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Landscape experience

Following up former contributions of the chair of Landscape Architecture/TUDelft to the Oerol Festival we are this year developing our fifth project in the framework of Sense of Place – IOPM.

The 2017 project has just been named; PIN(K) A PLACE – Disclosing Landscape.

This year expedition project focus on Place and Perception and is located in a forest nearby Duinmeertje Hee.

Background and methods used during the design process.

Walking a straight line – immersive method

The first step of the recognition and mapping phase made on site was the introduction of an exercise when the students were asked to walk into the forest for the first time, not in groups but alone and remote from each other by about 30 meters, not using any of the existing paths but starting from the edges of the forest and walking into the forest in a straight line minding and making notes of the deviations – moments when, where and why they were inclined to stop or leave the referential straight line to research the particularities of the forest, coming back to the line after the recognition of a certain particularity continuing their journey along the line till the next moment of deviation happened.

By introducing this linear movement a qualitative recognition of the site was established; obstacles were encountered during the walk; the perception and ‘view’ of the students were drawn by events, objects, atmospheres along the way introducing serendipity into this mapping phase. The experiential dynamic of walking and the sensorial relationship with the site made the students much more aware of the particularities they encounter and the deviations they were inclined to make.

By noting this particularities and encounters a first map of capacities of the site were made. This exercise that was not meant, in principle, to collect hints for the project but be a recognition of what was there, has generated an unexpected affluence of material, perceptions, experiences and is still informing the project in its end phase. Not only the experiences and deviations on site are been inspiring but also the very exercise of walking as a research method, what confirms the importance of been conscious about the ‘steps’ taken during all phases of the design process.

The second step directly related to the walking a straight line exercise was to compare and discuss the experiences in the group trying to find out the way to match them. This phase revealed on one hand the tendency to describe tactile aspects of the site and on the other hand talk about feelings, remembrances, stories related to certain spots along the way, ending in a map overlapping different ephemeral encounters.

The most important conclusion of this brainstorm section, along with that of mapping the individual opinions or making lists of emotions, is the realization that each of us has a personal perception of the landscape. In this sense you could make as many maps and lists as visitors are of the same forest.

What remote back to understandings about place and perception the students had studied in the introductory phase like the Richard Muir’s book Approaches to Landscape where he also refers to another important researcher on subjects related to Place and Perception, Yi Fu Tuan; “In experiencing places, we simultaneously encounter two closely related but different landscapes. The real landscape, the objective one made by soil, vegetation and water. The other is the perceived landscape, consisting of senses and remembrances, a selective impression of what the real landscape is like… When the one departs, the landscape enduring in the memory to be recalled and recounted will be the one founded on perceptions, not the real landscape”(Muir, 1999).

Curation or the many authors approach / participatory research

Following up the above mention conclusion the design process stepped into two main directions; one searching for ways to give the visitor pre-defined experiences by introducing a narrative, or tools to enlarge existing features of the site. This projects refer to installations with a certain degree of interaction aiming to focus the perception of the visitor into specific aspects of the forest playing with the senses or giving to the visitors a different role than the one they are used to. A few examples of this approach are; marking the relief and high differences of the old dunes, or by amplifying sounds and views present in the forest, or using natural material available, or reporting the visitors to former ages of the same landscape.

The other direction searches for a more interactive approach where the user/visitor of the forest is a co-author and an integrative part of a research like project. This approach relates to more recently ‘bottom-up’ investigative strategies emerging as an attempt to offer a different form of analyses than the factual or theoretical one. In this sense the project has not one author but is a result of an overlapping of uncountable authors. In a curatorial way of doing research, the intention is to build a database of perceptions together with the visitors of the project stepping aside of the role as dominant creators and establishing a framework wherein the interaction can happen.

The above mentioned is a result of a process which took about three weeks of intensive search for a concept. In this design phase the students were shift several time under the different ideas. In principle the ideas remained, what changed were the students working on them, depending on their own interest. In such way some ideas were developed further, others were revaluated creating a groups cohesion where everyone can now identified with the end result. This way of work helps to reach high level concepts generating a massive amount of ideas, all of them somehow being part of the final project.

Final Project

PIN(K) A PLACE – Disclosing Landscape

Pin(k) a place is the final project, still in development, which will be built during the Oerol Festival, from 09 till 19 June.

