How Dutch Design Has Evolved from History

by apenkava

The long and complex evolution of Dutch design is closely tied to the peoples of the Netherlands seemingly never ending battle between the people of the Netherlands and nature. False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good by Aaron Betsky with Adam Eeuwens explores why Dutch design is so “good” by evaluating its relationship to Dutch architecture, graphic design, industrial design, and urban design. The integration of both old and new, and how it flourishes, is unique to Dutch design, as made evident by Betsky and Eeuwens. False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good provides wonderful examples of how the combination of the old and the new create a magnificent infrastructure.

The history of the Dutch Delta region dates back to the Roman period between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries (Meyer 66-67). Due to the swampy nature of the land, beginning in the thirteenth century new types of cities developed – the “dike town”, the “polder town”, and the “dam town” (Meyer 67).  Hans Meyer explains the need for and purpose of these new cities in Chapter 4, Composition and Construction of Dutch Delta Cities, of his book, Delta Urbanism: The Netherlands,

Dam towns were situated where dikes crossed a natural drainage creek. The dam closesthe mouth of the creek and is a central, strategic part of the dike that protects the hinterland against flooding. The mouth of the creek outside the dike was used as a harbor. A lock in the dam made it possible to manipulate the water level and spout the mouth of the creek, which helped to clean the harbor from sediments and flush out the urban water system. However, changing water levels were very difficult for rural communities and the agricultural economy, as they were often the causes of farmland inundations. As a result, the control of the dam was a source of many conflicts among urban and rural communities. To protect dams against sabotage by farmers, city authorities built their town halls (and police departments) on or next to the dams. These dam towns provided the most favorable conditions for urban growth. They offered the splendid combination of a harbor with a direct connection to the open water, protection against flooding, and an urban water system that was frequently cleaned, offering relatively healthy conditions for its inhabitants and clean water for many industries. The most important cities in the Netherlands were built around dams, which is reflected in their names: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Schiedam, and Edam, for example. (Meyer 67-69)

A reoccurring theme in False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good is the artificiality of the Dutch landscape. The Netherlands is truly almost completely artificially constructed (Betsky and Eeuwens 156). Over time the landscape has been changed by the construction of dams, dikes, and canals. Those who inhabit the Netherlands have always battled nature and the devastation it can cause (Meyer 84-85). Through all the artificial construction that has taken place over the years, the land has been transformed into a mixture of old and new as shown in False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good. Over the years, the Dutch have incorporated a diverse range of styles into their architecture and design. Due to the scarcity of buildable land, the determination of how space is used has and always will be an important aspect of the process of Dutch design.

Johannes Vermeer, View of Delf, 1660-1661.png

Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft, 1660-1661

Betsky and Eeuwens provide the reader with the famous image of Johannes Vermeer’s View of Delft (Betsky and Eeuwens 13). This is one of the most famous cityscapes of the Dutch Golden Age, a period during the years 1568-1648, after the end of the Eighty Years’ War,invented by the Dutch in an attempt to rewrite their own history (Betsky and Eeuwens 30). The cityscape shown in this Golden Age work is hardly the same as the cityscapes we see today when looking at some of the Netherlands most prosperous cities. False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good shows computer generated images of the future cityscape of Rotterdam, these images show a modern metropolis of skyscrapers, completely dissimilar to the types of cities Vermeer gazed upon many years ago (Betsky and Eeuwens 35,43,45).

'Tower Affairs, The Geneology of the Skyline,' a study of the future skyline of Rotterdam, by Urban Affairs, 2003

“’Tower Affairs, The Geneology of the Skyline,’ a study of the future skyline of Rotterdam, by Urban Affairs, 2003” (Betsky and Eeuwens 35).

Shipping and Transport College on Lloyds Pier, Rotterdam, by Neutellings Riedijk, to be completed in 2005

“Shipping and Transport College on Lloyds Pier, Rotterdam, by Neutellings Riedijk, to be completed in 2005” (Betsky and Eeuwens 43).

Redevelopment program for Wijnhaven Island, Rotterdam, by Kees Christiaanse, 2002-ongoing

“Redevelopment program for Wijnhaven Island, Rotterdam, by Kees Christiaanse, 2002-ongoing” (Betsky and Eeuwens 43).

