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Razende Reporters: A Journey Through the Dutch Social and Physical Landscape

Artikel door Lissy Jones (23)


Introduction I've had my heart set on studying Landscape Architecture in the Netherlands ever since I began my bachelor's in Birmingham. Dutch water systems, pedestrian-friendly traffic layouts, and herringbone paving fascinated me through every textbook. Despite COVID and Brexit challenges, I secured a spot here last year, and I'm eager to begin my thesis. It's an ideal time to reflect on my experiences and share my perspective on the Dutch landscape.


Body

The Netherlands exceeded my expectations. When my friends asked me what it was like, I would describe it as if I’m walking through a landscape render: here, people genuinely utilise cycle paths, butterflies flutter overhead, water is everywhere, and the campus buildings, while perhaps a tad square, are undeniably state-of-the-art.


Although my experience has been a happy one – I must admit that my initial high opinion of the Dutch landscape has somewhat diminished.


During our initial design module, Studio Park, I swiftly came to realise that the natural landscape in the Netherlands is somewhat scarce. Undoubtedly, it's a remarkable triumph of engineering, however I quickly came to miss the charm of disorderly meandering of rivers and the sight of mountains in the Lake District from my doorstep.


Afbeelding 1: View towards the Lakes


Furthermore, the country's remarkable flatness, a renowned geographical trait, was something I had underestimated in terms of its impact on design. My aspirations in Studio Park, which included ambitious excavation plans for an immersive experience, were confronted with unforeseen challenges due to the high groundwater levels. Birmingham, my previous study location, stands at a considerably elevated position of 140 meters above sea level, affording much greater design flexibility. A good friend caught me off guard when she said the only obstacles on her cycle to Nijmegen were two bridges!


Afbeelding 2: Studio Park Masterplan


In a similar experience, Studio Regional took me to Zeeland where we assessed the dike systems and explored new ways of using natural solutions as flood prevention. The famous water systems I had come here to learn from now had to be replaced with my knowledge from back home: meandering rivers, coastal sediment capture and salt marshes. The experience held a profound irony and prompted challenging questions about a reliance on traditional systems, even though they could prove detrimental to the future. The hard edge of a built dike prevents natural sediment capture resulting in sinking polders, and these dikes will not being able to withstand the pressure of rising sea water. This experience taught me a valuable lesson: just because something has been done a certain way in the past doesn't necessarily mean it's the best approach for the future. We, as landscape architects, must always be willing to adapt.


On a social level, I've observed that the Dutch population seems to mirror the landscape itself—structured, efficient, and dependable. One aspect I've found challenging is the high expectations Dutch students often place on themselves. Their schedules are consistently packed with commitments, including associations, sports, family, friends, and academic pursuits, to name just a few. With such heavy loads, it's almost become a norm to encounter burnout culture, and it's evident from an outsider's perspective that these factors are interconnected.


Once again, adaptability under pressure emerged as a recurring theme: just because a particular way of life has been the tradition doesn't necessarily mean it's always the healthiest or most sustainable approach.


Conclusion

So okay, the chaos of natural landscape and unplanned schedules is missing, yet it's undeniable that the country functions beautifully. We love to hate the 303 but it does come often enough, leading to a central station with good connections to everywhere in the Netherlands. The transport infrastructure is brilliant. Biodiversity and sustainability are hot topics here. People actually know what landscape architecture is (and it’s definitely more than garden design). My time here has been a tremendous learning experience, and I've forged friendships that I hope will last a lifetime.


As a fly on the wall of the world’s flattest country, I would like to end with some advice. Pause to cherish what you possess but also welcome a touch of freedom: let those grassy verges thrive, allow rivers to follow more naturally, and perhaps, on occasion, leave a day open to see where it leads. The nation is grappling with increasing pressures, and not every issue can be resolved using the same methods we've relied upon until now.


Afbeelding 3: Studio suffering kindles friendships :)



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