Pin(k) a Place is a project that operates on the surface of the forest, overlapping the existing landscape without deleting or modifying it substantially. It is a project which has as premise to be reversible, impermanent but at the same time tries to provoke reactions, tries to choreograph a relationship in between the visitor and the landscape they are in. Its intention is the creation of a meaningful place by introducing icons to the landscape and engaging the user physically and emotionally. Its intention is also to be an interactive research of people’s perception of this landscape, to understand and document what is in there people feel the most attach to. Therefore the project opens a conversation with the visitor, stimulate their participation, mapping it and build a collectively authored archive of perceptions.

Literature and studies used to develop the mentioned exercises and phases are, for example: studies and experiments e.g. made by Ellen Braae trying to capture site-specific qualities of a site (Braae et al., 2013), Cosgrove considerations about maps and mapping in Mapping (Cosgrove, 1999), Land Art projects in which the act of walk becomes an artwork in Walkscapes (Careri, 2002), Richard Muir’s definition of a Place in Approaches to Landscape (Muir, 1999), Yi-Fu Tuan seminal books – Place and Space (19077) and Topophilia(1972), Ed Wall essay on an method how to create an interactive cartography (Wall, 2017).

Students Oerol 2017 – Bella Bluemink, Eva Ventura, Eva Willemsen, Federica Sanchez, Ge Hong, Ilya Tasioula, Jan Gerk de Boer, Joey Liang, Lukas Kropp, Maël Vanhelsuwé, Maximilian Einert, Michelle Siemerink, Qingyun Lin, Timothy Radhitya Djagiri, Yao Lu. Coordination and tutoring Oerol 2017 – Denise Piccinini and Rene van der Velde

 More information about our project?

Visit our website (still under construction) https://iopm2017.wordpress.com/

 

 

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On the 22nd of november the Landscape Architecture master students went on another of many adventures. This time, the path led to Holwerd, a historical village in Friesland on the coast of the dynamic and beautiful Wadden Sea and to the island on the other side, Ameland.

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Being the biggest tidal area of the world, the Wadden Sea is one of Holland’s prides showing an intriguing interplay of nature’s power and man’s whit. With its rich ecology and its captivating views, the area earned its World Heritage title. And upon experiencing the site, we could all agree.

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Poetry was written all over our two day trip as we drifted away from our student life in Delft and wandered into the lives of ecologists, birdwatchers, the inhabitants of Holwerd and Ameland and the ferry captains. We saw both natures beauty in the astonishing sunset sky, the dancing bird formations and the foggy dunes in the morning light and man’s whit in the terps of Holwerd, the abstract line of the dikes and openness of the polders. When we looked up to the night sky, it was the first time in a while that we could see the stars and when we climbed up to the panorama deck on the ferry, the Wadden Sea showed off its looks presenting the tidal flats.

sunset

It is safe to say that the Wadden Sea area is unique and that hopefully, the next adventure will bring us to another place like this.

Eva Ventura

The new masters students of Landscape Architecture embarked upon the first of, what will soon be, many adventures studying the diverse dutch landscape. The first excursion took the students south from Delft and into the beautiful landscape of Limburg.

Limburg offered an entirely different view of the dutch landscape, rolling hills and vineyards were the main characteristic. Created by the terraced plateaus formed by the river Meuse; this was a Netherlands very different from the flat polders of south holland and one which most of the students had not seen before.

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But this was also an area in which the students could see mans forceful affect on our environment; that being in the old limestone quarries of Limburg. Now, that the quarry sites are closed, nature has taken over and this unique space was a peaceful setting of plants and wildlife. But most interestingly for the students to see were the bounding steep walls of rock which show the geomorphology of the space; layers of strata freezing the landscapes’ formation through time.

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Of course, the only way to really understand the landscape is to delve into and experience it; thus ensued two jam-packed days of exploring from the apex of the plateau to the lows of the quarry, through the small villages, chateaus, vineyards and even a quick wave to Belgium. From tumbling down the steep quarry sides to wet hair flips in the lakes; the only way to learn the landscape is to be in it!

