Bart Brands is a landscape designer from Holland working on the Federation Square project. He has worked for eight years with a practice called Bureau B&B and currently works in the Landscape Architecture firm Karres & Brands.
Kerb: Bureau B&B describe their designs as spirited and fascinating, balancing visuals, significance and use. How has your experience working at Bureau B&B influenced your design work?
Bart: It has influenced my entire life working with B&B; I think B&B is a fascinating synthesis between education and the profession… Hierarchy did not exist within the office, because everybody owned part of the practice; secretaries, drawers and landscape architects. The people that worked there directed the office. Commercial firms are also adopting this kind of office structure… It is very rewarding, there is a high level of morale.
K: How would you describe the influence of an education as a practitioner?
B: I think part of the problem arises in the relationship between the profession and education… landscape schools have amalgamated with forestry schools; education is a business and it is no longer about learning. Trainees come into our office and they know maybe chapters 1 to 6 of landscape architecture… They are not encouraged at school to explore their own ideas and form their own opinions. …It is important in education to explore ideas about how to make landscape architecture, to create questions and people with inquiring minds; it is not only about landscape.
K: Do you mean landscape is architecture is prescribed?
B: Within the education system, it has been prescribed for a long time, although believe it is changing.
K: How do you try and impress students to vary from what you see as being problematic in education?
B: It is a difficult… We did a workshop for one week in Vienna with a group of students from Germany and Austria. We studied the sewer system in Vienna… On the first day they [the students] sat there waiting for me to define the question. I said two things: the first is there is no description of the project in the sense of something specific to work on; the second is that there is no problem to solve. Often landscape architects look for a problem to solve; which actually has nothing to do with landscape architecture. It is a safe process because then you can say, “well I solved the problem”.
K: Representation appears to characterise your design work, How would you describe its function in your projects?
B: It depends on the project. We have projects we have already built and there is no drawing or sketches, other projects ask for another kind of presentation… One project is only tape, some are very technical drawings… think the main thing is that everything we do is simple…What we strive to do in our designs is to capture it in a logo, and we check our design against this logo as the project develops… Federation Square has a large program on the site, it was necessary to capture it in a little logo… In this project we have been working with the architects LAB from London. It was a surprise to us that the way they worked was similar to the way we work in Holland. Our experience with architects outside Holland is that there is a big difference between the professional position of the architect and the landscape architect. Because of the way we work in Holland there is not such a distinct division between the area that the architect works on and the area that the landscape architect works on… The only problem is that the structure of fees and contracts still makes a clear division between the work areas of architects and landscape architects.
Bart Brands: A review of projects
Legislation in a rural strategy: a rural region in north east Holland
There are a lot of poor areas of potato farming in Holland… Farmers have to develop new ways of using the land to survive. The problem with this territory is it’s too far away from the big cities where people are returning… In ten years, almost 50% of the agricultural ground will be out of use… The options for farmers rely on a political target, and whether it can be reached. In reality the government is not able to put big money in areas like this any more like they did 50 years ago. The strategy is based on a mix of using existing funds, such as the European funds for new forest, but using them to provide a basic economic infrastructure and landscape framework. This, in combination with looking at the existing rules with some flexibility, brought the first private investors to the area. This again have an influence on the area. The government only reacts to this by making small, low-budget but essential interventions to steer the process. Our work was to find the impetus to start the process.
It seems that within landscape architecture the notion of research and mapping is to accumulate information and document a site, not to provoke questions. In your work it appears that mapping is a visual stimulant, to create questions.
In a first drawing we draw on the actual projects, like the planning processes, building process, making new roads, new projects, and we just put them on one drawing. This these funds to plant forest on his land. The farmers can plant zones of their land with temporary forest. This in turn could create options such as building sites: houses could be built in these areas because temporary forest does not fall under permanent forest laws. The temporary forest in effect could make the first body of landscape, but later, parts could be taken away to start building good roads, leaving the slow-growing permanent forest… In the first stages of this strategy, it is just playing with existing laws.
The second layer is the provision of new residential areas; we first start by proposing to add to the old housing strips. The building strips could be combined with a road, or a water line. The areas where the farmer is establishing temporary trees could connect the building strips with lanes. These lanes are the low-budget interventions of the government, providing an essential public network… So in the next proposed stage it would be possible for farmers to sell half of their plot.
Then we made three or four schemes showing what [the project] could be, not to say it will be like this, but that it could be working like this. We discussed what the next two, five or ten years will be with financial planners and investors.
K: So the Rural Strategy is more about funding and politics in a regional sense compared to the city strategy?
