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?