Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Nicolaas Beetsplein in Dordrecht, The Netherlands by NL Architects and DS Landschapsarchitecten
June 17th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: NL Architects and DS Landschapsarchitecten
Oud Krispijn is a neighborhood in the city of Dordrecht. It was planned by Van der Peck in 1932 as a Garden City for the working class: a warped grid, small housing blocks, sweet little houses with front and back gardens, refined ‘corner solutions’, alleys and several ‘green’ axis and some modest squares. And a lot of hedges.
In the eighties the district deteriorated and became one of the more problematic areas in the city, notorious for drug use and regular shootings. Here and there derelict original housing was replaced by ‘stone cold’ architecture, partly destroying the initial charm of the area.
People from numerous ethnic backgrounds found a place to live here, creating a vibrant Corner Shop culture: quite exotic. Once we wanted to buy a Coca Cola in one of these shops, but the owner at first didn’t know what we were talking about: coke light, what could that be? We had to point it out in his fridge.
Interestingly enough many front doors are left open, habitually. An inviting gesture that could be part of the inheritance of the original Dutch population that likes to go visit the neighbors for coffee. This culture seems to be embraced by newcomers, creating an anachronistic, sociable atmosphere that you would never associate with the rough public image of this neighborhood.
Some time ago, the planning department invited Atelier PRO and DS Landscape Architects to help the reconstruction of the emblematic arrangement of this garden city. One of the concerns was that the total amount of public space and playgrounds was not sufficient. It was suggested to remove one entire building block: the space for the Nicolaas Beetsplein was created. The local government invited DS Landschapsarchitecten to develop the design.
In this framework the CBK, the Art Center of Dordrecht initiated an invited competition to produce ideas for seven of the neighborhood squares. NL Architects’ proposal won; Beetsplein was going to be the first in the row. Gerrit Willems, the director, anticipates a new role for Art in Public Space: influencing the ‘program’ and the usage seems more to the point then just affecting the appearance. The CBK paid the design fee of NL Architects and contributed substantially to the construction costs. As such the collaboration between the two offices was conceived.
The square serves as a meeting point, a point of gravity for the surroundings. The square should be non-discriminatory, but kids of different ages and the elderly that live around it could be considered the main target groups. Therefore it had to supply a playground and sport facilities as well as more calm and intimate areas for resting and relaxing. The common idea was that it should become a ‘green’ square.
Beetsplein had to solve the paradox: how to program public space such that it can be used in specific ways and at the same time remains open and accessible for everyone? Here we did not want to build a cage.
The configuration resembles the annual growth rings of a tree. Consecutive Concentric zones develop from private around the edges to public in the center. The outer ring consists of miniscule front gardens and hedges followed by the pedestrian walk, a strip of Perpendicular Parking, the street, an informal area with benches and trees, the plectrum shaped 3D Lawn, a warped concrete Ring and finally the Center Court. The possibly disturbing activities are situated far as possible from the residential ‘crust’ enveloping the square hopefully allowing the friendly coexistence of playing kids and elderly inhabitants.
The square is enveloped on one side by a row of the original two story houses with a pitched roof, on another by scary early eighties reconstruction in three stories also with pitched roof and on the third by a new elderly home. Recently a police station has been completed, guaranteeing a certain degree of safety and control.
For its ‘natural’ appearance it will probably go unnoticed, but the main success of the design might be the solution for the parking. The initial system proposed a combination of perpendicular and parallel parking with the perpendicular lots facing the center. By reconfiguring the starting point, by relocating the access road slightly to the middle and the parking to an outer ring, the perimeter became long enough to solve the entire number in 90-degree angle parking only. Perpendicular Parking is much more beautiful than parallel! And twice as permeable! At the same time, by flipping the original arrangement the central square could be freed from parked cars. In the Genestetstraat the parking is solved on one side creating a car free sidewalk on the other.
The consensus was that the square should appear green. Of course. So a lawn was introduced surrounding the playground. In order to reinforce the ‘green’ effect the lawn is ‘inflated’; by pumping up the meadow a 3 dimensional green sculpture comes into being. The vertical component of the 3D Lawn generates a visually bigger and greener appearance. There are three hills with maximum amplitude of 2,2 meters that enclose a more or less intimate internal space. ‘Valleys’ allow cross views and access to the Center Court.
Grass is not necessarily the ultimate surface for ‘urban’ games. Try basketball on a lawn. So part of the square should be hard and smooth. The Center Court is an asphalt circle with 3 overlapping playing fields for soccer, basketball or volleyball. The volleyball net can be picked up at TOS, an organization called ‘at home at the streets’, that supports kids in the neighborhood. The circular pitch might be ground for new games. Soccer with 3 teams maybe? We tried to avoid the obligatory cage by positioning the pitch at a maximum distance to the roads and the housing that surrounds it. During cold winters the fire brigade can fill up the slightly sloping circle with water: a temporary ice-skating ring emerges.
At the transition of the grassy hills and the playground is a warped concrete ring with a diameter of 30 meters. The ring is always 3 meters wide. It could serve as an undulating biking or running trail. Anticipating on the limitless energy of young people, the Circle offers Endlessness. It follows (or shapes) the amplitude of the hills and is as a consequence divided into three segments. Each of them is programmed in a different way. A large stair that functions as a grandstand for watching the games is facing southwest to enjoy afternoon sun. Another part of the ring is dedicated to small children and includes some sitting facilities and a ‘chat box’. It contains a slide, a ‘cave’, a mini climbing wall and some other climbing tools. The third segment is a lengthy bench and Bike Slide.
In order to reduce the amount of obstacles on the playground the basketball poles have been merged with the light fixtures: the backboards will be mounted onto tall 3-headed lamps that will illuminate the square.
Contact NL Architects and DS Landschapsarchitecten