Jade Appleton

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Roads and landscape

The road in the landscape is a  multi-faceted subject, as we could read in the previous posts by Gerdy Verschuure and Steffen Nijhuis. Driving as a means to experience the landscape is one of these aspects, which sometimes has been exalted to an art in itself.

When traveling through the United States, one of the greatest experiences is the travel itself: driving days on end through expansive landscapes on roads straight as an arrow where the landscape morphology permits, or following the contours of the natural landscape where it doesn’t. This fall I fulfilled a long since wish: driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting from the northernmost tip, we drove south for two days, zigzagging from breath-taking view to breath-taking view, until a flat tire forced us to return to the inhabited world.

 

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Parkways

The tradition of building parkways goes back a long way, to one of the godfathers of landscape architecture. When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had created Prospect Park in 1868, they felt that, although the park was recognized as a magnificent natural reserve, it lacked any corresponding system of roads leading to it. So they created the Eastern Park-Way, the first parkway. Parkways – wide avenues, with a differentiation in lanes for pedestrians, horse riders and carriages, supported by planting – were not quite parks in themselves, but not just streets either, and became known as ‘ribbon parks’. In Olmsteds days the car did not play a big role yet, but in the following decades, when mass-production of automobiles made motorised traffic widely available, the idea that one could enjoy nature while driving on the road remained an issue. Half a century later the concept of the urban parkway was extended to the scale of the country, by creating grand scenic parkways – roads across the land leading into the wilderness, allowing independent journeys into National Parks which were previously accessible by public transport only.

 

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The Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the first scenic parkways to be built was the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. It runs between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park – a distance of 469 miles. Stretching across the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains range, it was designed to respond to the contours of the land. It was designed and constructed in sections: as land was purchased by the states, rights-of-way were approved and contracts secured through the Bureau of Public Roads. Construction began in 1935, and when work halted due to the outbreak of World War II, some 170 miles were complete. In the 1950s construction resumed, and by 1968 the parkway was complete, except for a 7.7-mile stretch. It was not until this section was completed in 1987 that the Blue Ridge Parkway fully opened, 52 years after the project began.

Essential for the experience of the parkway are its rest-stops, positioned at a bend in the road which opens up to an unexpected wide view, or just before a tunnel, which as an impressive feat of engineering, is considered a worthwhile view in itself.

As befits a true National Park the Blue Ridge Parkway received its own sign, expressing the value ascribed to what is basically just a road. The sign highlights a remarkable landscape architectural aspect, repeated over the full length of the road: often the forest is cut away to allow for the view, leaving one last tree standing, creating depth in the perspective and anchoring the viewer to the place in relation to the horizon.

 

Nature experience  

While the urban parkway introduced the benefits of nature to the city, the ever-present problem of cross-traffic managed to erode the ideals of a continuous passage in nature. The creation of national parkways allowed for a complete removal of the parkway from any reference to urban contexts. In the design of the parkways, infrastructural space is considered a valuable territory on its own, carefully choreographed in the landscape, interconnecting parks and park areas into a coherent system, in such a way that motorists could enjoy nature while in transit. More than just a feat of engineering, these infrastructural lines can be seen as a cultural phenomenon where movement is the motor of a physical and visual experience.

 

References

Engle, R.L. (2006) The Greatest Single Feature… A Sky-Line Drive. 75 years of Mountaintop Motorway. Luray, VA: Shenandoah National Parks Association.

Zapatka, C. (1995). The American Landscape. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Routes are important operative structures in landscape architecture because they play a crucial role in mediating or facilitating the use and reception of (designed) landscapes. Routes are the ‘silent guides of the stroller’ and facilitate the primordial act of walking as an aesthetic and social practice. The shape of a walk refers not only to the formal aspects of routing such as the tracing and gradient of the routes, but also to the landscape space as people perceive it. This perceptual space indicates the visual reality, the sensorial experience that emerges only by bodily movement and is affected by topological, physical, social, and psychological conditions. The psychologist Kurt Lewin proposed in 1934 the term Hodological Space to describe these factual conditions a person is faced with on its way (‘Hodos’, a Greek word meaning ‘way’). The psychogeographical maps of Guy Debord in the 1950’s and Hans Dieter Schaal in the late 1970’s are inspiring attempts to visualize perceptual space.

