LILA Award 2017 speech

Publicatie 2 oktober 2017, Ljublijana

Dear members of the jury, members of the LILA Award organization, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

 

Let me first of all congratulate the colleagues present here today as winners in the other categories. And let me of course thank the jury, headed by LILA 2016 winner Martí Franch, for their decision to choose H+N+S to be this year's winner in the category office. I would like to state, also on behalf of my partners Nikol Dietz and Pieter Schengenga, that we are very proud of this acknowledgement, mainly because of the high quality of the jury and of the offices listed on the LILA Award 2017 long list. To be selected from a group of so many highly respected international colleagues makes us feel humble, honored and thankful at the same time.

My thanks also go out to our team, the people at the office, including the people that have flown out since the office was founded in 1990. Without them this achievement would not have been possible.

Special thanks go to founding fathers Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuijze and Dirk Sijmons, together with Jandirk Hoekstra – as the former directors of our office - who have recently stepped down as directors but are fortunately still active in the office in the role of special advisor. It is their legacy that is awarded today. The current work and stature of H+N+S Landscape Architects is inseparable from the firm’s development in the past 25 years.

With this legacy, captured in our collective memory at H+N+S, we look to the future with confidence. Sure, a lot of challenges in society have to be faced, with the effects of climate change and the enormous task of the energy-transition, to name only a few (as the biggest amongst others). And yes, our profession plays a huge role in coping with these major tasks, showing society possible coherent ways out. We try indeed to be, also in the coming 25 years, as the jury states and here I quote the jury, ‘a relevant force in our common task to find and develop new tools for overcoming the challenges concerning landscape today and in the future’. That is our task and we’re looking forward to it, optimistic as we are ‘by nature’. But how do we do this (or at least try to)?

Let me once more quote the LILA jury for they have formulated the beginning of an answer to this question in a very condensed way, stating that H+N+S has through an engineering approach successfully developed large scale thinking about landscape, integrating aspects concerning energy, environment, well-being and aesthetics. They feature a consistent opus of brave interventions in landscape, often with ingenious and innovative solutions’.

Three words stand out for me in these two sentences: brave, ingenious and innovative. These three words offer me a perfect opportunity to determine and describe to you today the typical ‘H+N+S approach’ and capture the ‘office’ qualities of H+N+S.

Brave

Let’s elaborate this a bit further and start with the first one, brave. H+N+S is an extraordinary office, quite a special group of around 25 landscape professionals, mainly landscape architects. It’s one of the highest concentrations of landscape architects in the Netherlands. In Holland we have a reputation of being a bit stubborn en making things complicated… If you call H+N+S for a simple question or a simple project you’ll surely get a complex and extensive, broad answer. That’s the word that goes around in the field. And I think they are right. We do have the tendency to look at things in a broad perspective, to first take a step back for the necessary overview, to dive into archives or library, do fieldwork and research, and to test, before moving forward. We even have the tendency to tell the client that he or she asked us the wrong question, we regularly ask our commissioner to give us extra time to do this thorough research, and pay us for it as well.

In some cases we get a loud and clear ‘no’ as an answer to our question, but then we often decide to do it anyway – which means we have to invest in it ourselves. In other cases a competition is the vehicle for this. This was the case in 1985 with ‘Plan Ooievaar’ (‘Plan Stork’) – the winning entry for the 1st Eo Wijers competition, a competition introduced especially for stimulating the regional design – and eventually led to the start-up of H+N+S a few years later. This was also the case in 2014/2015 with the 10th edition of the Eo Wijers competition, in which we were again successful – now not with a regional plan for the future of the central Dutch river area but with a plan for an energy neutral region in the East of the Netherlands.

Sometimes we even operate as our own commissioner and organize research-project ourselves, looking for a way to at least co-finance them, to limit the investments for H+N+S.

Doing thorough research, getting the bigger picture, takes time. Time you sometimes don’t have in a busy practice, or don’t easily get, because of a strict time schedule derived from a fixed planning.