B: I think so. Regional planning is done mostly by laws and regulations. Landscape architects are not used to working in this way. They are used to camouflaging or minimising the effect of undesirable interventions in the landscape. Like the Ruhr area in Germany, one of the biggest concentrations of industry in Europe. The industry is completely concealed: it is like driving through a forest with the smell of industry. So this is how landscape architects and their role is changing. It is not just putting a bit of green in between the spaces; their role is situated between the architects and the urban planners.
This park is part of a larger scheme for IJsselstein. The main plan for this park is a part of a large master plan. Economic pressure dictated the density of the park and the housing strips - land was divided and subdivided, until the only remaining landscape was a narrow strip. The landscape in the residential areas is a series of seven large gardens. The elimination of unnecessary urban landscape allowed a substantial sense of scale for each garden…
Strips of the existing landscape - water ditches and planes penetrate into these residential areas [figures 6 & 12]. As a result, the remaining existing landscape (such as water ditches) created the new park - with one common line. The layers of the landscape in this design are linked by this path [figure 8]…
The [directionality of the] line refers to significant orien- tation points in IJsselstein: a church, a telecommunication tower, an old windmill and a bridge. In some sections of the path there is a difference in height, because the dike is on one side and ground on the other. We made one detail; a concrete path, 3m wide… In some areas the path is over land, in other areas it is a low bridge… So we have built a bridge, two kilometres long.
K: So in this strategy what would you say was your “logo”?
B: It is not one [logo] but in fact the combination of three. Different kinds of strips connected by one line. A lot of your designs are associated with lines as a mechanism to connect the park with the external border. Does this mean the association between the landscape and design in Holland could be characterised by the line? think so, it is also because it is so flat we only need minimal insertions. Design [in Holland] is about condensing these, combining functions: Hoge Biezenpark, for example, is a water system, a dam between two water systems and a path intersecting all of these functions.
K: Working on such a flat plain, one has to be sympathetic to the subtle changes in the landscape. Can you see any characteristics in the way we design, in Melbourne?
B: I’ve only seen a few parks in the city and I have been talking to the City Council about the new riverside park… think because there is more space here, one tradition probably exists in landscape: everything [designed in Melbourne] is small, like a little oasis; making these old nice comfortable places is [a] fear of the big. Perhaps this is a response to the European condition of the landscape - the picturesque; which has been created here… although this landscape condition does not really exist in Melbourne. This [picturesque] approach to landscape relates to the Dutch masters: where the foreground, middle and background are used to represent the landscape. What seems apparent in the broader Australian landscape is that the middle ground becomes lost.
K: Why has this picturesque been seen as a response to the Australian landscape, in your opinion? B: It is understandable because it is [a European] landscape tradition. Well it is perhaps fear of Australia[ns]: not to use the country.
K: So you are suggesting that Australians might be afraid of big spaces?
B: Yes they are afraid of big spaces [laughter]… They make these parks, and because of this enclosed design making this little oasis, it does not create a good relationship with the whole city… They are like little blocks by themselves.
Occupation of space through landscape architecture: Betaafse Kamp, Hengelo
This city council asked us, how can we put 8 houses into the park without doing damage to the park? We said, that’s Kromhout Park is a beautiful park and people can find their own way to make their own activities within the park… Traditionally, landscape architects start to make parks that look the same as each other. I don’t see the need for that. People can… find their own uses in the park, if it is a modern park. Big cities in Europe are very densely built, people have no money, the parks [are] their only escape. People still want to walk through the park… So why do all these parks look like each other? I don’t think landscape architects are really finding new ways of [exploring]… the traditional use of a park. Everybody is discussing parks as a definition and there is no park the same, there is no contest.
We are making this park working on Federation Square and it is an architecture competition but we are making a combination of buildings and a park…l find it very difficult to discuss the definition of park.
