vrijdag 3 april 2009

Paradise Regained– The Watchman, the Sleeper, the Dreamer, and the City

The Hondsbossche Zeewering at Petten Architecturally Reconsidered

By Ilmar Hurkxkens – Delft, January 31st of 2009

ONCE there was a land called Doggerland. It was a rich habitat, where the first men quietly roamed on endless sloping meadows. It was the garden of Eden as imagined in paintings. Then, by the end of the last iceage, Doggerland disappeared under the rising waters. In the south, this new sea was called Helle, a name from which Christianity took the word for the archetype of all fear and terror–hell–originating in the belief that the sea was the resting place for the dead. Further north the sea was referred to as Holle, from which came Holland (A. Cornelis, Amsterdam, 1997). With Doggerland drowned, this paradise was lost.

TEN THOUSAND YEARS LATER in ancient Greece, it was said there existed a coastline where Hades ruled over the Gates of Hell. It was a land of eternal fog, where the sea rushed over the sandbanks into the marshlands behind. The sun never shined over these sandy shores and not a single tree would grow in this silted swamp. The only people that were able to survive in this inhospitable landscape were known as the ferrymen for the dead.

THOUSAND YEARS THEREAFTER, in this unforgiving and uninhabitable land, settlers known as watermen inhabited the edge between land and water. On artificial mounds they lived democratically by the unwritten ewa or Law of Eternal Rights. This law had to be agreed upon at annual gatherings called thing, where he who knows better must say so. Their sole civic duty was to pledge defending their land from the sea (J. van Veen, Den Haag, 1948). On mounds of clay farmhouses and small villages were erected. These terpen were scattered across the land, forming a landside archipelago where the surrounding land was farmed like fishermen harvesting the sea. The external reality of nature conditioned the terp as a model of radical technocratic simplicity. The sea of land remained un-urbanized because it was too dangerous to inhabit, while on the safe terpen a culture of congestion was automatically generated. The level of technological advancement determined the maximum size of the mounds: an archipelago of scattered terpen conditioned this territory of individual parts.

TODAY this land is called the Netherlands. After years of dredging, draining, and reclaiming land from the sea, the apocalyptic outcome of this much celebrated manmade country seems near. Half of the land lies beneath sea level, protected by an artificial ecosystem of permanent sand suppletion, dikes and dams. Rising sea levels and the ongoing settlement of polderland make a continuous elevating of the defense structures necessary. If this situation continues forever, dikes will have to rise to inconceivable heights along with the consequences of disaster. The total control of this landscape-artifact resulted in a unified defense line. With external forces completely eliminated behind it, the hinterland is left to unrestrained urbanization. Almost the entire Dutch coast between the Deltawerken and Waddenzee consists of fragile dune formations, maintained by sand suppletion. The Hondsbossche Zeewering is a the only artifact in this natural sea-wall, and as a weak point in the system, the obvious place to contemplate different possibilities for both sea defense and urbanization in the Netherlands.

ARCHITECTURE– Is it possible to reimagine the model of the terpen: zones of absorption instead of one single defense line and instead of a detached dike-infrastructure, an architecture where means and ends for construction merge? The modification of the Hondsbossche Zeewering into a zone of coastal protection reinstates the three dikes present: The Watchman, The Sleeper and The Dreamer. This modification is making the main dike available for the construction of a new city. The village of Petten, historically often washed away by the sea, will find its final destination on the dike. The new city does not organize itself by means of parallel functional zoning, as is often the case with linear cities, yet superimposes all program onto the dike in a linear succession of artifacts, maximizing the relation between infrastructure and architecture. Maximum metropolitan density is combined with the proximity of landscape in a scheme of linear congestion. The city combines a morphological system and a functional one. The first consists of the found form of the dike modified in plan and section; the second consists of artifacts that are modeled within the specific constraints left by first, thus belonging to the spirit of the site. The new city is a combination of programs found at coastal sites that are transformed and modified to fit the specificity of the site. The dike becomes a city by manipulating the linear proximity of urban artifacts, each of these the synthesis of the restraints imposed by the site and their formal individuality. Dike and city are a continuous artifact, with not a singular center, but a continuous centrality between sea and land—the extension of which makes the occupation of the whole seaboard of the Netherlands a theoretical possibility.

PANORAMA– The endpoints of the city, where the dike meets the dunes, feature on one side The Lab (of Rijkswaterstaat) and on the other side a panorama—articulating respectively the technical and the poetic premises framing the project as a whole. The function of the panorama doubles as an empty space an sich and as a screen emitting a representation of Doggerland. This image of Mesolithic Doggerland confirms the presence of the primordial wetland reality outside. Whereas cinema presents fragments in sequence, the circular panorama exposes the entire landscape, not discriminating between architecture, infrastructure and nature but showing the territory as a whole.


Ilmar Hurkxkens studied architecture at the ETH Zürich and graduated at the TU Delft in January of 2009– receiving an honorable mention for his graduation project Paradise Regained. For more information about the author please visit: http://www.linkedin.com/in/ilmarhurkxkens or http://www.ilmar.nl.

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