But the investment pays off, in the end. It brings us a step further, not only in the concerned project, but by doing this we also develop knowledge and insights that helps us in other projects and brings the office further in other ways. This way of working of ‘education permanente’, helps us to stay in the front of the professional debate in the Netherlands, be it in the fields of ecology and nature development, water management, culture history or sustainability.

Recent studies on important and relevant topics like the energy-transition or the protection and re-use of our cultural heritage are good examples of this practice. Our last study named ‘The Energy Line’ – just recently presented at the Dutch Landscape Triennial - is actually about both, combining the topics of energy-transition with cultural heritage. With the concept of the ‘Energy Line’ or ‘Climate Fortification’ we research the possibilities of taking the historic defense line of the ‘Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie’ running through three Dutch provinces and use it for generating renewable energy and - by doing that - revive, revitalize and protect it. Conservation by  development. This study has lead to strong discussions because of the nomination of the ‘Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie’ as military heritage and nominated as Unesco Monument, dividing the experts from the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency into two camps, with supporters and opponents. It touches the issue of our cultural heritage right at the heart: protecting it by re-using, developing and amalgamating it with another social task, in this case energy transition - and by doing so changing the historic landscape.

The study of ‘The Energy Line’ – the work of a team led by colleague Nikol Dietz - stands on the shoulders of numerous works of Dirk Sijmons concerning energy transition. Dirk was the first in our office, and in our professional field I would add, to stress the importance of energy transition and the urge to research its impact on our landscape, with the effects of the many windmills, pv-panels and so forth needed for the shift from fossil fuels to sustainable sources. Quite some years ago Dirk already asked for a widespread attention not only for sustainable energy-production, and the question how to fit this in our landscape, but also for ways of smartly transporting and buffering the generated energy.

Dirk raised the importance of this matter, catapulting it into the professional debate as State Advisor for the Landscape in the period 2004–2008, deepening it in 2014 with the book ‘Landscape and Energy’, the result of years of research at H+N+S and the Technical University of Delft, and ultimately influencing the political debate by entering the arena with his Magnum opus2050, An Energetic Odyssey’ presented at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam in 2016 and separately to a group of European ministers.

The title of the project, ‘2050 – An Energetic Odyssey’, is meant to provoke. People easily underestimate the scale of the challenge and think that the transition can take place with the support of small-scale projects alone. However, the goal agreed upon worldwide – to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees – requires more large-scale and drastic changes of the system. ‘An Energetic Odyssey’ shows that the Next Economy – the theme of the International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam 2014 - can be a clean economy. It shows how far-reaching the energy transition from fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and gas to an energy supply largely fed by renewable energy sources actually is. It is a spatial task that is still largely underestimated. On land, we will have to pull out all the stops in terms of energy saving, central and decentral initiatives with solar panels, wind, bio mass, geothermal and residual heat, and so on. Even making a maximum effort, this will prove inadequate.

2050 - North Sea Odyssey

Credits: IABR with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Van Oord, Shell, TenneT, Zeeland Seaports, European Climate Foundation, Natuur & Milieu, RWE, Port of Rotterdam Authority and Port of Amsterdam. Research by design and animation by H+N+S Landscape Architects, Ecofys and Tungsten Pro

The good news is that, in principle, the production of North Sea energy can meet the demand. ‘An Energetic Odyssey’ represents a system leap that makes it possible to bridge this gap by the large-scale production of wind energy on the relatively shallow North Sea for the countries that surround it. The study demonstrates what such an ambitious approach involves, what infrastructure it requires, what it means to link up with the nature of the North Sea, what role the entrepreneurial state plays, which innovations this requires, and especially which new economic dynamic and chances this will generate, for instance in the offshore sector. The project aims to create a reference point for a broad dialogue between public and private parties and a new, appealing step towards the realization of large-scale production, transportation, and storage of renewable energy on and around the North Sea. You can check our website www.hnsland.nl for more info and an instructive movie in English.