Computer-generated image of the multipurpose building Montevideo (right), Rotterdam, by Mecanoo, to be completed in 2005

“Computer-generated image of the multipurpose building Montevideo (right), Rotterdam, by Mecanoo, to be completed in 2005” (Betsky and Eeuwens 45).

wallhaven-247259

Amsterdam: Bird’s Eye View

In Amsterdam however, the mixture of old and new appears to be quite beautiful and seamless. The above image showcases not only the verticality of the city of Amsterdam but also just how integrated the old canals are into the now modern city. The city was forced to expand upwards because of the limited space available and, as a result, has forced architects to truly value space and to always consider functionality. A lot of thought went into creating more land, and because the land itself was planned, the buildings that were erected on the new land needed to be just as planned. The urban planning of Amsterdam has been very deliberate in order to ensure that future building is done in a way that results in a living, working, city.

For many years, architects were limited in their ability to build upwards due to the gap between their forward thinking and the technology needed to make their ideas reality. In the modern day, architects are able to let their ideas take them to new heights – the tallest building in the world stands at 2,717 feet in the United Arab Emirates (Dillinger). However, Dutch architects still use the basic building blocks of the Dutch city, defined by the order of dams, irrigation ditches, meadows, roads, and swamp land (Betsky and Eeuwens 212). Although large buildings are now possible in the Netherlands (as shown by the images Betsky and Eeuwens present to the reader displaying the future of the Rotterdam cityscape) many Dutch architects choose to focus on designs not much taller than the classic three and four story canal houses (Betsky and Eeuwens 35,43,45,98,212).

Housing built as part of the Gewilde Wonen (Desired Living) project for the Almere Expo 2001, Almere, by Laura Weeber, 2001

“Housing built as part of the Gewilde Wonen (Desired Living) project for the Almere Expo 2001, Almere, by Laura Weeber, 2001” (Betsky and Eeuwens, 98).

Housing project Singels Deeplan, II Ypenburg, by Dick Van Gameren: De Architectengroep, 2002

“Housing project Singels Deeplan, II Ypenburg, by Dick Van Gameren/ De Architectengroep, 2002” (Betsky and Eeuwens, 212).

Kraanspoor - Ontwerpgroep Trude Hooykaas (OTH) AmsterdamPM

 Ontwerpgroep Trude Hooykaas (OTH), Kraanspoor, November 2007

One building, the Kraansppor, achieves the Dutch ideal of melding the old and the new into one seamless structure. Located on the banks of the River IJ in Amsterdam North, NDSM, the old docks once home to the Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company is now a cultural hotspot with a vibrant arts community (NDSM Wharf and Metz). The concrete crane track that once produced hundreds of ships in the postwar era is now the base of a light glass and steel box that houses modern offices (Metz).

Betsky and Eeuwens discuss how “spatial organization is a way of thinking about the reality one inhabits in a three-dimensional and abstract way” (Betsky and Eeuwens 86). Spatial organization is an idea that has been adapted from the German concept Raumplanung – seeking to integrate the coordination of all physical resources in space (Betsky and Eeuwens 86). This is a key component in urban planning. A political debate began in the 1870’s concerning the construction of the Afsluitijk, which did not begin until 50 years later in the 1920’s (Meyer 79). This longe period of negotiation on a single project, called the “polder model” is typical in the Netherlands. No party can walk away from negotiation until a there is a consensus, in the end all participants may not be happy, but they are able to work with the result (Betsky and Eeuwens 270). The Afsluitijk is a highway that helps to dam the Zuiderzee (Meyer 80). This was done in an effort to create more productive farmland in response to the famine that followed World War One (Meyer 79). Closing the Zuiderzze allowed the people to reclaim a large agricultural area, and provide enough excess land to afford architects the ability to experiment with comprehensive spatial planning (Meyer 80). This space became known as IJsselmer (Ijssel Lake). The Ijsselmer polder system was so effective at spatial planning that the model was implemented internationally in the 1960’s (Meyer 80, 83).

Image from the documentary from 1972. The streets are dominated by cars and there is not a tree in sight.

“Image from the documentary from 1972. The streets are dominated by cars and there is not a tree in sight.” (Wagenbuur).

A 1970s protest with upside down car wrecks in the Amsterdam neighbourhood De Pijp for a better environment with fewer cars. Painted on the cars it reads “car free”.

“A 1970s protest with upside down car wrecks in the Amsterdam neighbourhood De Pijp for a better environment with fewer cars. Painted on the cars it reads ‘car free’” (Wagenbuur).

