bond with infrastructure and landscape architecture in the broadest sense of the word. As far as that’s concerned, I think that this field has always had continually changing coalitions and overlappings. I also think that even as the design profession is still busy drawing physical interventions, there is also a tremendous need for process design. The big question up to now has been: How do we bring the social actors into this?
DS: Much of the uncertainty in the profession nowadays also has to do with globalisation and the enormous tendency to greater and greater privatisation, on all fronts. It also has to do with computerisation. Much of our knowledge is becoming de-spatialised, as it were. A good many phenomena have become less tied to a particular place. What has essentially changed is the belief that we can solve a great number of social problems with spatial means. That belief has largely vanished. If we look at agriculture, we see that intensification and modernisation facilitated by spatial means has reached the end of its development when it comes to water systems and outcropping systems. Here, returns on investments are in the levelling-off part of an S-curve. On the other hand, tremendous growth can still come from new techniques, such as breeding techniques, storage techniques and genetic manipulation. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why the spatial narrative is no longer a dominant tool. Then again, in the Netherlands we live in this gigantic prosthesis that enables us to live and work below sea level, which is an immense artefact that requires maintenance. Unlike the ‘makeable society’, it will not tolerate being discarded on history’s waste dump. It demands spatial attention over and again, certainly in light of climate change.
JD: I think there’s also another story. I agree that globalisation and de-spatialisation are absolute processes that are developing further. There’s also now an emerging tendency to no longer see the city as a network city or a consumer landscape but as a place of production. This isn’t taking place at the national level but at the local level of neighbourhoods, city districts and landscapes. A stronger connection with the land, with the surroundings, is thus evolving at the same time. Figuring out how to couple these two movements is also a design assignment.
DS: That ties in with the theme of the relation between the city and agriculture. Present-day city farming, in the form of roof gardens, for instance, addresses this but it is too much of a romantic movement that really is on too small of a scale. We should try much more to fathom what is going on in the economy of agriculture. I think that all sorts of farming ultimately will be done in and around the city, because the consumer will ultimately play a decisive role.
Eds: Romanticism is distracting. But the niche does get something going. It questions the significance of the traditional industrial food landscapes. In the past century, the city became enamoured of the panoramic aesthetic of the industrial food landscapes. It’s wonderful that the city is now coming up with another perspective, which no longer sees the farmland around the city as a reserve for urban expansion plans but actively incorporates the bio-productive landscape within the city. The importance of local agriculture for the city is being recognised, and this insight is also tied to the presence of new food landscapes in urban areas.
1. The layers approach was an answer to the question of what the responsibilities of the (national) government still were – a subsidiarity story, in other words. But a story that introduces a spatial hierarchy into town and country planning. The first layer is the ground and hydrology. The second layer is the networks and their interchanges and the third is the occupying structure, for which the government should only formulate broad rules of the game.
2. Plan Ooievaar was the submission by Dick de Bruin, Dick Hamhuis, Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuize, Willem Overmars, Dirk Sijmons and Frans Vera to the first EO Weijers competition: Ooievaar en de Toekomst van het Rivierengebied (Arnhem: Gelderse Milieufederatie, 1986)
3. Frits Palmboom, Rotterdam, verstedelijkt landschap (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1987).