This attitude of continuously asking questions, researching, doubting an in itself logical solution, trying to find a better, simpler, more connected and appropriate option, is in the veins of H+N+S, is in our blood. It is not only the spin off from our research activities but also expresses itself in more concrete design projects. Take for example the project of the National Military Museum on the former military airfield of Soesterberg, for which we designed the 45 hectare outside area. In the output specifications we were asked to build a 2 meter high fence around the terrain, for safety reasons, with makes sense with numerous guns and other military equipment inside the museum. Being situated in the heart of the former airfield - now a nature and recreation area – we strongly hesitated to propose this fence, also because this would have a huge negative impact on the experience of the new museum, a splendid building designed by Dick van Wageningen. We as designers felt there had to be a better solution, still working as required functionally, but part of the integral design. So we asked – stubborn as we are, or you can also say unbelievably positive and naive – the commissioner if we could organize the same level of security in a different way. Which in the end would have to lead to an official change in the tender output specifications.

This asked for thorough research, a wide perspective and close cooperation – an integral way of working - and yes, again, it asked a lot of time. A real integral approach does take time, convincing everybody concerned what the extra or added value of the alternative is. And it requires persistency. The best option is not always the easiest one. But it shows… In the end we proposed two alternatives, on each side of the museum, fitting in the landscape, and giving extra meaning to the landscape, telling the story of this historic military landscape and the historic relation between the military and the landscape.

Looking from the museum, inside out, there is not a visible safety measure, on both sides it blends, merges into the landscape. On the side of the former airfield we proposed a trench of a few hundred meters, referring to the military trenches, which also fits the scale of the surrounding landscape and building. The trench works as a ‘haha’, in the tradition of the English landscape style. It is invisible from the museum, giving the visitor the impression the aircrafts and carriers can still roll to the platforms and airstrip and take off at any moment. It adds to the magic of the place.

On the other side of the museum building – the side of the entrance - we used the topography, with some local differences in height, to prevent the necessity of a fence. Here we gratefully accepted the presence of the differences in height, only some meters, by concentrating it in one place. We introduced a wall of gabions, filled with re-used bricks of the former airbase. The gabions automatically lead the visitors to the museum entrance, prevent people from leaving the paths, are a hiding place for birds and other small animals, and also add to the story of the military museum.

Gabions – in Dutch called ‘schanskorven’ – are literally translated ‘baskets’ to hide behind. They as a matter of fact originate from the medieval battlefields, as transportable hiding places, and are visible in the museum exhibitions. The museum experience therefore already starts outside.

It is this proposal, the decision not to realize the required 2m fence but to replace it by hundreds of meters of haha on the side of the former landing strip and a retaining wall on the other side of the museum, of which I am the most proud. The most important design part is not visible. That is I think typical for H+N+S. We might be brave in the way we work, but our designs are quite reserved, modest. We leave the bling bling to others. H+N+S strives to come up with simple, convincing solutions that work for complex questions, not complex, expressive designs for simple questions.

Ingenious

This brings me to the second term: ingenious. H+N+S is indeed an office of ‘ingenieurs’, of engineers striving for ingenious plans, plans that ‘work’. Most of our professionals have an engineer’s degree and a technical background, with the majority of our people trained at Wageningen University or Delft University. With this technical background we approach a design question. Our design philosophy is research based and funded on the understanding how the landscape works.

H+N+S is an office that tries to be active on all possible scale levels – from national and regional to local planning and design – and in all possible fields, from water management to nature development, from energy transition to infrastructure, and from cultural heritage to sustainable development or landscaping.

This doesn’t mean we know everything. As a matter of fact we know quite well what we’re good at and where our professional knowledge ends. This means in almost all projects we work in close cooperation with partners, using their skills and expertise to enrich the research or the design. In the period of over 25 years we have build a network of partners we like to cooperate with, representing a rich ‘bouquet’ of expertise, in the fields of ecology and hydrology – if it gets complicated we call the real engineers – but also in the fields of architecture and urban design, calculation, detailing, realization, management, et cetera. Co-operation is a key word at H+N+S, both internally and externally.

This big span width of course asks for a certain office size, in our case around 25/26 people, with members of staff with specialized knowledge in the fields of ecology, hydrology, and so forth. It enables us to communicate with the experts, speak their language. It also enables us as an office to really understand the technical program of demands and from there we can to try to turn it around, to work with it, change it. The project for the dike improvement of Afferden-Dreumel marks this clearly in the office history.

