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Designing with landscape identity

Graduation work by Romy Zwiers.

The goal of this thesis was to develop an approach to landscape analysis and design that takes into account local inhabitants opinions and meanings on landscape. The approach was applied to one of the Ruimte voor de Rivier projects (Zwolle) in the Netherlands, where in the original project, local inhabitants opinions and meanings were not taken into account.

House Tighelwerk, which is home to the Sluiter family, is situated in the floodplain of the River IJssel, very near the city centre of Zwolle. Because the house is situated in the floodplain, the family is used to coping with the unpredictable behaviour of the river. In winter, the house is often only accessible by boat. Many people would consider this a disadvantage and not really acceptable in 2013. But for the Sluiter family it is simply part of life in this extraordinary place, where they have lived for decades.

Their situation in the future, however, will be different, as the Ruimte voor de Rivier program for Zwolle includes big landscape changes to the floodplain where the Sluiter family lives. A secondary channel is planned in the floodplain and the house of the Sluiter family will be permanently surrounded by water. This new situation will mean that the Sluiters will always have to travel by boat to their house. Although the family is used to this, it is not an ideal, permanent situation and the tough decision was made to move to another place. Their new house is situated along the Schellerdijk, very close to their current house. However, the mound in the floodplain on which their old house is situated is very dear to them and they want to maintain the special character of this place in the future.

Their feelings are shared by many inhabitants of the nearby hamlets Schelle and Oldeneel, who are very attached to this local landmark and consider house Tighelwerk as one of the key characteristics of this landscape. It has a long history, going back to the time that a brickworks was present at this location. Besides the fact that many local inhabitants regret that house Tighelwerk will be uninhabited in the near future, many of them also don’t understand the urgency of the secondary channel. No severe flooding has occurred in the past, so why is the channel needed? Many people suspect that the channel is being dug more for reasons associated with nature than with water management. They believe that the government is using the Ruimte voor de Rivier program as a cover for its ambition to increase the ecological and natural potential of this area.

Masterplan of the new floodplain with at the right side Zwolle.

As a result of climate change, the water outflow of all the big rivers in the Netherlands is expected to increase, especially during wintertime (Milieu en Natuurplanbureau, 2005). That means that larger amounts of water will also flow via the River IJssel to Lake IJssel and therefore the environment of the river has to be adapted to protect the landscape and its inhabitants. The Dutch government has made agreements about intervention strategies in the river areas to anticipate the effects of climate change. These agreements resulted in the Ruimte voor de Rivier program (Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving, 2008 and Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat, 2006). Next to the fact that the water drainage capacity has to be increased, the spatial quality of the locations where interventions are planned has to be improved as well. The spatial quality of the Ruimte voor de Rivier projects along the Sallandse IJssel (River IJssel between Deventer and Zwolle) in Deventer and Zwolle, is described in so-called quality frameworks and is evaluated by looking at the physical landscape.

Nowadays however there is agreement that quality is in the eyes of the beholder instead of being of intrinsic value of the landscape (Lothian, 1999). For this reason it is impossible to evaluate spatial quality by only looking to the physical landscape. Because only the physical landscape is taken into account, the connection of local inhabitants to the landscape of the project locations is not assessed and thus their meaning is not taken into account. Therefore no information about the importance of landscape features for local inhabitants is present in the quality-frameworks. As a result, this information cannot be considered in the design process, which means that landscape features that are important to local inhabitants might not be respected in the final designs, or even disappear.

People therefore might have to live in a radically altered landscape in which meaningful features have disappeared. Because the landscape forms the basis of our identity, and because we constantly confirm who we are in relation to certain features or places in the landscape (Stobbelaar and Pedroli, 2011), it is important that this connection with the landscape is maintained in the new situation. Besides, researching meanings on landscape of local people might lead to extra landscape knowledge, which results in additional clues for design.

In this thesis an approach to landscape analysis and design is developed, that is based on the landscape identity theory of Stobbelaar and Pedroli (2011). In the landscape identity theory four aspects of landscape identity are combined which you can see in figure 1:

Landscape identity circle as developed by Stobbelaar and Pedroli (2011)

The approach is applied to the Scheller and Oldeneler Buitenwaarden, which is one of the Ruimte voor de Rivier projects along the Sallandse IJssel in which the meaning of local inhabitants was not taken into account. The landscape analysis and design approach developed in this thesis is compared with the ‘real’ landscape analysis and design approach for the area of DLG (2006). Beside that the final design of this thesis is compared with the design of Bosch-Slabbers & Tauw for the area, to get insight in the added value of taking into account people’s opinions and meanings on landscape.

In the landscape analysis the four aspects of landscape identity are researched through literature studies, field visits, individual interviews and a workshop. The elements that were analysed for each aspect, and the methods used, are determined by the outcomes of a literature study that was conducted to this.

In the design approach a SWOT-analysis is conducted, based on the results of the landscape analysis. With respect to the outcomes of this SWOT-analysis four design objectives are developed. Furthermore spatial possibilities to realize the design objectives are drawn up. A workshop was organized for all the people interviewed in which the interview results, SWOT-analysis outcomes and design objectives were evaluated and the spatial possibilities to realize the design objectives were discussed.

The outcomes of the workshop were taken into account in the development of the ultimate design guidelines, with which a design for the area was created. One remarkable outcome of the interviews and the workshop is that the local inhabitants desire that the mound in the floodplain, called Tighelwerk, which is referred to in the introduction, is recognizable as a special place in the future situation. The house that is located there will be demolished since the residents are moving out. The desire has been translated into design guidelines for the area, and when comparing these with the design guidelines of DLG (2006), it is clear that the desire of the local inhabitants with respect to mound Tighelwerk is not present in the latter design guidelines. Beside that, the local inhabitants desire a hiking route through the floodplain, which is not realised in the current design of Bosch-Slabbers and Tauw for the area.

Below two examples of design guidelines are presented, followed by some visualizations of the route that I designed, through the floodplain.

Design guideline Tighelwerk: recognizable as a special place and it should be accessible by a route through the floodplain.

Another design guideline: the local inhabitants desire a fluctuating view on the river IJssel; it is not attractive when the landscape is completely open, but it is important that the IJssel is visible from most viewpoints.

Part of the route in the floodplain, along the new secondary channel.

A sheltered bench on the location of house Tighelwerk, which was located on mound Tighelwerk in the floodplain.

The most important results are that when meanings on landscape are taken into account in a landscape analysis, the analysis becomes more place-specific. Besides that, the inclusion of meanings over landscape ultimately leads to different design guidelines compared to when these meanings are not included in a landscape analysis.

The differences between both designs were small and subtle, which leads to the conclusion that the meaning of landscape for people is very detailed and that even a small contrast can make a big difference in the minds of inhabitants.

Finally, the landscape identity theory of Stobbelaar and Pedroli (2011) appears to be suitable to apply to landscape planning and design since all aspects of landscape identity, including the meanings of (local) people on landscape, are taken into account. Besides that, the used methods to ‘fill in’ the four aspects of landscape identity for the area, were suitable as well. It is however important to notice that personal meanings on landscape have to be investigated with individual interviews, as participants then have the opportunity to share their opinions without interference of other people.

juli 10, 2014

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