100 years of thinking ahead | News report

News feature | 07-07-2022 | 16:02

On 16 June 2022, many builders from the Netherlands gathered at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam: city architects, city consultants, city designers, polder architects, village architects, provincial spatial quality consultants, the Groningen builder, the police architect and the Head of State.
The Bouwmeester platform was founded in 1994 by Architectuur Lokaal and has been continued since 2004 in structural collaboration with the Government Architect. After a corona interval of two years, the builders spoke with Renze Klamer at the helm about beauty, current tasks in the country, in the cities and the provinces.


The housing task, to generate sustainable energy, stimulate bicycle use and make cities greener and waterproof. It is all current challenges that play a role in the physical living environment. Characteristic of these tasks is the complexity and the changing context. The ambitions of the national government, the province and the municipalities are good and necessary, but they are also hard and difficult to achieve. They involve many phases and decision rounds and have a long time to realize. One calls it stumbling blocks, the other challenges. What’s in a name?

Renze Klamer chairman of the day

As early as 2008, the Dutch government gave the headline ‘Beautiful Holland is delayed’ in response to the architectural memorandum A design culture (To had first as working title Mooier Nederland). Even then, VNG’s magazine wrote that the spatial quality was under pressure.
On 6 July 2022, BNSP and NVTL are organizing Design Power Day. In addition, Minister De Jonge will Beautiful Holland presentation focusing on spatial quality, with a focus on energy conversion, urbanization and rural design. Beautiful is no longer just about beauty, but about much more than design and beautiful architecture, about much more than … beautification. Economic aspects, but also ecological and social aspects play a role in addition to the cultural and cultural-historical aspects: it is an integrated concept that encompasses all these aspects.

Long lines

State Architect, Provincial Spatial Quality Consultant or City Architect: Everyone has to think long and hard, because ‘our future is now’ is not exactly their slogan. The challenge is to visualize what will still be meaningful in 50 years. They can play a role in stimulating spatial quality, good commissioning and architectural policy at local and regional level to ensure environmental quality. Preferably with a long-term vision, as government architect Francesco Veenstra put it Future agenda Agenda Government advisers 2021 – 2024 explains: ‘We can use design research and imagination. And look much further ahead, not for a period of five years, but much longer. And not for the next twenty or thirty years, but for at least a hundred years. Does that sound far away? The structure of present-day Holland was largely established in the late 19th century. Not that there was a comprehensive plan, but the decisions at the time about rivers, canals, railways and roads still determine the backbone of our country.

Coherent interests

How do you use design power and cultural commissioning to arrive at area-wide future-oriented plans that combine multiple tasks and tackle them in an integrated way? How can long- and short-term goals be linked?
Floris Alkemade, predecessor of Francesco Veenstra as a state architect, believes that builders are particularly good at this. They can demonstrate the added value of design research and create links between sectoral and conflicting interests. However, there are also obstacles. In the province, for example, when it comes to requiring attention for integrated plans. The provincial deputies know that they are bound by their four-year coalition agreement and can do nothing outside it, because ‘then the coalition will collapse. The Commissioner is only thinking four years ahead, but at some point the red line has been crossed and it is too late, given the urgency of the task. ‘ Also in the cities, the question is where the builders can actually steer to. Tako Postma also visits the municipal authorities in Delft, ‘But you can not stop the market forces. That’s how it keeps repairing ‘.

Builders on stage

The changes are far too slow; hope is linked to government control. Banks advise on housing, which should be designers. And the conversation must be about more than just building homes. An inventory of thousands of homes involves area development. The objection, however, is that housing construction belongs to one administrator, water to another and biodiversity to another. Then it comes out in reality on arm press. ‘True integration starts with an integrated society’, notes Steven Slabbers, provincial adviser in North Holland. Another objection is that the government communicates poorly with society, which therefore does not understand that it is urgent.

