Dutch Space from Winner, Betsky, & Meyer (for 16 July)

An aerial view of the (meticulously planned) port of Rotterdam. Borrowed from: https://www.eurologport.eu/largest-roro-vessel-in-the-world-arrives-in-rotterdam/

Winner centers this whole chapter around the Dutch soccer team’s use of space above all else. He argues that the team’s unique mindset is rooted in centuries-old Dutch land use and reclamation practices; they take the space they are given, and they pioneer techniques to redefine it. He describes this reengineering of pitch space as “a conceptual revolution based on the idea that the size of any football field was flexible and could be altered by a team” (44). Winner writes that Dutch artists have also long been obsessed with understanding exactly how much space they have to work with and making the most of it, especially in architecture painting.

Aaron Betsky’s quick tour of Dutch architecture history begins with his daily bike ride through Rotterdam. Partway through his description of the dizzying variety of architectural styles from various periods, he writes, “My neighborhood is not as simple as its planners had imagined,” (20). This, I think, contains much of his main argument; space in the Netherlands, especially in bigger cities like Rotterdam, was very carefully planned, but the circumstances have changed so much from era to era that the architecture is not nearly uniform. I always think history is best told as a story, so I think his winding narrative tour was an excellent way to tell this story.

Meyer’s account of Dutch land reclamation and development in the two chapters we read this week is much more detailed and technical—I have to imagine he works in academia to take such a deep dive into urban planning and the ins and outs of these engineering stories. In chapter 3, he’s actually pretty much chronological in explaining how the land was drained and made habitable, and chapter 4 gives us a clearer picture of what types of cities developed where based largely on how the land was reclaimed—e.g. dike towns, polder towns, dam towns—and then an explanation on how shifting geography reshaped social, economic, and political structures.

All three of these writers definitely focus heavily on how the Dutch make brilliant use of the space they have. Using that connection, I think they do work very well together to paint a picture of how the idea of space as something limited and valuable but always flexible has seeped into every corner of the Dutch consciousness and shaped the way they view and interact with the world.


4 thoughts on “Dutch Space from Winner, Betsky, & Meyer (for 16 July)

  1. I love that Aiden thought the very industrial port of Rotterdam is beautiful! And it is! I think that must be a Dutch trait: to make the functional thing beautiful also. (Not to say that there aren’t ugly things in The Netherlands; we’ll see some, maybe.)
    I like your attention, Joe, to the shared ideas here about Dutch perceptions of space. And in thinking back on your Essay 1, I wonder whether we might see Betsky, Winner, and even Meyer et al., arguing that the Dutch are actually creating space where none existed before–by seeing the entire football pitch as usable in ways players had not before, they are creating new space, right? You were arguing something similar, I think, in your first essay. It might be interesting to try to connect these things up: What would Brusati think of Winner’s argument? (We can guess that he would endorse hers, given the way he already uses art theory/history to develop his analysis of soccer.)


  2. Joe,

    Firstly, I love that photograph! Wow, what a beautiful city. You point out an interesting point that separates Meyer from Betsky and Winner: he’s far more technical. For some reason this didn’t occur to me because I loved reading Meyer’s piece, but your absolutely right about how different his approach was. I’m going to try to utilize what Betsky did in his writing whenever I can. I like the orderly flow of writing based on the timeline of a bike ride. I toured Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair on Thursday and Auschwitz on Monday. If I were to write a history about these two places, I think it would be neat to write about what I saw and in the order I saw it (this does not necessarily mean chronologically). I also had the same conclusion you did that all three writers focused on space.


    1. I agree with his conclusion that all three of these writers focused on how the Dutch utilized the space that they have. This connection between the three of them makes the articles work well together as Joesph stated in his post. I would like to hear more on how they found their space to be “something limited and valuable but always flexible has seeped into every corner of the Dutch consciousness and shaped the way they view and interact with the world.” I could, definitely, see it being limited and valuable because of the surrounding water and the small amount of land there is, but I am more curious about the flexibility aspect.


      1. I believe you could expand on your ideas in this post for your essay. I agree with Professor Troutman and also am curious to know “whether we might see Betsky, Winner, and even Meyer et al., arguing that the Dutch are actually creating space where none existed before”? Are the football players creating space out of thin air so to speak and how does this connect to your first essay concern Brusati’s views? I think you could also delve into their approaches and who is more technically and scholarly. Moreover, what is the affect does this add to the read of the articles and the knowledge that you gained?


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