The question of IBA can make a difference, Dirk Sijmons answers with a resounding yes. Just look at the track record bauaustellungen has in Germany and how successful successive editions have been. “In the 1990s, the most run-down and polluted parts of the Ruhr area – e.g. the ‘industrial glacier moraine’ – were brought under the banner of IBA and through the use of architecture and design transformed into extraordinary landscape parks, with an equally extraordinary program, such as ballet schools and museums. This had an unimaginable impact on the regional economy. The issue of the lignite fields in the east was extremely interesting, Hamburgse IBA a celebration of sustainability.”
Also Parkstad, the very first IBA outside Germany, according to the landscape architect, has produced very well, although he also sees big differences. While the German IBAs are characterized by large-scale interventions in the city and countryside – financed by large budgets – the Limburg edition was dependent from the start on a series of projects submitted from the bottom up. This made the manifestation ‘of the people’, as the then mayor of Kerkrade Paul Depla described it, but the larger story of the future Parkstad was lost. “Due to the lack of such a compass needle, in other words a vision at the structural level, a long-term course, a perspective of action for the region as a whole, it was not always easy to determine which of the more than 500 submitted projects would actually contribute to the ambition that with IBA was intended, namely to get this old mining region going again.”
Sijmons should know because as a member of quality board he had to evaluate all initiatives. Sijmons and his colleagues used clear criteria to select the gems from the huge pile – including projects that simply belong to a municipality’s tasks, such as the placement of bus stops. “The themes that chairman Jo Coenen had identified as a priority provided guidance, such as recycling, landscape development and stimulating the manufacturing industry. In addition, we looked at whether projects would solve visible problems, whether they could reach the wider public through experiments and trials, and whether they were linked to cultural or educational institutions.” In the end, 50 projects got it IBAassigned stamp.
In his position, Sijmons saw a lot of beautiful things pass by. Such as the garden redesigned by Piet Oudolf and bureau Lola on Etzenrade estate or recreational track, a cycle path that connects the most beautiful landscapes and main attractions. He was impressed by the light artwork at Wilhelminaberg, an iconic project that, according to Sijmons, is simply needed.
Sijmons is also happy that we are continuing IBA have come to look at these kinds of ‘regional’ areas in a different way. “The farmers’ protests that are now in the news are related to a feeling that has existed for some time in peripheral areas like Parkstad: they feel forgotten, they feel they don’t count. through IBA their self-awareness has increased and the region’s qualities have been put in the spotlight. Where professionals used to think: it’s not a city, it’s not a country, it’s actually three times nothing, now it turns out that this varied urban landscape has enormous qualities. Like the peace, like nature, which is always close. Gradually the metaphor of patchwork was introduced to this.” Sijmons is also satisfied with the way in which the idling issue has been implemented in recent years. “In a shrinking region like Parkstad, demolition of homes is a common instrument to influence the housing market. Under the banner of IBA has experimented with recycling in several projects. Not only of building materials, but also entire apartment units. It has given new insight.”
Keep holding each other
Unfortunately, no such steps have been taken on other major issues, such as floods or droughts – problems which the landscape architect believes can only be solved through strict agricultural reform. At the same time, Sijmons notes that Parkstad is at the forefront of the energy transition. “When the idea of the regional energy strategy was still being conceived in The Hague, they already had a thorough study of the transition to sustainable energy. For example, by using mine water in a collective district heating system.”
Sijmons encourages Parkstad’s administrators to keep each other safe in the coming period – especially now IBA stops – ‘to hold fast’. “I am afraid that the cooperation will come under pressure. We cannot use that now, when we are faced with crises that can only be solved through regional cooperation.”
And towards regions that consider it IBAstamp, he says: “It doesn’t matter which label you use. Friesland, for example, chose European Capital of Culture a few years ago. The point is that such a manifestation reinforces the we feeling, that it gives room for experiments in tackling regional problems.” The latter is also crucial for the fields of architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture. “Such free spaces, such as the Eo Wijers competition or the Rotterdam Architecture Biennale, are crucial for the design disciplines. There we make discoveries, we investigate questions for which paying customers cannot be found.”
Text: Mark Hendriks