Thinking holistically

Apart from that, Joop Slangen, polder architect in Haarlemmermeer, believes that ‘the government should also have a plan and that the consequences of it are shown. For example, when expanding your business, take into account all the interests, not just the business. Then the public interest must come first. You have to show what will happen if you do nothing. In addition, we need to think about what kind of society we want to be, that we know how people want to live and live ». According to Enno Zuidema, village architect at Overschild, design must also be designed for the future. ‘Houses have been around for about 100 years, so that house must be climate neutral most of its life.’

Spatial quality is often not seen as organizational quality, but it is an important aspect for Marijn Schenk, city architect in Amstelveen: ‘The crux of the matter remains: how can we really focus spatial quality on the future, and how can we actually do that. to obtain? Thinking about the task in an integrated way is the basis for this. If you organize it better, you also have more options for this, and then the councilor follows the advice you give ».

At the heart of the task

Anne van Kuijk, provincial adviser in the province of Noord-Brabant, emphasizes the importance of a long-term vision. Brabant is very popular. The presence of tech companies attracts many (international) new residents, leading to a population growth. Due to this demographic development, and also due to an aging population and young people who want to continue living in the province, the demand for housing is high. The offer does not match that. ‘I think we have to make do with what we have by redesigning and transforming existing buildings. This is also important for the viability of an area / city. And focus on the long term. If you build now, as we always build, single-family houses, then in 20 years you will be left with buildings that are empty. In addition, Kuijk emphasizes the strategic approach in the province, where environmental quality is organized ‘at the core of the task’. “This means that the province is not on the sidelines, but where it is happening,” Kuijk said. ‘Be careful not to get stuck, because spatial quality is about much more than design and design.’ From her position, she tries to stimulate solidarity and make it clear that this requires partnership. But she also acknowledges the barriers to sector governance.

In pilot projects, Brabant acts with municipalities and the water council as a single government and with village councils, such as Van Zundert. Kuijk tries to stimulate this kind of connection with local representatives, but it is not always easy. “I have to say every day what my added value is. Being put in a corner is not a good starting point for your position. ‘

Anne van Kuijk

New system

Implementation of the Environment and Planning Act is planned for 1 January 2023. It brings together many policy areas. This requires extensive advice. Willem Hein Schenk, Haarlem’s city councilor, sees that Haarlem’s environmental vision is helping to keep the conversation going. ‘At the moment all sorts of things are not yet connected, it is often said: we have always done it this way. But it’s about bringing interests together. A builder can help with that. The environmental vision and the city architect can help lead the substantive discussion. In the municipality, the responsibility lies with the sectors, such as housing, mobility and water. When I gather all those people in terms of area development, they notice that it makes sense. That’s what I do. ‘ It requires a different way of thinking. It requires a new system in which government and citizens are given an important role, it is about more than just design. ‘
In other words: the builder must continue to translate all municipal ambitions, which many municipalities have already described in their environmental vision, into their spatial impact. Enschede, for example, has the ambition to become a truly green city. As city architect in Enschede, Jessica Hammarlund Bergmann wants to make visible what this means for the design. ‘As a builder, you have to steer by principles in the start-up phase.’

Binding role

Builders can make connections and keep an eye on the long lines. There are major differences between the role, position and opportunities of the municipal builders and provincial advisers. And the tasks are different from municipality and province, just like the official embedding in which the builders work. Hammarlund Bergman sees his role as builder in particular as setting the agenda and connecting. She probably speaks on behalf of all builders, who advise from an independent position on the coherence of the physical development within the municipality or province.

For several years now, in addition to a government architect and a railway architect, the Netherlands has also had a police architect. They each have their job description and focus.
That, Kim Putters in his preface to the publication, applies to all those who advise on spatial issues Builders says: ‘Built masters can play a connecting role par excellence with their imagination. They are able to highlight the spatial consequences of political choices and open up for discussion. Not only if decisions about the living environment or energy have already been made, but precisely in advance. ‘

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