I particularly enjoyed Aaron Betsky’s discussion of the current political situation in the Netherlands as he explains the influence of right-wing populism and its contradiction with the very essence of Dutch culture (a merger of French, German, Jewish, English, and United States culture). He says even the most xenophobic amongst the Dutch still enjoys, “the food, the slang, and the music the immigrants bring with them” (Betsky 30). I would challenge this claim (as nationalists in America eat American food, listen to country music, and refuse to speak foreign languages and I assume the Dutch are no different) but it is an important point to be made about the hypocrisy of Dutch nationalism.
City planning and architecture in many Dutch cities is an idealized recreation created by architects like A.A. Kok who were filled with nostalgia and hoped to capture the perceived greatness of the past. Betsky claims that space is an important part of architecture and that understanding and modeling the past is at the core of what a designer or architect does. My biggest takeaway is that Dutch architecture is a “melting pot,” to borrow an American term, of different time periods, cultures, and styles. He says he feels that he passes through all of Dutch history on his bike rides and observes a place in which all people can feel at home. I particularly enjoyed this reading and loved the use of his bike route as a chronological order to the writing. He does an excellent job of connecting formal and historical analysis as well as modern politics.
Han Meyer begins chapter three by saying that, “landscapes are always a consequence of a series of technical acts that have the ultimate goal of transforming the natural landscape into an urban or agrarian landscape to inhabit or exploit” (Meyer 46). He concludes by saying that times have changed and it is once again important to ask questions about durability, usefulness, and beauty instead of just technicality. Like Betsky, Meyer argues that one can view all of Dutch history through the landscapes (or buildings for Betsky) themselves. In chapter four, Meyer says that the urbanization of the Dutch Delta was a result of its natural landscape and the organization of the nation-state.
The Dutch Delta is an example of the somewhat radical notion that it is possible to maintain the natural beauty of a place while exploiting it for national gain. To an American ear these sound counterintuitive: my home state houses Yellowstone National Park as well as land destroyed by resource extraction; there is no compromise whatsoever. I would parallel this counterintuitive conclusion to Betsky saying that traditionalists and modernists compromised to create a mix of both in recent Dutch architectural design. Betsky and Meyer both examine the formal nature of landscape and architecture by using historical analysis. They both share the idea that history can be found in design and that approaches in style are subject to change in the modern era.
Although I don’t know anything about soccer, I enjoyed Winner’s discussion of Dutch soccer strategy and how it relates to their culture and history. He argues that because space is so sparse in the Netherlands the Dutch are used to considering its use carefully and thus do the same in their soccer play. I’ve always believed that how someone plays a game is indicative of who they are as a person or a nation. The Russians, for instance, routinely cheat on a massive scale organized by the state during the Olympics. This exemplifies in my mind the Russian, or at least Vladimir Putin’s, belief in winning at any and all costs (although seemingly negative, this is a valuable trait that has often served the Russian people well throughout their turbulent history).
Winner also cites Dutch social liberalism as an example of the Dutch fixation with space. They are and have been far more politically tolerant of gay marriage, prostitution, and drug use than the rest of the world. Winner connects with Meyer by discussing the deeply intermingled nature of both nature and artificial construction in Dutch landscape. Like Meyer and Betsky, he stresses the importance of compromise and working together in Dutch history when he quotes Maarten Hajer as saying, “We always say that the origin of Dutch democracy lies in this co-operative dike-building” (Winner 49). I liked photographer Van der Meer explaining his unorthodox technique of photographing soccer matches from midfield near the television cameras. He says that space is extremely important in understanding the game and close up shots ignore this. Winner, Betsky, and Meyer all place a heavy premium on the important of space in Dutch architecture, landscape, and soccer. They also all highlight the importance of compromise and diversity of thought in the physical and social development of the Netherlands.
The Golden Bend, Gerrit Adriaensz. 1672, oil on panel, 40.5cm x 63cm.