Hybrid Landscapes: Dutch Artificial Urban Development

By Jackie Gase

False Flat: Why Dutch Design Is So Good by Aaron Betsky and Adam Eeuwens looks at the history of the Netherlands and its development toward urban architecture and design. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague are the three most interesting cities of study based on their continued urban development since they contained the most favorable conditions for urban growth in their origins. Based on the conditions of the Dutch delta, these cities were initial dam towns which offered direct connection to open water, protection against flooding, and a water system that could be cleaned more frequently. Not only could these cities grow economically through trade but also agriculturally once they fixed the flood problem. One of the major themes in False Flat is this artificial creation of the Dutch landscape.

Realistically, the Netherlands is a completely artificially constructed place. The landscape was changed immensely with dikes, dams, canals, and eventually lakes. The people of the Netherlands were and are always at odds with nature. The humans took up a polder model, defined as a piece of land reclaimed by humans. However, through floods and storms, the land would be reclaimed once again by nature. It is this never-ending fight between humans and the unpredictability of nature.

Another theme brought up in False Flat is the idea of a hybrid landscape. A landscape that mixes traditional forms and materials with modern architecture. Historically, there were arguments over whether the urban cities should mimic a traditional landscape or create more modern designs. Because space is so scarce in the Netherlands, determining how this space is used and inhabited becomes an important discussion; does the city create something traditional or modern? In all cases a hybrid mixture of both traditional and modern was enacted. The Dutch assimilated a variety of forms and styles into their architecture.

The Erasmus Bridge located in Rotterdam connects the northern and southern shores of Rotterdam and is evidence of the Dutch relationship with nature, and the hybrid mixture of two opposing architectural styles. The bridge itself connects two parts of Rotterdam. The south is the working-class business area for container ships and refineries. The North was a newly developed residential neighborhood. The bridge separates two different landscapes within a seemingly connected world. The connection of these two spaces, one that if you walk further down the harbor you encounter a perfect traditional Dutch landscape with a village to the opposing industrial might of the north that are flourishing with trade and commerce. The bridge is a means to experiencing the hybrid, transformative nature of the Dutch landscape.  Furthermore, the creation of this bridge over a dike and moving imperceptibly over the water celebrates the Dutch battle with water. The towering, ethereal blue bridge glides over the water so elegantly, and yet the dominant sculptural qualities represent the power of creation and artificial domination over the landscape.

The last thing I want to discuss briefly is the idea of interiority. That the Netherlands design is so great because of their self reflective city planning; new development in architecture and art reorganizes and perfects what is already there, or utilizes and refines a past style or form. Also, that because the Dutch world is interior, there is no hidden meaning or unseen places, that one can see everything. What you see is reality. Dutch painting is a mirror of the world, not one that we cannot inhabit like Alberti discusses with Renaissance painting. I’m really intrigued by this Dutch perspective of looking in instead of looking out. It’s a bit contradictory to me to think that these are completely self reflective cities when in fact they did accept some outside influences and they are a part of a huge network of refugee centers, mostly Islamic. How do these outside influences showcase themselves in the Dutch world and present themselves in the Dutch identity?


6 thoughts on “Hybrid Landscapes: Dutch Artificial Urban Development

  1. I think it would be interesting to try to read the bike stuff through Betsky’s ideas: how do you think his framework can apply? (or which of several frameworks he uses?)


  2. Great ideas, Jackie! Maybe biking is a good topic for your paper, focusing on the development and planning of cycling paths and passages in cities. As we’ve seen in Wagenbuur’s blog, bicycling and architecture go hand-in-hand for the Dutch and are both part of the Dutch identity. Maybe discuss their connection and their influence on each other. This may be better used for Amsterdam than the Rotterdam examples from False Flat. Hope this helps and look forward to reading your final blog!