The H+N+S attitude is an ‘engineering approach’: we try to understand the system, try to grasp how it works technically, as a engineer. From that we shape it, guide it, design it leading to funded, research based designs, designs that work. We approach the landscape as a system of layers that work closely together, affect each other. To analyze and describe the landscape system, we use the so called ‘layer approach’. The first layer forms the basis of the landscape and consists of soil, water, and ecosystems. The second layer is the network layer—that is, roads, waterways, and energy infrastructure. The third layer consists of the occupation and use of the landscape in terms of living, working, and recreation and so forth. These layers interact with one another, but each layer develops within a distinct time frame. The first layer (soil, water, and ecosystems) develops step by step over time, very slowly, whereas the third layer (occupation) can develop and shift completely in mere decades.

In this context, Dirk Sijmons – in his pre-H+N+S period - helped to develop the ‘Casco Concept’, which starts with a strong landscape framework that forms the basis for the system and safeguards enduring qualities. This framework can then be filled with different, more dynamic functions that can and will develop and adjust over time. A principle also applied in the already mentioned plan ‘Stork’ for the 1st Eo Wijers competition, from which our office emerged. In this ‘Plan Stork’ firstly the choice was made for a strong ecological network, as a framework, instead of pieces of nature as relicts of an old historic and agrarian landscape. Secondly ‘Plan Stork’ positioned the creation of new nature as something that could be made by men, as a cultural act, by introducing the right basic-conditions and dynamics. The result was a new kind of robust nature, shaped by natural dynamics, that could maintain itself.  

Our office takes the landscape forming powers and processes, such as soil formation, hydrology, natural dynamics, infrastructure development and occupation, as the basis for our designs. In the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, the concept for the lay out and design of the Beemster-polder was based on the soil, hydrology and the technical knowledge of civil engineering at that time. It was a reaction on the danger of the nature, with a huge lake whose banks were eroded by storms and so endangering the cities in Holland. The Beemster is the symbol for the submission, the subordination of nature by men. The design also reflects that control.

Times have changed since then. We now see nature as our friend, use the natural forces. This is best seen in the case of the project of the Zandmotor, of which H+N+S contributed to the original idea, using the power of sea and wind to distribute the suppletion sand along the Dutch coast line to the places where it’s needed the most.

This also is the case for the H+N+S plans for the Room for the River projects of Nijmegen and Kampen – using the dynamics of the river system, combining it with new demands and at the same time incorporating ecological and cultural values.

Room for the River is a national project that started over a decade ago. It deals with improving safety (prevent flooding) together with improving environmental quality, a so called double target. Ecological quality, landscape use possibilities, and economic significance will benefit, not only in rural areas but also in a number of cities along the rivers. H+N+S Landscape Architects is involved from the phase of the initial ideas through the phase of different options to the step of designing and realizing new river landscapes in the Room for the River program, in for example the River of Nijmegen - recently finished – and Kampen – now under construction.

The Dutch delta is part of the major catchment basin of the Rhine River. Rainwater and melting water from the Alps and Germany pass through the country on their way to the sea. A substantial part of the Netherlands lies below sea level and river levels. This means we have to consider the constant threat of flooding, with danger coming from the sea – with rising sea levels – and from the big rivers – with heavy rainfalls occurring more often. For many centuries, the water system has been controlled and continually adapted. The Dutch landscape is actually one big prosthesis of dikes, pumping stations, and regulated waterways that protect us and in which we place great trust.

As our climate changes, more water will flow through these Dutch rivers. That will lead to higher water levels that will also occur more frequently. In the meantime, economic development and population will - resulting in more and more paved areas - continue to grow. The likelihood of flooding will increase, as will the effect of floods.