‘Found Objects’: Presentation of a current project by Karres en Brands
In Holland there are a lot of new housing developments. These housing areas are called Vinex. Most of the time we are concentrating them outside the big cities. The idea of these locations was that they support the city, in that they keep people near the city. Zender Park is one of them… This project, in Utrecht, is one of the biggest areas; there are about 15,000 houses. It is housing and park together… [Private developers] are building houses like idiots, like maniacs. These types of locations were built, and after two or three years discussions started about these areas. The main reason for these discussions was concerning the influence of the private investors: they are renowned for thinking in the short term. So they built what they think people like. The problem with all of these locations is that things start to look the same: the density of the areas, the type of houses and the spaces are the same, everything is dictated by these private investors… There’s some differentiation in the architecture, because it sells better. In the public open space, a lot of things were the same; because there are a lot of regulations that have to be taken into account.. Everything happening in the [public space] was reduced to a very dull average. Our biggest concern was generations of children growing up in regulated, homogenised areas. In fact, the only time these areas are interesting or ‘nice’ is when they are being built - when there are tensions, noise and dangerous areas to play in after the builders have gone: it is just one big playground. But when [the construction] is finished they are not places for children…
K: So you have looked at the idea of construction as a design strategy? B: Our first statement was, to create a park that is not average landscape; it has to be very exciting, maybe a little bit dangerous, not quite all rules… The second statement was more about the philosophy of landscape architecture and the way that we say that designing parks is often seen as architectural. K: Do you mean that the landscape architecture is a response to the architecture that’s built? B: No. It is the way that the job is described. [Landscape] is approached from an architectural position: a lot of landscape architects [design] that way; they love it. They are asked to design a park: this is the budget, this is our organisation, and we want to open in, say, two years. So they design a park, and change it to fit the budget. They build it, and it’s ready. An architect builds a building, then it’s ready. Then they can make a maintenance plan; but it’s very difficult for a building to ‘change’. Only good architects do it. But landscape is something else: I think there is a specific part of our work that is different from architects. The landscape architect’s main working instrument is the fact of time. This makes our working attitude different from that of architects. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, landscape architects made a design, and at the same time they made a management plan. I think the whole quality of landscape architecture is about this process of being able to change, it’s a continual process; where you fix in the main elements but continuously adjust them. That’s what I call gardening. It is always possible to react to the changes: natural, cultural economical or political. There aren’t many landscape architects that are doing that…
We have to return to our roots. I’m not implying that we all have to go and live on site, but in a sense ‘go back’. or re-articulate the qualities of our profession…
In this strategy we are suggesting to change the ‘organisation’, at least for this park, and think about the organisation also as part of the design.
The second stage: the strategy of construction
So we made a plan where we can put these changes in it… In this area of the park the earth from the building of the houses is stored temporarily, to be used again in another area later. We simply say: that is the first step in making the park.
K: So basically the whole act of construction becomes the design?
B: Yes, in a sense there’s no product.
K: This area was originally landfill? B: Yes, the landfill part is going to be the park, so the houses surround the site. We looked again at the whole area, where they are proposing to make about seven parks. This park is one of them. Each of these parks were planned on a place where they found something interesting on the ground… Six of were archeological findings: Roman ruins, fortresses etc. In fact this site is the most recent archeological finding: landfill is only twenty years old. The parks in these housing areas were called ‘found objects’, because they are all relics. This notion of relics, a restricted budget and a desire to create an adventurous park informed our decision to build the entire park from found objects. That means everything that is thrown away in the city: pavement, old bridges, road signs, concrete beams, steel beams etc. is going to be offered to us… These things that we are collecting are put into the treasury room, which is on the building site. People are very enthusiastic about it, so these found treasures are already happening… We store these materials in the treasury room until we have enough to use… The treasury room could fill, then parts from the room could be used to build until it reaches a climax of fill-build, fill-build…
Then a proposal is made to say what the park to be built actually is. This involves an organisation plan: the structure of how you are going to make it… The city has a year-long budget for these works to occur; we want to spread the budget out over ten years. The landscape architect’s role becomes more like a director… So that’s what mean by organisation - design of the proposition.
Following the organisation plan, the basic lines of the design have to be agreed upon: the main frame or spatial skeleton of the park, which we call a CASCO. A casco is the framework of a building, from which people can decide from a number of options: whether they want a red roof, a white roof and so on. So we make a casco of the park. We hope that what will start to happen when it is being built is that the construction process starts to react on the people who are already using the park; that it changes according to its use. Again this is just “gardening’. If you see that a certain element works very well, and that a lot of people are attracted to it, they can make it bigger, or repeat it, or find a new way of looking at it. If you see certain parts that really don’t work, you don’t repeat it. You have to make this spatial skeleton for the park where all of the changes and reactions can take place. We want certain parts of the park to be used during construction. So the park has to have a certain roughness and robustness about it…
The next stage is intensify.
To do [a project/design] like this you have to structuralise everything that is going on in this park. The park skeleton/casco is a three-dimensional thing. We propose to use bodies of earth to increase the height of the park. In fact we are increasing the square metres of the park by three, because it used to be a flat area, but making it three-dimensional it triples the surface. This is how we ‘intensify’… In an existing park where you have autonomous elements: the park; the green; infrastructure; the path; and the program; flowers etc… Within this park we took the traditional ‘park ingredients’ such as infrastructure, program and ‘park’ and used them equally so that nothing is autonomous. Therefore park, infrastructure and program become the three major parts of the park… The park folds itself around the program and infrastructure, making this diversity of spatial situations and programmatical connections… this also ‘intensifies’ the park.
