Architecture as a profession is considered as one that keeps the user, people and the environment in utmost consideration. It is more so important in today’s times, when architecture is becoming more individualistic than public, that architects need to step out of their comfort zones and set out to make a larger difference to the community and the spaces that then benefit a huge part of our urban realms. It certainly requires them to then think of the greater good than smaller gains, involve the locals and its communities and work together as one to make a considerable difference. One of many such examples has been set by MVRDV.
The Dutch architecture firm led by Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs & Nathalie de Vries, together with local neighbourhood organisations, has presented a rejuvenating plan for the city of The Hague in Netherlands. The plan proposes to reopen, re-use and revive the city’s 17th-century canals, which were filled-in during the 20th century to create road networks, parks and other city infrastructure. This neighbourhood participation project attempts to revitalise a run-down part of the historic centre of that part of the Netherlands which is an important government and hence public expanse. The strategy, produced by MVRDV as a pro-bono project in collaboration with the various residents’ collectives, is an attempt towards improving and uplifting the economy, traffic, and water management and sustainability efforts of the area.
The Hague, was primarily founded as a government centre, which was a contrast to other Dutch cities where to be a part of the city’s central canal network for trade was the main focus. Consequently, for reasons related to trade and administration, many of the canals were filled between 1910 and 1970 and, in the 1970s, part of the neighbourhood was almost demolished to make way for a motorway. It was during this time that citizens realised the importance of their history and its preservation and further took action and stopped the demolition process, but not before significant damage was done to the once-pristine canal area. Recent years have seen a revival in the way the awareness within the community and their action thereon. In 2018, these actions saw the light of the day - a neighbourhood initiative demanded the closure of two red light district streets, which the city agreed upon. Boosted by this success, the inhabitants set their next goal: to reopen the lost canals and boost the area both ecologically and economically.
One of the driving forces behind the vision has been a local resident named Shireen Poyck, who united the various neighbourhood initiatives and stakeholders in the ‘Grachten Open’ (Canals Open) initiative and, in 2018, called on her neighbour, MVRDV Partner Jan Knikker, to participate. Understanding the significance of this project as adding immense value to the quality of the city, MVRDV drew up a vision to reopen the canals, building upon the work of the inhabitants. Based on a study of the historical canals by local firm BAU architects, MVRDV envisions the restoration of the main canals, and has also drawn up plans for the minor canals which are either dead-ends or lost due to underground works or buildings. Each of these canal stubs require to function as an urban activator, with proposals including swimming canals, koi carp canals, and even a surf canal. These ideas intend to also actively support the ambition of The Hague as a 'sports city'. MVRDV’s ideas to replenish the canals also aligns with the ‘Spinoza Power 2.0’ vision, which was created by the local community and includes a gastronomy route, the removal and renovation of the red light district streets, and a new market hall which replaces an underperforming parking garage.
Special attention has been given by the team to the tram lines and other infrastructure erected on the spaces which used to be canals. Like many other Dutch cities, The Hague already has some experience in bringing back its canals, restoring a small piece of canal and transforming parking space into a combination of parking, open water, and gastronomy. However, learning from its experiences in the past, much overspending on this project was caused by a complex underground car-park. This encouraged MVRDV and the local community to keep their plans simple and realistic.
The Open Canal vision, the third project in which MVRDV has participated on a non-profit basis, was drafted by its inhabitants and local businesses, supported by the Oude Centrum and Rond het Plein neighbourhood communities, businesses, SOS Den Haag and two major real estate owners in the area. It was generously supported by Grachten Open and Wijkorganisatie Oude Centrum and was presented in the city hall to the Dutch politician and alderman Boudewijn Revis.
The proposal and intentions behind this pro-bono project, make us rethink and believe in the way architects can contribute to the surroundings we live in and that architecture is not a secluded entity in our urban environments and city planning; it is very much a part of our everyday environments.
Name of the project: The Hague Open Canals
Location: The Hague, Netherlands
Programme: Urban vision
Partner in charge: Winy Maas, Jan Knikker
Design Team: Lisa Ulbrich, Gustavo van Staveren, Emilie Koch, Fedor Bron, Elien Deceuninck
Visualisations: Kirill Emelianov
Strategy and Development: Amanda Rooseboom, Miruna Dunu
Copyright: MVRDV 2018 – (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries)
Advisor: Shireen Poyck
Neighbourhood Organisations: Grachten Open / Buurtplatform Oude Centrum eo (Bob Willem van Hooft, Chris Schram, Jan Elsinga, Shireen Poyck); Wijkorganisatie Oude Centrum / Spinozakracht (Karlijne Scholts, Marieke de Jong, Jan van den Brink)