Mark Wagenbuur’s blog, Bicycle Dutch, is a comprehensive blog on the bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands. In a blog post titled, Amsterdam children fighting cars in 1972, Wagenbuur includes an edited and subtitled excerpt from a 1972 TV documentary about how the traffic situation affected the children living in an Amsterdam neighborhood, “De Pijp” (Wagenbuur). The video excerpt is particularly compelling, not only because it is wonderful to see the children speaking up for something that they believed in and a lot of adults supporting their cause, but also because the video highlights how bicycles have helped to shape the culture, history, and urban design of the city. The ability to see so many people who believe in the use of bicycles instead of cars, the process of urban planning involving the children who protested for their right to play outdoors, and the positive effect on more than 40,000 people’s lives, brought Betsky and Eeuwens argument about the importance of spatial planning to life. An image of the campus bar in False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good, designed by NL Architects for the University of Utrecht, showcases how architects have fully integrated a useable skateboard ramp into the design of the university (Betsky and Eeuwens 348). This type of design seems to surely be a direct descendent of the campaign held by the children of De Pijp in 1972 for a play-friendly environment.

BasketBar, De Uithof, Utrecht, by NL Architects, 2003

“BasketBar, De Uithof, Utrecht, by NL Architects, 2003” (Betsky and Eeuwens 330).

This course challenges its students to view the city of Amsterdam as a museum. If the city is the museum, then its buildings are the art inside of the museum. Betsky and Eeuwens evaluate how “good” Dutch design is through its relation to architecture, graphic design, industrial design, and urban design. Harry Berger, from week one’s readings, approaches evaluating art by focusing on the social and political history in which the art is framed and asks questions about what type of reality the art represents (Berger 185). Through reading False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good it is evident by the emphasis placed on the history and evolution of the Netherlands in relation to Dutch design, that Berger’s method of analysis would prove useful in evaluating how “good” Dutch design is since the historical context clearly answers the question of “why”.

Aaron Betsky says in False Flat, “It is not a beautiful sight, but it works.”, but I would disagree; I think that there is something truly beautiful in the sight of Dutch design (Betsky and Eeuwens, 20). The Netherlands is a country where there is complete order, “the relationship between water and land, house and country, and open and enclosed space is etched into the precise lines of the irrigation ditches, the meadows, the rows of houses, and the patches of green captured between them. It is a place in which every space has been negotiated and thus everything has its place” (Betsky and Eeuwens, 266). The old and the new, the natural and the man made has its place. This is the beauty of Dutch design.

References:

Text

Berger, Jr., Harry “Supposing Rembrandt’s The Night Watch,” Virginia Quarterly Review 83.1 (2007): 178-195.

Betsky, Aaron, and Adam Eeuwens. False Flat: Why Dutch Design Is so Good. London: Phaidon, 2008. Print.

Dillinger, Jessica. “10 Tallest Buildings in the World.” WorldAtlas. N.p., 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 03 June 2017. <http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/10-tallest-buildings-in-the-world.html&gt;.

Metz, Tracy. “Kraanspoor.” Architectural Record (2011). Web. 3 June 2017.

Meyer, Han, Inge Bobbink, and Steffen Nijhuis. “Chapter 4: Composition and Construction of the Dutch Delta Cities.” Delta Urbanism: The Netherlands. Chicago: Amer Planning Assn, 2010. N. pag. Print.

“NDSM Wharf.” I Amsterdam. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2017. <http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting/areas/amsterdam-neighbourhoods/ndsm&gt;.

Wagenbuur, Mark. “Amsterdam Children Fighting Cars in 1972.” BICYCLE DUTCH. N.p., 21 Dec. 2013. Web. 03 June 2017. <https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/amsterdam-children-fighting-cars-in-1972/&gt;.

Images

“Amsterdam bird’s eye view,” wallhaven. Web 30 May 2017. <https://alpha.wallhaven.cc/wallpaper/247259&gt;.

Betsky, Aaron, and Adam Eeuwens. False Flat: Why Dutch Design Is so Good. London: Phaidon, 2008. Print.

“Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft, C. 1660 – 1661.” Mauritshuis. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2017. <https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/explore/the-collection/artworks/view-of-delft-92/&gt;.

Wagenbuur, Mark. “Amsterdam Children Fighting Cars in 1972.” BICYCLE DUTCH. N.p., 21 Dec. 2013. Web. 03 June 2017. <https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/amsterdam-children-fighting-cars-in-1972/&gt;.

Zwarts, Kim. “Kraanspoor.” Architectural Record (2011). Web. 3 June 2017.

 

 

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s