You can say that cultural history by definition plays a role in landscape architecture because our profession always works on the 'story' of our predecessors. It is always building, in addition to preserving. With strict preservation, our profession has a tension that was well articulated as early as 1934 by the first professor of landscape architecture, J.T.P. Bijhouwer in his article 'Create or Preserve'.

Preservation through development

The bridge between landscape construction and landscape conservation has been definitively bridged by the Nota Belvedere, where, in 1999, a new heritage philosophy was laid at the basis of the policy: conservation through development. The work of H+N+S breathes this philosophy: rather 'continue with' than 'back to' since the establishment of the office. The importance of a mature and respectful approach to our historical heritage and the need for repurposing is increasingly felt today.

In a rapidly changing 'world', attention to our heritage is also subject to change. Our dealings with heritage are culturally determined and strongly time and place bound. When is something historically valuable and how do you deal with it in a meaningful way? This question is now answered differently than, say, 50 or 100 years ago, but is also answered very differently in a country like the Netherlands than in say Russia or the US. The experience we have gained in Moscow over a number of years, to arrive at a Cultural-historical Atlas (CHA) for the historical park Lefortovo, speaks volumes in this respect.

Originele ontwerptekening Nicolaas Bidloo (Moskou)

Between two extremes

For this CHA we worked closely with the Cultural Heritage Agency, but we also had a lot of contact with Russian experts. It offered us a beautiful mirror on ourselves and our own attitude towards our cultural heritage and even the common Russian/Dutch heritage. In Russia, the attitude to heritage can best be characterized as a choice between two extremes: a historical site is either simply demolished/destroyed to make room for the new era, or it is restored and then usually reconstructed – something we in the Netherlands actually do. only in exceptional cases (even the reconstruction of the gardens of Paleis het Loo were already fodder for vigorous professional discussion at the time).

A real middle ground has been developed in the Netherlands over the past thirty years; between the two extremes lies a world of possible solutions full of nuances and also full of fundamentally different views on how to deal with heritage. You have to look at each location and moment to see which solution is most appropriate. These solutions are site specific and time dependent. They take into account social challenges, the spatial and programmatic context, financial and other relevant preconditions and the legal framework.


In the development and emancipation of our profession, there is growing attention for other disciplines that are integrated in the domain of landscape architecture. Initially, the profession was strongly oriented towards culture-technical and urban development, and it largely followed what engineers and architects came up with. This docility changed when the profession was gradually broadened after the reconstruction to include more and more fields of attention.

The modern landscape architect who was allowed to color in the greenery around the post-war buildings became more and more a mature professional with his own professional contribution. Roughly every few years, a new field of attention was definitively and fully encapsulated in the field. H+N+S has often performed at the forefront of these developments and opened up new fields through research by design. This can be seen in the agency's oeuvre, in the color of the projects that has changed continuously since it was founded. Over the years, a theme was added: first the ecology and natural dynamics, then the development of agriculture, then flood protection and dykes, then infrastructure and cultural history and recently climate & energy.

St. Hubertus na de herinrichting (foto: Siebe Swart)
Sfeerimpressie landgoed Windesheim

Changing mix

The way of dealing with historical heritage in the Netherlands differs from case to case. Much has been published about these different practices in recent years, among others from the stable of the Belvedere professors (Eric Luiten, Jan Koolen, Andre van der Zande). The Belvedere memorandum (1999) was a policy memorandum on the relationship between cultural history and spatial planning. The memorandum was a consequence of the Culture Memorandum and the Memorandum on Architectural Policy. An investment program was also linked to the bill (Belvedere programme).

Luiten, has written the chapter 'Design with Landscape antecedents' in the H+N+S statement of principles, the book = Landscape from 1998, in which a foreshadowing of the Nota Belvedere can be read. As professor of Cultural History and Design at the TUD, he has further elaborated on these themes. He distinguishes four stereotypical ways of dealing with cultural history in design: the antiquarian, taxonomist, biographer and opportunist. In contrast to these four extremes in design attitude, as a design agency with a strongly inquiring attitude, we see more in a combination of the four types, in an ever-changing mix depending on the place, its development history, the assignment and the time. The modern designer is an antiquarian, taxonomist, biographer, and above all opportunist at the same time.

