Paul Meurs and Marinke Steenhuis' article 'Cultural Editors' has been published in de #14 issue of MONU Editing Urbanism. With a few examples the article explains why cultural historic research improves urban and architectural designs.
Paul Meurs and Marinke Steenhuis, 'Cultural Editors', in:Editing Urbanism, MONU - Magazine on Urbanism, (2011) 14, pp 81-83.
Why cultural historic research improves urban and architectural designs
Building sites in Western Europe always bear the marks of history. They contain hidden and visible structures and remains of prior occupation or cultivation. These remains can be a Roman boundary, an industrial site, a post war building or urban landscapes, drainage and infrastructure. Architects and urban planners must take a position in regards to the historic past. On the one hand, there is a practical side to this matter: why shouldn’t the existing cables and pipelines be reused? Existing buildings or structural elements in the terrain can be useful. On the other hand, the designer needs to consider the cultural perspective. Each site provokes feelings and memories; it has cultural historic qualities that may enrich or affect design projects. Residents and stakeholders often have strong historic ties and sentiments, which are, for no apparent reason, not always acknowledged.
Who determines which existing characteristics of a building site should be conserved and integrated into redevelopment projects? Should it be left entirely to the architect to be inspired by the location to judge if certain elements can be of benefit to the project? Or should the cultural historic specialists make inventories, selections and produce ‘value maps’ that become strict directives for the design brief? The problem is that a restrictive approach does not necessarily lead to vibrant urban areas with a rich historic stratification. Also the approach to write ‘biographies’ of the existing cultural characteristics has its limitations, as the inspirational input hardly ever survives the battle of budget, programme and design principles that takes place when redeveloping a site. Only if an intensive dialogue between designers and cultural historians takes place, a joint success can be guaranteed of conserving and creating cultural value in an integrated redevelopment process. Designing with a feel for the historic context is not outside architecture, but is rather part of the very essence of architecture. Cultural heritage brings tranquillity and historic stratification into the city of the future. By designing with a feel for the deficiencies and attributes, a city or landscape can keep its unique characteristics and is still able to change. The more the spatial dynamic increases, the more important a counterbalance is.
Over the past ten years, SteenhuisMeurs has developed a research methodology usable for locations where urban, landscape or architectural transformations are planned. It consists of three steps: homework (‘knowledge of design’), synthesis (the translation of tangible and intangible assets into spatial terms and key points) and contributions to the design process (varying from sharing values to being part of the decision making process and from cultural assets to location value). Architectural historians and architects work together to achieve a mutual vocabulary – both in text and drawings. The two worlds – the one of the historian, focusing on intentions and ideologies, and the one of the designer, focusing on spatial analysis and visual imagery, are brought together in one document. Our approach does, in some cases, include specific proposals for interventions. The final document forms the cultural, spatial and physical starting point for redevelopment. The history of a site becomes tangible and measurable, continuities and discontinuities are discovered and the underlying concept and time layers are translated into options and cultural values. By doing so, not only the conservation agenda, but also the scope of the redevelopment becomes apparent. This set of values provides both an inspirational document for designers and the points of reference for approval procedures. The selection procedure is too complex to be left only to the architect, who has another focus: making a design in which past, present and future are merged.
Our approach is to co-create a sustainable environment with a distinct identity. Our research methodology demonstrates that the ‘urban editor’ (architect) can benefit from a ‘cultural editor’ (historian) – without losing his responsibility to design and (re)create value.
Three examples of our approach are discussed:
Strijp R, Eindhoven, a former production site of Philips, illustrates how research contributed to establish a new identity (Amvest Development, Amsterdam).
Hembrugterrein, Zaandam, shows how a large industrial complex (43 ha) is being redeveloped using strict planning regulations – aiming to match new development with the existing qualities of landscape, urban layout and dozens of monuments (Municipality of Zaanstad).
Shrinking villages Wieringermeer, an area reclaimed in the 1930s from the sea, a research that illustrates the importance of defining an aesthetic toolbox for the architectural and agricultural development (Provincial Advisor Special Quality -PARK, Province of Noord-Holland)
Strijp R - Eindhoven
Strijp R in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, is a former Philips production facility from the 1950s in the direct proximity of two other sites, Strijp S and Strijp T. Unique to this area is the location, surrounded by residential areas and near the city centre. After Philips stopped the production on Strijp R, a developer bought the site with the aim to demolish all constructions and create a brand new residential neighbourhood. SteenhuisMeurs made a cultural heritage research, commissioned by the developer, in order to identify the main features of the site and ‘translate’ them into creative input for the urban plan. What determines the site, is there a spatial logic and how does this place relate to its vicinities? What can be learned from the history of Philips and the role of the company in the spatial and social development of Eindhoven? Finally, can any of the physical remains of the industrial heritage be converted into special functions in the future neighbourhood?