The plan is adjusted and developed simultaneously; it is what we call a site-less process.
Surrounding the site there are going to be new houses built, and there is an old dike.
This area is landfill, thirty metres deep, and there is a high voltage electricity cable running across the site. A 3km gas pipeline creates a boundary on one edge of the site. These are all the existing physical constraints. We proposed to make the landfill smaller. On the edges the landfill is flat, in the centre it is thirty metres deep, but only two metres deep on the edges. So we are going to take the edges of the landfill, say the first twenty metres, dig it away, and put it on the rest of the landfill. This is where we will put the clay barrier… It is only necessary to have the clay capping on the side in the direction of the ground water… It’s cheaper to maintain landfill and this is our first part of the park… The starting position is the ground plane, which is determined by the infiltration zone. All of these [physical constraints] have determined the shape of the park - we are going to use the earth that we receive from the city; perhaps polluted earth. This generates money again [for the park], because normally the council has to pay to remove polluted earth. They may pay half of the cost it would be to remove it if they bring it to us, that way [the park] gets more money and more budget.. The first layers of the ground levels are the autonomous layers. There is a specific reason for the locations of these autonomous layers….the heights of some are affected by the location of electricity towers, others are high because they can then connect with other layers…We only determine the height of these plateaus…based on the surrounding infrastructure. and their relevance to the park… The second layer is the connecting plateaus… [These connecting plateaus] are not determined like the autonomous plateaus, their height is fixed but they are a continuous system of movement through the park. This system of connecting plateaus form a never-ending route through the park… This second layer connects up the autonomous levels, both over and underneath.
The third layer is what we call the main route, which is woven in and out of the autonomous and connecting system of plateaus… The main route is really making the main connections to the housing areas… this line is also like a very thin park that is connecting the houses on this side with the area.. This line makes connections with outside the park… because it’s also a park element it’s not a formal thing with an end and a start…
The fourth layer of the park is everything in between. In effect [everything in between] is the difference in height between the other plateaus… These zones are where we have to solve the difference in heights, we call them variable slopes… They can be anything.
K: The slopes of these are determined by the types of materials that you receive?
B: The plateaus are going to be determined by the type of materials that we find, the dimensions and relationship between each plateau. This relationship between each layer can always change. These layer grades are minimum calculated heights and sizes.
K: This is basically the notion of the strategy, not necessarily the strategy itself?
B: It is expected that the strategy will change, the dimensions the plateaus will change. However, one thing is very clear - what we have fixed, what we have said what our main frame is: heights. Whatever happens, that’s fixed… Instead of using a row of trees like landscape architects did traditionally, we are using heights as our spatial skeleton… height as a main framework, a response to the flatness of the area. It’s intensifying the area, multi-layering… so that all the elements are equal.
Park is a word that implies you can fit a program into it, but we are saying the park is an equal combination of park, program and infrastructure… The fifth element/layer of the site is what we call the knots. This is the areas where the layers, the different elements of the plan intersect. They are voids of space, where two or sometimes three changes of height combine. There is some budget, so in some of these areas we can propose how these levels are going to meet structurally… From these drawings we then defined the priorities: this is what we call the strategy. We made a bulldozer option. We made this plan to present what the park could look like if we don’t receive any materials, on a very low budget. In this strategy all grades can be made by the bulldozer… Areas on the site where the bulldozer option can work are based on very technical conditions - such as the steepness of slopes and how areas can be accessed with a bulldozer. In fact, the connecting plateaus are based on grades that a bulldozer can access easily. So without any ‘found treasures’ it is still possible to make an interesting park.
The next stage that we will work on is suggesting material for certain areas. The plateaus can be a series of different materials. The location and type of materials will sometimes be determined by the points ‘in-between’ and the gradient connecting to different levels. These levels are not determined by their edges; they can be made up of a series of materials, only (for example) three metres in length. However, the main route has to be of a particular type of surface that allows wheelchair and pram access; the main route is determined by its edges.
Finally we said that the whole site can be planted on, with the exception of under the power lines and the treasury room. So we are saying something about density. The type of species will depend on the type of earth we receive. The vegetation will be partly budget and partly objects found: there are a lot of trees in this agricultural area, there will be a lot of trees that will have to be relocated. The strategy incorporates the priority of materials and their distribution. The first priority for the placement of materials is in the knots.
The precision of the framework allows the flexibility of the ‘open weave’ strategy.
The interview was conducted by Sarah McCormack, Ben Ackerman and Kirsten Bauer. The ‘Found Objects’ presentation was conducted by Sarah McCormack.