During the 1990s, a number of extremely high water levels occurred in quick succession. Although no dikes actually burst or flooded, the situation was critical in multiple places, and major evacuation procedures were set in motion as a precaution. In the years that followed, huge efforts were made to strengthen many of the dikes. Before ‘Room for the River’, raising dikes was the common approach of the Dutch to counter the threat of water. But this is not easy to realize anymore in the intensively used Dutch landscape, with often buildings located on the dikes and limited space in the immediate surroundings to raise the height of the dikes. Relocating the dikes closer to the river, where there usually is some space, often only increases water levels and exacerbates the problem. So, the need was felt for an alternative strategy to ensure the security of the region of the major rivers—a strategy in which high water levels were not taken as a given but were prevented by providing more room for the river. It became a strategy in which spatial quality was a second, equally important aim. This marked a turning point in the centuries-old development of the rivers, which has seen the area they occupy gradually reduced. Instead of less room, there is now more space, more Room for the River. In the case of Nijmegen a hydrological bottleneck has been solved realizing a by-pass, a mirrored river, creating an urban park for the expanding city of Nijmegen on the other side of the river Waal at the same time. Pictures of the old situation with the new tell the whole story.

In the Room for the River projects we carry out, like Nijmegen, ‘creating conditions’ is the central theme, the role of the landscape architect focuses on creating conditions in which the landscape can develop and grow. Responding to natural processes is, therefore, more important than creating fixed forms. However, this does not mean that nature merely follows its own course. If the right conditions are created, nature can certainly be created with some initial help. The emphasis on natural development in the Room for the River program testifies to this. Accordingly, landscape design is always layered and is the result of interaction between various interventions and processes over time, only partly predictable.

This approach calls for a special type of design in which the ‘hard’ engineering as well as the development of landscape with its vegetation and morphology change over time. In some cases the river dynamics also even ‘colour’ the architectural design. In the case of the Zalige Bridge for example, designed in collaboration with NEXT architects, the river dynamics lead to a special design that changes with the water levels of the river in the changing seasons.

The urban river park in Nijmegen is certainly not finished after the contractor has gone, but its development has only just begun. The vegetation just begins to grow and the water begins to shape the land and its habitats. It’s not a design. It is a process.

The quality of the design more or less automatically arises from the logic of the landscape layers and the way they are used and changed by men. H+N+S in this process always looks for synergy, for smart combinations to make a plan more interesting, valuable or realistic. The quest in each plan for added value, extra value – doing more than what it is supposed to do – could be regarded as the typical H+N+S trade mark. You don’t recognize our plans in terms of a typical H+N+S design language, with recurring shapes and forms: it is a way of working, an attitude. To make it very concrete: it means first things first… First from understanding the system, research, from that create the right conditions in the landscape system, and fit in the program - before giving it a form. It’s the crucial difference between ‘to design’ and ‘to shape’, ‘to form’.

This of course doesn’t mean that shape or form is not important. They surely are, as in the case of the bypass of Kampen for example. The landscape architect and landscape architectural design play a central role, not only at the scale of the river system as a whole but also in the detailing of small-scale elements, together with the architect we work with – in this case again NEXT architects. That’s what people see and experience in the end. But it doesn’t start there, it’s what ‘naturally’ comes out of it. We often try to make a design that in the end is so logical that nobody recognizes it anymore as a design, as if the situation has long been there. We see – and I paraphrase my illustrious colleague Adriaan Geuze here – the sublime in the ordinary. We believe the landscape should do the talking, should speak for itself, when the landscape architect is long gone and forgotten.

Innovative

Let’s move to innovative - a nowadays in the Netherlands often used and also misused word. Innovation is a buzzword: everything is innovative these days. But what is innovative, what does it mean to be innovative? How do we as an office try to work on innovation..? Innovation takes time and persistence, first of all. It doesn’t come by itself. It at least asks for an open mind, an open and research based attitude. It thrives on a culture in which innovation and research are encouraged.

H+N+S tries to be a design laboratory in which the conditions are there for innovation in research & design. The large collection of professional literature in our office library is one of these conditions.

It is a challenge to use the many years of experience the office has built up in the actual projects. In the mixed project teams we deliberately try to organize a cross-fertilization between the expertise of the more mature members of staff, and the professional expertise of our partners, with fresh ideas of young people, focused on making discoveries that could lead to innovation. So the mentioned concept of ‘creating conditions’ also goes for our organization, working as a design-laboratory. In every project we try – as founder Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuijze often states – to do at least one invention.