 

Psychogeographical mapping of hodological space (drawing by Hans Dieter Schaal, 1978)

Mapping hodological space (drawing by Hans Dieter Schaal, 1978)

 

Visual perception and kinaesthesia

The shape of a walk as a concept connects visual perception to the ‘sense of movement’ or kinaesthesia. In traditional Asian culture it is common to link visual perception with movement as exemplified by the Chinese character for ‘to see’ 見 in which the upper part symbolises the eye 目and the lower part symbolises the feet of a person 儿. Kinaesthetic experience involves several sensory channels for an active participation with the spatial environment. The brain integrates information from proprioception and the vestibular system into its overall sense of body position, movement, and acceleration, which is important for spatial orientation as described by the neuroscientist Alain Berthoz.

Bodily sensation and muscle movement are thus closely related to visual perception. As James Gibson elaborates in his seminal work ‘The ecological approach to visual perception’: “Locomotion is guided by visual perception. Not only does it depend on perception but perception depends on locomotion inasmuch as a moving point of observation is necessary for any adequate acquaintance with the environment. So we must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive.” The shape of a walk is therefore determined by a kinaesthetic experience of the designed landscape where visual perception is inherently connected to one’s abilities and possibilities for movement offered by the design.

 

Bodily sensation and muscle movement are closely related to visual perception (photos by Eadweard Muybridge, 1887)

Bodily sensation and muscle movement are closely related to visual perception (photos by Eadweard Muybridge, 1887)

 

Walking as field of study in landscape architecture

The shape of the walk is thus of crucial importance in landscape architecture because it is not possible to perceive space without movement of the eye, head and body. It determines the tactile and kinaesthetic experience and is the means to organise the visual logic of a site by directing the individual’s gaze at views or focal points and their sequence. From this follows that the shape of a walk is an important unifying and structural principle in landscape design and the discovery of landscape from past to present. According to the garden theorist and historian Erik A. de Jong it must be considered the hinge that steered more than anything else the changing options for use, experience, and design and contributed fundamentally to both personal and cultural developments.

From this perspective the shape of a walk becomes a highly relevant field of study in landscape architecture. Not only in the sense that it addresses the phenomenological dimensions of landscape as proposed by the sociologist Lucius Burckhardt with his Science of Strolling (called: Strollology or Promenadology), or that it offers an alternative approach to landscape design that integrates intense space perception, encourages intuition and supports organization as elaborated by landscape architects such as Henrik Schultz and Günther Voght. The shape of a walk is also an important container of design knowledge available for systematic exploration, description and classification. It is an invaluable source of design principles that effectively shape the relation between formal space (‘space of coordinates’) and perceptual space. Studying the shape of a walk can help landscape architects to get a grip on space as perceived from eye-level, kinaesthetic aspects, wayfinding, and the phenomenology of landscape in order to become tools for landscape design.

GIS-based analysis of the shape of the walk at Stourhead Landscape garden combining height gradient, visible features and light and shade along the route (analysis by Steffen Nijhuis, 2015)

GIS-based analysis of the shape of the walk at Stourhead Landscape garden combining height gradient, visible features and light and shade along the route (analysis by Steffen Nijhuis, 2015)

The material as discussed above is excerpted from: Nijhuis, S. (2015) GIS-based landscape design research. Stourhead landscape garden as a case study. Delft, A+BE. http://dx.doi.org/10.7480/abe.2015.13 or http://repository.tudelft.nl/view/ir/uuid:74854bbb-1843-4b73-9214-040e8c64384c/

Middagterallee in Dieren (G.Verschuure-Stuip, 2015)

During the last six month, the discussion on the cutting off trees next to Dutch N-roads, provincial roads, was intensified. It started as a ‘soft’ rule in the ‘Handboek Wegontwerp 2013’ which was published by the knowledge platform CROW, which stated that a tree should be planted away from the road for at least four and a half meters. But it escalated in a question list and discussion on ‘dangerous’ provincial roads by the ANWB (which actually was filled in by only a small group of its members). Many of these ‘dangerous’ roads are flanked by rows of old trees or these roads are in the midst of natural reserved areas. It was argumented that these roads and especially the trees next to it are leading to more injuries and deaths by car accidents. A group called ‘Knights of Trees’ (Bomenridders) collected –with success- many thousands of signatures of worried people, fearing the cutting of trees on large scale in the province of South Holland. But this fear is not over yet!

