Landschapspark Poelgeest by

2024 Public Projects / Netherlands /

Against excessive redesign and in favour of organic succession, Project Poelgeest resulted in one of the first large scale Dutch projects to fully incorporate nature into an urban housing development.

Over ten years ago as part of the Dutch nature compensation scheme linked to new development, DS Landscape Architects proposed a design for a multi-functional ecological and recreational wetland zone in a new urban development in Poelgeest. With the Netherlands having the highest population density in western Europe, establishing a large ecological zone near the city was a radical move. Poelgeest was and remains an organic polder wetland that sits at the edge of Randstad, an urban agglomeration of 7.5 million people. Instead of proposing a landscaped area to act as a backdrop to the new development, DS designed a highly functional, living wetland area that tied into the history and culture of the Netherlands.

The landscape project reestablishes a connection to layers of history in the landscape. DS ensured for 11 years that the area remained free from initiatives and could quietly transform into the nature it is now. Simultaneously the heart of the design is the preservation of an original polder dating to the 16th century. This project was one of the first of its kind and marked a shift towards the integration of nature into the urban context in the Netherlands. The project site is over 76 hectares (188 acres) in size, a third of which is wetland. These waters Poelgeest are also now able to physically reconnect to a natural lake to the east.

The Poelgeest wetland zones establish new types of functionality within an urban development typology. This traditional agricultural form was restored and its new networks of water and reeds have been used to purify the development’s runoff and storm water, a vital ecological services to the community. This water flows into a wetland buffer for retention before it goes over a water wheel, and lastly back towards the housing zone. The Veerpolder is a retention pond, where water waits to be returned to the residential area. To achieve this in a subtle manner the ditches have been widened. The fresh water marsh ecosystem now have a very high level of biodiversity, supporting many bird, animal, plant, and insect species. A colony of spoonbills, for example. has found a permanent destination in Landschapspark Poelgeest.

During the development the area was often seen as empty, and the design eventually enabled the area’s users to understand the subtleties of the less ‘developed’ areas. Opportunities for learning and recreation are abound within the natural area. It is an important source of education for children who can closely observe the plants and animals and the changing of the seasons. Layers of cultural history are brought to the fore and can be experienced first-hand. The walking trails are on top of ancient dikes around the polder’s edge while the marsh is a water ‘wilderness.’ For example, it is possible to boat from the backyard of many of the houses through the wetlands. This allows for entry, but there are also vast areas where animals can remain undisturbed. The landscape serves as nature compensation and recreational area. The theme for the planting and structures is reed. Alders on the dikes have been used to obscure urban edges such as marinas and industrial sheds. To enable subtle transitions from urban to natural the paths on the dikes are semi-paved and planted with pollard alders. For light traffic into the area the paths through the polder are boot tracks for public excursions and enjoyment.

This model lays the ground for a myriad of experience, both for people, animals and other facets of nature. It suggests the widespread possibility for integrating housing, and infrastructure, water treatment and nature reserve, as well as recreational area and historical site. Nature is no longer “out there,” away from cities, but within the very center of people’s lives.

Location (publicly accessible project): Catharina Coolpad/Martinus Houttuynhof, 2341 PE Oegstgeest, Netherlands

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