Latz + Partner: The city centre of Emmen, a town in the Dutch province Drente, has been redesigned completely. With 26.400 square metres the new Raadhuisplein (Town Hall Square) has become one of Emmen’s largest public open spaces. Its attractive location and appearance will involve economic development and improvement of public services and public life. Formerly dominated by cars, dissected by a traversing footbridge and cluttered with rather randomly set elements, the square is now an open and clearly structured space for pedestrians, cyclists and only delivery, which complies with the demands on high quality materials and sustainable construction methods as well as with a strong commitment for inclusive design. Together with the existing mixed use buildings, the pepped up frontages of the renewed town hall, the cafes, restaurants and shops, the new theatre and the newly built zoo, the square has turned into the vibrant heart of a coherent urban environment.
The generous layout of hard surfaces allows for a multitude of activities and events. People can move in all directions and find many and varied possibilities to stay. When entering the square, they get the immediate feeling to be on Raadhuisplein, due to six characterizing elements which can be found all over the site: a carpet of natural stone, a tree canopy, garden inlays, water features, the continuous sundeck and the lighting.
Thanks to the relocation of through road and parking into the ground below and the removal of the Traverse, north and south, the “hard-scape” in the east and the landscape in the west can grow together and form a modern urban “park-scape” on the transition of city and nature. The planned Zuidblock – an extension of the Willinkplein business complex – will form a new clear edge in the south, while the theatre and the zoo give the square a culture- and leisure- oriented emphasis to the west. The Raadhuisplein responds to contemporary demands, away from a consensus society to complex interaction which cultivates community at a respectful distance. It offers well visible and socially manageable spaces which meet the expectations of all user groups. Warm timber and glistening pools of water link ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, trade and administration, culture and recreation. A stone-paved carpet interspersed with vegetation frames and connects the heterogeneous building development and the landscape islands and creates a completely new urban open space.
Granite slabs cover the “hard” areas up to the facades. The consistency of the surface and the joint design from east to west enlarge the plaza‘s dimensions and create a generous spatial impression. Inclusions and different color shades enhance the granite’s warm and noble appearance. It is also used for runners, steps and the mineral parts of the sun deck in order to support a consistent identifying aspect of the new Raadhuisplein.
The trees seem to come from the communal grove in the west and to settle down in the various “rooms” of the square in a casual way, but reacting with their actual position on the underground conditions. The existing types of vegetation are complemented by new species which give the square its own individual character, including Quercus robur, Gleditsia inermis, Betula papyrifera, Pinus nigra ‘Austriaca’, Prunus avium ‘Plena’. Their canopy forms a first vegetation layer.
A second much lower layer is formed by ornamental shrubs which are inserted into the larger flower beds in front of the town hall and on top of the tunnel entrances. A hardy mix of decorative shrubs, perennials and grasses with a high percentage of flowering and evergreen species has been added to the three-dimensional structure of the garden inlays. It gives the Raadhuisplein all year round an appealing almost romantic face. An intimate garden area has been placed between the facades of the Weiertwand and the Sun Deck. Fields of grasses are structured by low-growing evergreen hedges and are highlighted seasonally by flowers, the colours of the leaves and geophytes.
Water in different forms is shaping the central “Plein”. It introduces the beauty of its sounds and its glistening surface as well as further haptic qualities to the square and forms a self-contained cycle. In the northern part the pond, planted with decorative water plants, seems to be of more natural kind. Here all the rainwater and pumped water are collected. The water gets filtered and then returned into the water cycle. Beyond a small bridge the pond has merged into a long channel which follows the central promenade and connects the Raadhuisplein with the theatre and the zoo. A broad bridge built for delivery vehicles separates the channel from the shallow water surface on the Theaterplein. On the slightly inclined stone paving the water depth has diminished to 15 cm. The edges are blurring by the play of water fountains and emphasize the beauty of the wet stones. The smooth surface reflects the sky, the plants and the buildings around. For open-air theatre the water gets drained off and the stone surface can be used for a stage or tribune.
Together with the water the Sun Deck forms the central connecting element and one of the main attractions, as a unique element with a high identification effect. Being both separating and unifying it invites people to rest, to sit or just lie in the sun. Starting with a generous bench along the central promenade it enlarges to a floating wooden deck in the core of the Raadhuisplein. Various seating heights with backs and armrests in certain areas are offering a choice and welcome all sorts of people inclusive handicapped ones.
The guideline is simplicity:
Along with the casual arrangement of the trees, the vertical lights are freely placed along the edges of the Raadhuisplein, whereas the square’s central part gets staged with linear and effect lighting: The edges of the water surfaces are subtly illuminated, thus providing orientation with-out interfering with the openness of the space, whereas the fountains become glowing torches in the dark. The Sun Deck is illuminated from below, thus appearing like a floating sculpture in the moonlight.
In the immediate vicinity of the Gemeentebosje the tree canopy is still dense and forms an in-tensive green space being in a direct dialogue with the urban square on the one side and the open landscape on the other. Vreding Park offers room for all ages – a playground for the kids, a skating rink in a “sunken “ part of the park offering Street and Bowl for all generations of skaters, slightly sloping lawns in the light shadow of trees for rest and recreation, paths for walking and benches along the water with a great panorama view. Opposite Raadhuisplein the lawns turn into the naturally looking retention pond, and along the western edge into the shallow water surface of the channel.
Surroundings of the Town Hall (former Raadhuisplein)
The space in front of the Raadhuis has an open, inviting and barrier-free character. The natural stone carpet extends to the building, in its centre a group of decorative small trees in a round flowerbed. Cars are allowed only with a special permission, for example in case of a wedding. The civil registry office (Trouwpaviljoen) is embedded in a decorative flowerbed which gives this special situation an individual garden character. It continues to the west with a broad distance space on top of the tunnel exit, which frames at the same time the northern edge of Vreding Park; A per-fect place for sitting and watching the kids play or the youngsters run and jump in the skate rink.
A busy pedestrian area accompanies the renewed facades of the Weiertwand with its little shops and cafés and invites the visitors to stay. Markets and all sorts of events can take place on the extensive stone carpet throughout the year, with the warm wood of the sun deck provid-ing convenient place for resting and watching; an excellent possibility to enjoy at the same time the vibrant activities on the Plein, the colorful flowerbeds and the cool and relaxing atmosphere around the water surface.
In front of the theatre the square offers a generously laid out open space whose eastern part merges subtly into the smooth water surface while the western part changes as an architectural highlight and landmark into the entrance to the zoo. It is the ideal meeting point and provides a variety of possibilities such as an ice-rink around Christmas, a small open-air cinema or a play using the wide opening of the theatre passage as a stage. It forms the most attractive part of the main connection between the city and the relocated new zoo (Dierenpark) .
The southernmost part of the Raadhuisplein, Willinkplein Zuid, rather serves as a place where different uses meet, coming together and apart again – like the main entrance of the shopping mall and the future supermarket, the exits of the underground garages and numberless small shops.
Project: Raadhuisplein, A square – a park – a landscape at the interface of town and countryside
Location: Emmen, Netherlands
Client: Gemeente Emmen
Latz + Partner LandschaftsArchitekten Stadtplaner
Collaborators: Gerwin Gruber, Daniela Strasinsky, Kerstin Tänzler
International Competition: Jan-March 2013
Project: Mai 2013 – April 2014
Realization: September 2014- Mai 2015
Area: 3 hectares