But innovation also sometimes just pops up, almost falls in your lap by coincidence. You only have to notice it then, see the value of it. This was the case with the project of Buitenschot at Schiphol Airport. It’s stunning in its simplicity. It’s a real H+N+S design, combining an innovative yet simple solution for an actual and relevant problem, combining it with other programs – in this case recreation – and translated in a beautiful new landscape with land-art quality. The credits for this go to leading architect Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuijze who worked on this together with artist Paul de Kort and engineers of TNO and Witteveen+Bos.

Here’s the wonderful story of park Buitenschot, on the outskirts of the city of Hoofddorp, situated right in the heart of the Dutch Randstad area, close to Schiphol - Amsterdam international airport. After the Polderbaan – Schiphol Airport’s 5th runway - was opened for operation in 2003, residents in the area were disturbed by ground noise, mainly low frequency noise caused by aircraft taking off when engines are throttled-up. It was concluded that already a 10 dB reduction would seriously decrease the effects of the noise to a more acceptable level. Schiphol therefore launched in 2008 the international design competition 'Create a barrier of Silence', asking for the best, most innovative entry for a sustainable design for a sound barrier to reduce the noise caused by airplanes taking off.

About a year later, in January 2009 Schiphol Amsterdam Airport announced the winner. The winner – a Dutch entry – was selected from a total of 97 entries from 17 countries. The winning design was the ‘Ecobarrier’ submitted by Toine van Goethem, a local town planner who designed the Ecobarrier in his spare time. He proposed a structure to be erected along the runway that will look like an enormous tent, with an estimated reduction of 9 dB.

The Ecobarrier consists of a glass fiber construction with a length of almost 2 kilometers and a height of approximately 14 meters. To achieve maximum effect the sound barrier would have to be installed as close as possible to the source of the noise: the aircraft on the runway. During landing the facility is not needed and for safety reasons it will be folded down. This will also be the case with strong winds when the ground noise will fade away.

The idea also was to collect Schiphol’s sewage water in the tent and use it to feed a basin of algae, that can be used for energy-production as biofuel, providing enough capacity for some 600 households. So far the good news.

In 2010, about a year after the competition Schiphol left the idea of the eco-barrier, mainly because of safety reasons. The idea was too complex and met too much opposition, leaving Schiphol with a problem. But salvation was on the way… Residents noticed that the noise was reduced when farmlands were ploughed. This because the low frequency sound waves are being dispersed by the ploughed clay. This was the starting point for research into a noise-reducing landscaping using artificial embankments. From this moment on H+N+S was involved with designing this noise reducing landscape, Buitenschot park, situated on the edge of Hoofddorp, between the runway and the houses.

The design was an interactive process between the landscape designers of H+N+S, visual artist Paul de Kort, and technicians from both TNO (with experts in noise reduction technology and monitoring) and Witteveen + Bos (with experts in cost calculation and feasibility). This team of experts was supervised by the owner-designer of Buitenschot park: the Government Service for Sustainable Rural Development, Mainport and Green Foundation and by the client, Schiphol Airport.

This had never been done, there were no examples so we had to do a lot of experimenting, modeling and 1 on 1 testing. The design of this Noise Reduction Park took a few stages. Our first models were anchored in the pattern of the polder. We drew a clustered alternative and a dispersed alternative. The dispersed one proved more effective. But both modeling and testing showed that also the dispersed alternative alone could not produce the necessary 10 DB noise reduction. A complimentary effort was needed on the location Buitenschot, a planned park for Hoofddorp. There already was a design for the park, quite a non-descript green area mainly for people to walk their dogs.

The Land Art artist Paul de Kort set us free to think about and design different patterns and let go of the polder structure and loosen up a bit. The combination of the two programs – recreation and noise-reduction- lead to a public maze, a noise labyrinth.

The basic park element consists of 3-metre-high embankments that are 1,10 meters below the land surface and distribute the noise, forming a rib pattern. The 1 meter broad paths between the ridges also serve as informal walking paths.

