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Mooi! - The Pandhof of the Domchurch

Article by Shanna Koppejan

Figure 1: The Pandhof (De Pandhof Van De Dom, n.d.).

Maybe it is familiar to you; the little serene historic garden of Utrecht, the Pandhof. Located in the city centre of Utrecht next to the famous Dom Church.

For the course Global Landscapes and Place-Making we were asked to present about a place using the theories we had learned during the course. The Pandhof is one of my favourite places in Utrecht and, as you will learn, an interesting place to consider when thinking about place-making. Therefore, I decided to write about it and introduce you all to a little piece of ‘fake’ heritage. 

Long ago, when the Pandhof first came into existence, it was built as the connection between the Dom Church and the Kapittelhuis. It served as a cemetery, a place for religious contemplation, and might have served partly as a vegetable garden (De Pandhof Van De Dom, n.d.). So, contrastingly, there was no monastery garden!

This was followed by the Protestant faith taking over and the change of Utrecht to a reformatory city in 1580. The Pandhof and surrounding buildings went through a period of decline, and it remained unclear to whom the Pandhof belonged for some time. Local residents took over the courtyard and used it for a variety of purposes. Wagons were stored in the halls, chickens were kept, and nut trees were planted. It turned into a meeting place to share a beer with friends.

Figure 2: Drawing of the Pandhof. [37185] / collection Het Utrechts Archief. 

However, in 1634, the illustrious school was founded, which used the Kapittelhuis as lecture halls. Students had to walk through the Pandhof to get to their lectures, which meant that public access was denied, and it became the ‘wandelplaets van d’Academie’ (walking site of the Academy). It became a clean and ordered garden, and the nut trees were cut. Eventually, the students and university spread through the city and the Pandhof became a place for the public again.

Figure 3: The Pandhof between 1945 and 1955 by Werf, F.F. van der. [405218] / collection Het Utrechts Archief. 

The monastery garden only originates from 1962. This year, it was for the first time that a garden was constructed. The designer divided the Pandhof into the 23 plots. Sadly the garden was not maintained properly and only in 1975 the effort was put in again when a student asked to transform it into a medieval herb garden. Now, more and more perennials are spotted in the garden to keep maintenance efforts low (De Pandhof Van De Dom, n.d.).

The Pandhof, as a place, is a highly diverse. Not only throughout history it harboured many identities, but also now it attracts many different people. According to the relational theory, places are the result of social relations. They are shaped by social relations because the interactions, behaviours, and relationships among people influence the physical and cultural characteristics of a location. People collectively contribute to the creation, transformation, and meaning of places. That also means that all interactions and social relations influence the identities of the Pandhof, because identity is a combination of tangible and intangible factors and therefore influenced by people. Due to the many social relations in the courtyard, there is a wide variety of identities present, now and in the past. As Massey (1984) mentions, the array of identities “can either be a source of richness or a source of conflict, or both.”

Over the years, and even now it is a place of many narratives and identities. And of course that it not only this garden, but every place you can think of. I think it is pretty easy to see that as a richness, but as a student of landscape architecture I have also experienced the conflict, because as a designer you have to choose for certain identities. And as Harrison (2004) mentions "history will be doctored, presented and represented to suit the demands and the imperatives of the present." With this I always seem to struggle because ​who possesses the authority/power and legitimacy to define who a particular community are and who they are not. Which identity can be created, transformed, or maintained. In the 90s, for example, a conflict between identities arose. There was a lot of nuisance and volunteers almost stopped working. There were homeless people sleeping in the flower beds, and the volunteers found drug syringes in the mornings (Initiatievenfonds: Vrijwilligers Onderhouden Al Dertig Jaar Pandhof Sinte Marie, 2017). The new gate, that closes at night, changed this situation. But, who decides about who is included and excluded? 

Figure 4: The Pandhof in 2003 by Fotodienst HUA. [835930] / collection Het Utrechts Archief. 

What it so interesting to me is that the place looks like a historical herb garden from the Middle Ages, and I would always quickly label it as heritage. However, contrastingly, it is a pretty new garden, just in an old setting. So, what is even heritage? And what, as a designer, is your opinion about heritage as a performance or ‘fake’ heritage? Who decides what past should be remembered?

As a designer I struggle with these questions and contrasts, and maybe you do too, but "ultimately, perhaps, what matters are the meanings that people project onto these inanimate objects, these ‘things men have made’ – to quote D.H. Lawrence" (Harrison, 2004). 


De Pandhof van de Dom. (n.d.). Universiteit Utrecht. Retrieved January 18, 2024, from 

Harrison, D. (2004). Contested narratives in the domain of world heritage. Current Issues in Tourism7(4–5), 281–290.

Initiatievenfonds: Vrijwilligers onderhouden al dertig jaar Pandhof Sinte Marie. (2017, November 14). De Utrechtse Internet Courant. Retrieved February 3, 2024, from 

Massey, D. (1994). 'A Global Sense of Place', in Space, Place and Gender. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press. ​


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