The spatial-historical analysis of the Citadel Park (Ghent) forms the basis for future development.
Design drawing of Madestein's plan from the post-war greenery study (1974)
Impression of the Geniedijk as part of the Energy Line; preservation through development

Heritage families

Cultural history has played an important role in the work of H+N+S for some time now. In many projects it is one of the relevant angles for making a plan. In almost all projects, dealing with heritage does play a role, but some projects are entirely colored by the handling of special cultural-historical values; above or below ground, built and/or green. Several families can be distinguished in these cultural-historical projects:

  1. Military fortifications
  2. Historic country estates
  3. Historic gardens and parks
  4. Archeology
  5. Historical fabric
  6. Specials
  7. Research

1. Military Fortifications

One of the first H+N+S projects in which cultural history played a leading role is the Stelling van Amsterdam (SvA) project, in which Yttje Feddes (former H+N+S employee) introduced the concept of the Stiltestelling (paraphrasing Gerard van Westerloo). The project links a vision of the (regional) scale of the entire proposition to development opportunities for each sub-location. All this within the context of the dynamic Amsterdam metropolitan region. H+N+S also worked on a study on the State Spanish Lines and made a vision for the fortifications of Den Helder. The work also paved the way for other, later projects such as the New Dutch Waterline (NHW) – one of the Belvedere areas – with former H+N+S-er Eric Luiten as an important driving force.

It is of course the most fun when large-scale visions are eventually realized. The NHW has been working vigorously for several years now, with a number of recent projects by colleagues such as RAAAF/Rietveld Landscape together with Atelier de Lyon (Bunker 599 / Werk aan het Spoel) as perhaps the most appealing examples. Meanwhile, the revitalization of the Defense Line of Amsterdam is also taking shape. A few years ago, H+N+S elaborated part of the Defense Line into a design proposal. Part of this Genie Park, part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam, has recently been completed.

De Stiltestelling (Stelling van Amsterdam)
Staats Spaanse Linies

2. Historic Country Estates

H+N+S   has been working for years on the revitalization of historic country estates and estates, such as for the Frylemaborg in Slochteren. In 2007, a renewal plan was drawn up for Rhederoord in De Steeg, on behalf of the Stichting Behoud Rhederoord Estate, in collaboration with specialists from Buiting consultancy. Rhederoord was originally designed by the German garden designer Petzold who realized designs throughout Europe.

In the past century, for various reasons, Petzold's original designs have faded into the background and the emphasis has shifted to forest policy aimed at nature management, including in the case of Rhederoord. The result is that much of the original spatiality has been lost. And many trees are falling. There is a good chance that in the absence of good management, the planting plan and design principles will fall into disrepair. The renewal plan must turn the tide. On the basis of the historical, dendrological and spatial analysis performed by H+N+S and Buiting, 4 main principles have been identified as the main tools for the design.

Plankaart landgoed Rhederoord

The plan for Rhederoord was followed by recovery plans and renewal proposals for De Hoge Veluwe National Park, the Windesheim estate and the historic Lefortovo country estate in Moscow. For NP De Hoge Veluwe we drew up a Cultural-historical Vision for the entire domain of more than 5,000 hectares and we made a design proposal for the garden and park layout of Jachthuis St. Hubertus (in collaboration with Michael van Gessel) and various gardens on the domain. The most recent offshoot of this tribe is the renewal plan for the 165-hectare site of Soestdijk Palace.

However different all these projects are, there is always a common thread. Central to this is the need to make clear choices: 'cleaning up' and 'removing', which is almost always the case in these historic parks, but also 'magnifying' and 'lighting up' is a matter of choice. This does not happen purely on intuition; the basis is always extensive historical research by historians, supplemented by the bureau's own research. Over the years, H+N+S has developed its own working method for this, based on a layered approach to arrive at a careful substantiation of design choices. Because of this substantiation, we always look forward to the treatment of our plans in monument committees with confidence. In a study that Shera van den Wittenboer conducted in the context of her studies at the University of Groningen, this method is discussed in more detail.