The park consists of a number of different spaces between the embankments. The heart of the park is formed by a 500 meter long and 100 meter wide open space. This offers ample space to be used as a playing field and during cultural events. In addition to the large space there are a number of smaller enclosed areas scattered between the ribs. To the north and south the grassy ridge structure thins out until it dissolves in sole longitudinal pyramids distributed along the edges.

Measurements and calculations have shown that the ground noise is distorted and dispersed, as it were, by oblique planes. It proved to be very effective, even more effective than predicted by the experts in their calculations. And with some poetic license one could even say that the invisible ground noise with the ground ridges is made visible.

Conclusion

To conclude - where does all this lead us to..? For an office to be brave, ingenious and innovative is no longer enough these days. The actual situation asks that designers find smart coalitions, organize themselves and position themselves right in the heart of the topic.

Behind actual themes like coastal or river safety and energy-transition, a complex reality is hidden where various (technical) disciplines contribute and have an important share in solving the complex matters to be dealt with, deriving from this. Moreover with these complex themes often many different interests have to be taken into account, in some cases the interests of the parties involved are almost opposed. In this context design is used to explore a range of possibilities and to integrate various solutions and interests into spatial concepts. As such, design mediates between the various parties involved.

H+N+S therefore works with an integral approach focusing on the connection between actors and their interests in every project. We focus in these complex matters on a design as the binding force, trying to draw together the input from the different disciplines in one plan. Subsequently the designers try to examine in close conversation with the actors involved if and how one integrative concept can be developed. In the last years we’ve witnessed a growing need for such an integrative approach, both in terms of content and process, in our projects.

This leading role for us as landscape architects – as a spider in the center of its web - is made possible by the special role and unique position of the Dutch landscape architect. Elsewhere, the landscape architect is only second or third in a hierarchy, ‘behind’ planners, architects, and others – often asked to join a project along the way, instead of right from the start.

But in the Netherlands the landscape architect assertively in general adopts a central position as the big integrator. This can be seen as the result of on one hand the heritage of the 20th century ‘land reclamations and land consolidations’ and on the other hand of a long tradition going back to the culture of the fight against water and the first collective water management organizations (‘the waterschappen’) originating from the 13th century and of land-making and large scale land-reclamation in the 17th century, resulting in the famous Dutch polder-landscape. It is also the result of our culture of the so called ‘polderen’, of negotiating and always trying to find a compromise, which is in our national DNA. It is in this tradition – the Dutch way - that our profession and with that we as an office can flourish.

Another consequence of this aspect is the widening of the range of topics that the landscape architect takes on and considers as his/her domain: not merely public space design - squares, garden and parks - but also sizable technical and social topics such as water safety, infrastructure and energy transition. Design is not considered a result of the process itself, but as a way of guiding the process, searching for new ideas for unexpected partners to accept, searching for relations between topics and scales, and asking new research questions for the next step. The Room for the River projects in Kampen and Nijmegen are big interventions in the existing urban environment. The open design process enabled people to grow accustomed to the ideas and to see the benefits. And they did!

Finally. All this may very well sound like a public relations pep talk. That’s completely against our nature and I apologize for it. We hate to go around boasting about our projects and made an exception on todays occasion because the organization asked us to speak about our work. We might be, brave, ingenious and innovative, and try to be smart and persistent too, but most of all we are humble.

From tomorrow on we gladly step back into anonymity and focus on the work to be done. There’s a huge task waiting for us. As a matter of fact, there are huge tasks waiting for all of us. We’re facing big transition assignments moving towards a society based on a sustainable water-, energy- and production system. As we’ve worked patiently, in a long but clear timeline, from the conceptual ‘Plan Stork’ in 1987, via the ‘Room for the River-program al the way to the projects of Nijmegen and Kampen, we now – after years of sowing the seeds with the book of ‘Landscape and Energy’ and the pamphlet of ‘An energetic Odyssey’ - look forward to concretely realize the energy-landscape of the future.

 

No time to waste.

Let’s go to work.