Cutting Trees a Solution?

No doubt that every death or traffic injury is one to many and this should be prevented. Traffic safety is of great importance to us all. But the question rises if downing rows of trees, even 200 or 300 years old trees, is the solution? Of course, it is very pitiful when a car loses control and crashes against a tree. But what would be the consequences if, because all trees in the middle of the road (parkway) were cut off, a troubled car is ending up at the other side of the road facing the oncoming vehicles? What would happen if a group of biking youngsters on the biking lane next to the road would be driven over because of the lack of a row of trees to safeguard them? Is it not the displacement of another problem? Is the basis of the traffic problems this long row of beautiful trees or do we need to take a closer look at specific, dangerous spots? And is the tree, which is standing on the same spot in all cases the most guilty party or do other factors, not at the least the way people drive, play a much more decisive role? The research of the ANWB didn’t answered all of these questions in their story.

The beauty of a avenue flanked with trees. Fonteinenallee in Renkum (G.Verschuure-Stuip, 2015)

Ecology and Environmental Issues

Traffic safety is one of the users arguments. But there are many more arguments not to cut off trees, which should be taken into account every time when is decided if a tree should be cut off or not. First and foremost, trees play a crucial role in the ecology and environmental issues of an area. Trees contribute of course in the production of oxygen (trees are most effective when they are a little older), are cooling the air in the summer and reduce wind and storms and make people more relaxed. Next to this, trees are housing birds, bats and other animals and smaller plants. And they have a function in reducing noise and fine dust, humans bad ‘habits’. Although the ecological and value cannot be named in euro’s, images of the thick smog of Beijing show how things can go wrong with fine dust. Next to this, world leaders- we- have decided this weekend, that our planet should not heat up more than ‘really less than 2 degrees’ in the future. We need all the help –however small- to make it to our climate goal targets and every tree is helping.

Identity and Cultural History

Trees are contributing to the regional landscape identity and cultural history of the place and this should be an argument in the discussion as well. Because trees, individually planted or in rows, which we call avenues or alleys, are part of the history of our cultural landscapes. They play an essential role in the character and identity and branding of a specific area. Many people are thinking now, so what? But landscapes with incensed avenues and forests, like on the boarders of the Veluwe, are being appreciated higher than open, flat landscapes with few trees by tourists, visitors and owners. And happy tourists and visitors are drinking more coffee and tea, staying overnight and shop and therefore, contribute to local economy. And this is leading to more functions for residents and higher house prices, which was shown in the clear graphics and numbers in the ‘Gemeenteatlas 2015’.

And the beauty is not only in the presence, but also in its size, which cannot be restored easily and quickly. When a part of the city is restored, like Utrecht is doing, the process will take 10-15 years. If an old tree needs to be replaced with another rather big one, it takes much more effort to do so. In the Netherlands there is a saying; Tree big, planter dead! (Boom groot, plantertje dood!).

Lost Beauty

Meanwhile, many trees and avenues have lost so much quality already. Recent research at the chair of Landscape Architecture at Delft University of Technology shows figures on the avenues in the Renkum community, a municipality on the boarders of the Veluwe. Over the past 140 years the presence of avenues diminished heavily. While Renkum had 140 different avenues or alleys in 1870, only 40% of these avenues were still intact in 2013. The quality of these avenues has diminished even further. While in 1870 65% of the avenues were still intact, in 2013 only 20% of the avenues were still in good condition. These are just a few numbers of what has happened, but you can already imagine how the appearance and quality of this area has been altered by the loss of the previously present avenues.

Future Driving

The timing is so to say a little wry in this period of time, when specialists are testing systems for cars to drive safely on roads in a ‘super-cruise control mode’ on long distances, which we saw on the news a couple of month ago.So, trees cannot drive cars, but people can. Let’s find specific solutions in which cars can drive safely and trees can stand next to the side of the road.

Hereby, I want to thank Lotte Dijkstra, Karen Cubells, Michiel Pouderoijen en Frits van Loon for their contribution to the blog.