  3. The readings from the Architectural Record, and the blog posts from Mark Wagenbuur’s blog Bicycle Dutch all connect to False Flat’s discussion of redefinition of the past, as well as the hybrid mixture of traditional and modern design. First, the Kraanspoor building has historical significance to the city of Amsterdam. Postwar, the building was used for the construction of ships for the shipping industry. At the time, the shipping industry was one of the main businesses for economic profitability due to trade from their success at shaping the water and landscape to their benefit. However, as we learned from the Han Meyer chapter, with the introduction of railroads and road networks, the use of water for transportation diminished. The Kraanspoor building stands as a testament to the history of the thriving shipping industry in the Netherlands as well as the history of the creation of Dutch artificial landscapes for this use. In converting this building to offices for modern jobs, we see a redefinition and reuse of past architecture to benefit the present. Furthermore, the building uses the water to heat and cool the building. The channeling of water follows the past interaction with the environment to successfully build and develop space. Betsky and Eeuwens emphasize how modern artists and architectures develop ideas from Dutch heritage. Thus, the Kraanspoor building is evidence of incorporating a Dutch identity into a building. They integrate the past into the present and display a temporal aspect onto architecture.

    This temporality is further evident in the reconstruction and extension of the Stedelijk Museum. The old entrance with a neo-renaissance design is still prominent, but the new entrance features a modern glossy white covering “bathtub” appearance. As the article states, the addition is linked to the original building only just, and the juxtaposition of the old and new buildings collide starkly. This architectural design is based on preservation of the old while keeping with a new Dutch culture of modernism. As Dutch culture expands and changes, a modern approach to art and architecture becomes apparent. How can architects and artists add onto original designs while wanting to showcase the modern Dutch identity as well? This blend of architecture shows a historical timeline of Dutch identity. While some citizens are not happy with the unsightly combination of the two structures, the pair of “mismatched” buildings to an outsider represent the contrasting and ever-changing appearance of Dutch culture.

    Finally, the changing appearance of Dutch culture can be seen through the increasing popularity of bicycling. Mark Wagenbuur’s blog shows the increasing construction of bi-directional bicycle routes in Amsterdam. Appealing to the current population, Amsterdam has recently been transformed to give cycling more space. Biking has become such a movement in Amsterdam and has cultivated an association to Dutch identity. When the Rijksmuseum was being restored and there was talk about losing the biking passageway under the museum, the Amsterdam people fought against it aggressively. The bike passage had become integrated into the structure of the museum for people and to see it taken away was like seeing a famous national artwork being sold. Biking has transformed the landscape much like how the Netherlands transformed their environment through canals, polders, dams, and dikes to allow a more comfortable living situation and better access to trade routes for their primary industry in the 17th century. The current citizens replicated this reconstruction of the modern landscape to align with their current cultural associations with biking. So, we can see how the Dutch are very aware of their identity and they use their city to reflect this.


  4. This idea of interiority & exposure is really interesting. How exactly do you see it playing out in the architecture? In some sense, the builings’ facades seem to me to create a private interior that is in fact sheltered from the bustling canals & streets. But you’re right, I think (is this what you’re saying), that the Golden Age paintings celebrated a kind of opening up of those spaces to view–those garden gates, views through multiple doorways, and the proliferation of all these interior scenes–parlors, taverns, etc.–for both “private” and “public” scenarious, and some in between (someone answering the door to visitors, at that threshhold of private/ public space). Could we develop this idea in both architecture (whether traditional or modern) and painting?


  5. I really like the two themes you put forward in the beginning of your post, the Netherlands is a completely artificially constructed place, and the idea of a hybrid landscape. I think these are two very interesting themes that appear throughout “False Flat” and I think it would be very interesting to see you expand these ideas with specific examples in your essay. I also found it very interesting how you said that the Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam is a means to experiencing the hybrid of two opposing architectural styles. I think your statement that “the creation of this bridge over a dike and moving imperceptibly over the water celebrates the Dutch battle with water” could really be expanded upon in your essay and provide a very interesting argument.


  6. The idea of traditional and modern interiors is an interesting one. Both the Golden Age Dutch paintings and the modern architecture both focus on the light, movement, and connection to the audience/passerbyer. What are the other similarities? What are the differences in these interiors? How does looking through and then out in Golden Age paintings compete with visitors looking into the new modern buildings? What does this say about The Netherlands and exploration/culture (if anything)? What does it say about Dutch identity?

    Anyway, going back to “False Flat,” Betsky discusses The Netherlands as a whole during his conclusion saying that the beauty of The Netherlands is not really seen because it is flat and with architecture the Dutch can create their identity and showcase their land. I liked the idea of ending the book with Betsky talking about the miniature Dutch villages/buildings of Maduradam (Betsky 358). Such a place helps the viewer get one more collective look on what they have learned and to see The Netherlands as a whole.


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