In order to answer these questions, the current spatial structure was analyzed on several levels: city, neighbourhood and location. In the recommendations, three themes were scored: ‘the colour’, ‘the culture’ and ‘the memory’of Strijp R. The cultural historical recommendations were incorporated by the developer in the redevelopment plan (image quality, branding and functional programme). The decision was made not to demolish some industrial buildings and investigate if these could be recycled. This time-out made it possible that Piet Hein Eek bought a complex of buildings and brought his design studio, workshops and showrooms to Strijp R. The presence of this enterprise is a catalyst for the development of 600 new dwellings and a perfect example of the new brand of this location. The urban plan, made by DiederenDirrix and Bureau Lubbers, incorporates many original features and structures of the area, such as the green structure, pavements, colours and materials. Strijp R becomes a new area with a memory and more mix of functions than in comparable developments.
Hembrugterrein - Zaanstad
The Hembrug site in Zaandam is a former military production facility. Between 1895 and 1996, the 43 hectare facility was used for the production of weapons and ammunition as well as for the storage and testing of ammunition. The area, which includes dozens of listed monuments, was mainly preserved in the original state but is now completely deserted. SteenhuisMeurs investigated how the character of the existing buildings and the spatial layout can be kept in the redevelopment of the area. The heritage from the industrial past in the Hembrug site is surprising: it consists of nine distinct areas, with an extensive landscaping, beautiful monuments, ‘chemical heritage’, abandoned plots and ruins. The total diversity of the area was researched. The greatest cultural historic value of the Hembrug site is its cohesion and consistency, despite the fact that a lot of the buildings have been demolished. The cultural historic agenda for the future is not only focussed on the conservation of the monuments, but also on maintaining the integrity of the site. Therefore, a set of guidelines and constraints for redevelopment was drawn up. Which parts can be redeveloped? How can the cultural historic attributes be preserved while making use of the area’s potential for redevelopment? An ‘authentic’ situation is not the aim, but the functional, spatial and symbolic logic of the site should be guaranteed. With that in mind, three types of recommendations have been drawn up: parts that should be conserved, redeveloped and added. The aim is not only to inspire and preserve, but also to establish detailed guidelines for new development that fit into the site and respect the integrity. These findings and recommendations have been approved by the municipality and were used as a basis for the urban vision for the Hembrug site made by Palmbout Urban Landscapes.
Shrinking villages Wieringermeer: from pioneering to placemaking
The Wieringermeer polder is a unique chapter in Dutch history, dating back to the 1930s. For the first time and on a grand scale, every component of a rural society was designed. The whole area was manmade: the land plots, villages, wooded areas, infrastructure and the way in which the people of the Wieringermeer should live. Everything in this area, from the selection of farmers to the behaviour of housewives was monitored and scientifically analysed. In many respects, the Wieringermeer polder can be seen as an early example of the post war “welvaartsstaat” (social state). The Wieringermeer is a landmark in Dutch urbanism and landscape architecture.
Nowadays, the area is rather isolated and remote. The greenhouse company Agriport is expanding. The small historic villages have difficulty adjusting to modern society. New economic impulses are needed for this area, in which the population is declining. But how adaptable is this polder? The ambitious plan to develop a new lake with nature and hundreds of villas (Wieringerrandmeer) has been put on hold.
Our study concluded that image and identity do not match in the Wieringermeer polder. In other words, the polder is not a strong brand. To stimulate awareness of the cultural and spatial value of the polder and its inhabitants, our document provides an outline of the history of the development of this unique landscape, followed by a spatial analysis and recommendations for the redevelopment of the two villages in this area, Middenmeer and Wieringerwerf. The design themes used by urbanist M.J. Granpré Molière in the thirties are introduced as a basis which can be re-interpreted in line with modern needs. The original complementary landscape design by landscape architect J.T.P. Bijhouwer, a grand-scale landscape design, can also be of use for future coherence.
SteenhuisMeurs BV is a research and consultancy company with architects and architectural historians, based in Schiedam, the Netherlands. The company has two partners. Dr. Marinke Steenhuis is chairman of the committee for architecture and building environment for the city of Rotterdam and Quality team Beemster, member of the national H-team [National counsel for conversion issues]). Prof. Dr. Paul Meurs holds the Restoration and transformation chair at TU Delft.