More readings and links:

- Blog of Piet Vollaard ‘Kappen met kappen’ on Archined (11-11-2015): https://www.archined.nl/2015/11/kappen-met-kappen/

- Knights of Trees, site of Rotterdam: www.bomenridders.nl and site to the IJsselsteijnse Knight of Trees: http://www.bomenridders-ijsselstein.nl/dreigende-bomenkap-langs-provinciale-wegen/

- Manual of CROW: http://www.crow.nl/vakgebieden/verkeer-en-vervoer/wegontwerp/vraag-en-antwoord?page=1&searchsort=sco

- Research on the Changing Quality of Lanes in Renkum by C.M. Dijkstra, K. Cubells Guillen, G. Verschuure-Stuip will be published soon.

The dike as a landscape element takes on many shapes [1]. Depending on their form and location, dikes determine the ‘face’ of the Dutch polder landscape. Of course vegetation, land allotment and building development patterns also play an important role. Yet dikes are vital to the landscape’s appearance: apart from their form and location, their uninterruptedness defines spaces in a landscape and connects areas with each other. Dikes make differences in the polder landscape legible: a dike in a river landscape is different from one built in a sea-clay or peat landscape or the area around the IJsselmeer lake. Dikes therefore contribute to the identity and variety of the landscape. They simultaneously provide coherence, a sense of space and a rich variety of appearances. But how do you get a grip on the dikes’ spatial significance?

The seminal publication Het toekomstig landschap der Zuiderzeepolders (literally, ‘The future landscape of the Zuiderzee polders’ [1928]) provides some leads. In this manifesto of Dutch landscape architecture, planning experts such as D. Hudig and T. van Lohuizen described the importance of dikes as follows: ‘The dike is a significant element in every polder. Located on the border, it provides a view on one side of the landscape at its foot, unfolding its particular structure; on the other side it provides a view of the surrounding land, which often has a completely different character. The long, broad slope is one of the dike’s most beautiful features (. . .)’. From this, it can be inferred that a dike’s spatial significance depends on your vantage point, on the perspective you choose for reading and understanding dikes in the landscape. There are at least two different ways of looking at dikes: from the air and from the ground. In these vertical and horizontal perspectives features such as the dike’s course, cross-section and revetment always play a different role.

The course, cross-section and revetment of the dike exert great influence on its spatial significance. Plan for a new sea dike in the IJsselmeer area (Netherlands), Jacob van Hoorn, 1737 (source: TU Delft Library, Kaartencollectie Trésor TRL33.5.07)

The course, cross-section and revetment of the dike exert great influence on its spatial significance. Plan for a new sea dike in the IJsselmeer area (Netherlands), Jacob van Hoorn, 1737 (source: TU Delft Library, Kaartencollectie Trésor TRL33.5.07)

The view from the air

You get a bird’s eye view of the dike system regardless of whether you view it from the air or on a map. It becomes clear that dikes form spatial patterns that endow the landscape with structure. They provide cohesion in the landscape and are also the interface between land and water, or between different polders that are enclosed as spatial units. Dikes ‘frame’ different types of landscape and landscape units. Like the black lines that separate the pictures in a comic book, the dikes are the green lines that demarcate the Dutch landscape. This also means that dikes are connecting structures:  through cities and nature, they meander everywhere and connect the coast with the hinterland. This is significant, not only for plants and animals but also for humans.

Dike patterns also make the history of reclamation in the polder readable: in Friesland (NL), for example, you can see an intricate, irregular pattern of dikes and quays, an echo of the early individual reclamation that from the time of the Romans gradually developed into ring dikes; you can discern the haphazard process of diking accreted silted soil in Zeeland, and the systematic reclamation of the West-Frisian and Holland-Utrecht peat areas that started in the early Middle Ages. The ring dikes mark the areas of reclaimed land that have lain low in the landscape since the sixteenth century. Dike patterns are a record of the formative force of water and the way humans have dealt with it. Natural processes of sedimentation, erosion and stagnation through water provide the foundation for a rich variety of polder landscapes in the coastal, river and peat areas. Dikes also reflect technological progress, such as the Dutch Delta works, the Afsluitdijk (the enclosing dam of the IJsselmeer) and land reclamation in the IJsselmeer area. In a nutshell, the shape of a dike makes it possible to read how we have dealt with water: from the small-scale and winding in early times to the very large-scale and rectilinear today.