Presentation drawing Fraeylemaborg, L.P. Roodbaart, 1840

We recently made a study into the estate zone in this area, commissioned by the province of South Holland. The Hollands Buiten project provides an answer to two major challenges facing the estate zone: securing the heritage for the future and increasing its importance and significance for visitors and users.

3. Historic Gardens & Parks

In addition to historic country estates and estates, we also have historic parks and gardens on the drawing board. For the Belgian city of Ghent, we designed the recovery plan for the historic Citadel Park, a kind of Vondelpark in Belgium. We also made – in collaboration with Artgineering and Buiting advice - the landscape management plan for this park. The approach of the Citadel Park is based on an extensive (historical) analysis, in which the existing park is laid out in layers. Based on the understanding of development history, the necessary interventions are proposed, appropriate to the questions of our time.

On the Utrechtse Heuvelrug we recently designed the recovery plan for a villa garden Springer and we made a redesign for a modern garden by P.A.M. Buijs at a villa by Rietveld. The implementation of both gardens started in 2017. Although the scale is different from the estates and country estates and the nature of the interventions is also different, the working method to arrive at the design choices is actually the same.

Plan of the terraces and garden around the house at a Rietveld villa

4. Archaeology

Our heritage is not always visible. Sometimes the tracks are – largely – underground, which in turn leads to restrictions above ground because disturbance due to the construction of cunettes and tree planting is not permitted. These limitations lead to very specific design interventions; usually the invisible is made visible with subtle interventions, for example in the case of the design for the large archeology park (now: Amaliapark) in Leidsche Rijn, Utrecht, or in the Oud-Haerlem Castle project near Heemskerk.

Plan drawing Amaliapark

5. Historical fabric

Sometimes an entire core is historically valuable, such as the core of Boxtel in Brabant. For many years we patiently 'taught' on the historic city center of Boxtel. The load-bearing structure of the historic core is the so-called Cultuur-historice As, the old center line of Boxtel. This route runs from the St. Peter's Basilica in Boxtel to Stapelen Castle, originally the two most important buildings in Boxtel.

The first study into the Cultural-historical Axis was followed a few years later by the so-called 'charcoal sketch' for the historic core of Boxtel; an image quality plan on the basis of which concrete elaboration was made step by step in the following years. The first partial elaboration was the refurbishment plan for the STA-P, from Stapelen to the Peter's Basilica. We recently completed the design for the Market Square, the final piece in the STA-P.

Impression Markt Boxtel

6. Specials

Sometimes cultural history may not play a leading role, but the aspect suddenly crops up in a project. It is then not a main theme, but it is 'woven into' a plan in a special way. Examples of such specials are Fort Knodsenburg, which has been given a prominent place in this Room for the River project as a location quality. The originally 16th century fortress is now part of the River Park Nijmegen. Another example is the Grauwaart project (on the Rijnkennemerlaan, Leidsche Rijn).

The National Military Museum is also a special project if you look at it from the perspective of heritage. It is of course one large (museum) display of heritage, in this case military heritage. Due to the major nature development task and the requested change of function from air base to museum destination, many of the old buildings and infrastructure on the site had to disappear. By preserving a characteristic building from every layer of time (flying heath, Second World War / Cold War / current time), the special history of the site can still be experienced and read.

Fort Knodsenburg

7. Research

Without research it is impossible to make good, responsible choices in heritage projects. And that is important because without (knowledge of our) history there is no future. Sometimes, however, H+N+S carries out (historical) research, without translating this directly into a design, such as in the study of Lefortovo (Cultural Historical Atlas) or the study of Post-War Greenery. The main aim of these projects is to put a topic on the agenda. For more information about both these research projects, see our long read on design + research.

The concepts of identity and cultural history have a lot in common. The identity of a place or a community always seeks a point of reference in (cultural) history. To illustrate the development of thoughts on this point, the article Identity is a verb that Dirk Sijmons wrote for LA+ journal.

Het Nationaal Militair Museum (© Siebe Swart)
Visiekaart landgoederenzone Zuid-Holland