How to tackle a commission with a mismatch between available budget and program requirements? Everything starts with inspiration!

Middelburg has only one genuine urban park: the Molenwaterpark, just outside its historic city walls. The park has a long history. It started as a turning loop for ships frequenting the city, a body of water gradually filled up and finally transformed into an urban park. What remained in the end was a ruinous green area that exuded the spirit of past glory. The park had lost its coherence, both internally and with its surroundings. Where park and surrounding buildings normally reinforce each other, here they seemed to clash and depreciate.

In addition, the Molenwaterpark itself consisted of disjointed parts. Dense planting and fencing separated the various functions. For the new design, we proposed low-budget interventions to develop a coherent city park, in touch with its rich history again. To achieve this, the park’s edges were opened up and internal barriers were broken down, to create a large, unified and coherent park, interwoven with the urban network, designed from facade to facade. The design is characterised by a contemporary landscape style, framing the historical allure of the mediaeval inner city.

The idea of developing the theatre on the edge of the park and shifting the parking pressure onto the park initially led to a fierce response from the population. In a series of working sessions with local residents and park users, opportunities for a renewed Molenwaterpark were explored. Gradually, resistance made way for surprise; ‘never thought it could be done this way’. The sessions resulted in enthusiasm and co-ownership, and in support for further development of the park. Out-of-the-box additional funding was found by making the project a pilot for the EU Interreg Water Resilient Cities program, hereby adding new climate resilience functions to the park.

The new park now offers 2,000 m3 of extra space to temporarily store and retain water. That is 10,000 rain barrels that will relieve the sewer system during extreme rainfall and protect low parts of the town from flooding. The drainage of buildings and streets has been disconnected from the sewage system, and rainwater is discharged into the park, where it is collected in wadis.

The storage aspect of this water system is visible in the water square, which can temporarily overflow, to form a whole with the cascade of forest wadis.
This makes for an attractive playground as well! The square’s edge and the experience platform enable further engagement with the water. The cascade of woodland wadis is ecologically designed to nurture dragonflies, butterflies and amphibians, and replenishes fresh water supplies, for the benefit of the surrounding trees. Its water bowls house the protected natterjack toad. Water has always attracted and fascinated people. It is therefore only logical that the park’s reflecting pool, with a width of 25 metres, is its ultimate hotspot, mirroring the urban silhouette of Middelburg.

In the Molenwaterpark, climate measures are cleverly combined with the park design to create a win-win: the result is a climate-proof water system and a beautiful city park for Middelburg citizens who helped create this beautiful plan.

Architecture offices involved in the design: KWS (Contractor), Werkgroep Molenwater (Task Force Molenwater), KNNV (Royal Dutch Natural History Association), Vlinder- en Libellenwerkgroep Zeeland (Butterfly and Dragonfly Task Force Zeeland)

Location: 51.503693465050176, 3.6162172679820315
4331 SG Middelburg

Design year: 2017-2020

Year Completed: 2021


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