The development of the landscape expressed by the pattern of dikes, here visible on the island of Goeree Overflakkee (SW-Netherlands)  (drawing by: Michiel Pouderoijen, TU Delft)

The development of the landscape expressed by the pattern of dikes, here visible on the island of Goeree Overflakkee (SW-Netherlands) (drawing by: Michiel Pouderoijen, TU Delft)

The view from the ground

Viewing the dike from the ground means you stand on or next to the dike or see it from a distance. Here, conditions affecting visual perception such as vantage point, the viewer’s elevation and viewing direction, movement, and the weather play an important role. The interplay between the dike’s sideways slope, structure and revetment determine its spatial significance at eye level.

In the field, dikes are spatial borders: they determine the form of the landscape, the two- and three-dimensional composition of vertical elements that define the landscape space. The composition determines the scale, proportion, orientation and significance of the space. Every dike has its own specific characteristics, with form creating the connection between a landscape’s history and our spatial experience. Apart from the sideways slope, the cross-section and revetment are also important. The dike cross-section describes the dike’s height, the angle of inclination of its slope, and the width of the crest and the toe. This is important because a high, steep dike creates a different spatial effect from, say, a gently sloping wide dike. Whereas a steep dike makes a spatial border palpable, a dike with a gentle slope tones it down. Whether a dike is revetted with stones or only with grass also plays a role. The revetment is an indication of the function and use of the dike’s inside and outside, and it can create visual continuity or, in fact, contrast. Trees reinforce the three-dimensional effect of the dike but due to technical considerations they cannot always be planted.

The dike as landscape balcony at Wörlitz, Dessau (Germany) (photo: S. Nijhuis, 2013)

The dike as landscape balcony at Wörlitz, Dessau (Germany) (photo: S. Nijhuis, 2013)

Standing on a dike is like standing on a landscape balcony with sweeping views on either side – stretches of water or polder, or both. Movement plays an important role in how we experience these landscapes because there are often roads or cycle-paths on top of the dikes. Seen from the car or bicycle, aspects of the landscape succeed one another like a cinematic experience, as we float above the landscape. The straight or curved course of the dike then provides variation or calm and opens up perspectives on the landscape. Here, too, the cross-section strongly affects spatial experience: if the road and cycle-path are both located on the crest, for example, their width might diminish the special experience of the dike, whereas if the cycle-path is located on the dike’s flank more of the dike remains.

The dike’s continuity makes the landscape’s cohesion visible and connects the local with the supra-regional: in the Rhine-Meuse river area dikes follow the course of the rivers with  occasional sharp bends around deep lakes that bear silent witness to past dike breaches; in the peat area dikes support a system of drainage lakes and cut through the low-lying polder land; in the coastal area dikes are like the layers of an onion, enfolding and merging the land as it grew; and the dikes in the young IJsselmeer polders and the ring dikes around the polders of reclaimed lakes make it possible to experience the former stretches of water as landscape spaces.

Research through design exploring spatial qualities of re-enforced river dikes (source: Y. Feddes & F. Halenbeek, 1988)

Research through design exploring spatial qualities of re-enforced river dikes (source: Y. Feddes & F. Halenbeek, 1988, compilation: S.Nijhuis)

In conclusion

Taken together, these ways of looking create a basis for approaching the dike from a spatial perspective and endowing it with aesthetic landscape qualities. Thus, if work is carried out on a dike attention must be paid not only to safety and multi-functionality but also to scenic beauty. Carefully designing a dike’s course, cross-section and revetment ensures its contribution to the identity, spatial aspect and variation of a landscape. The design disciplines are vital here: landscape architects and urban planners play a key role in planning developments that affect the landscape, and they should take the lead in developing the expertise and tools to formulate the dike as an object of spatial design in a context of functionality and social embedding.

 

Note:

[1] This text is published as:  Nijhuis, S (2014). Dikes in focus. In EJ Pleijster & C van der Veeken (Eds.), Dutch dikes (pp. 72-75). Rotterdam: nai010 publishers. In Dutch: Nijhuis, S (2014). Oog voor de dijk. In EJ Pleijster & C van der Veeken (Eds.), Dijken van Nederland (pp. 72-75). Rotterdam: nai010 uitgevers. Both available at: http://www.nai010.com/dijkenvannederland