The Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has commissioned Het Nieuwe Instituut to undertake a study into a potential collection policy for archives relating to garden architecture and landscape architecture. There is currently no clearly defined repository for these materials. This makes it difficult for them to find their way to cultural institutions, with the attendant risk of their becoming fragmented or lost. This situation arises from the lack of a shared vision of the cultural value of this heritage. What constitutes that value? For whom, and for what purpose, should we collect these materials? How do they contribute to historical research and design practice? We will investigate these issues in the coming months in consultation with the professional field and archival organisations to build up a picture of the extent of these archives and the parties involved.
Sometime in the late 1980s, an employee of the then National Planning Service rescued Eo Wijers’ famous drawing for the Second Memorandum on Spatial Planning from a rubbish skip. Landscape architect Pieter Buys currently stores his personal and professional archives in a shed and has no plans for their long-term preservation. And an employee of the Forestry Commission prevented the documentation of the Planting Commission from being put out with the rubbish. Where are those materials now, 30 years later? At some point, a new generation of landscape designers and managers will have to find a suitable location to store valuable archival materials. But even now, there is no obvious destination for them.
Dutch garden and landscape architecture have made a significant contribution to the landscape around us. This contribution is recorded in sketches, maps, photographs and models, and described in meeting minutes, policy documents and articles. Together, these documents provide an insight into how the landscape is conceived, created and managed, and thus also furnish us with insights into society itself, whose culture and customs are ultimately and inevitably expressed in the landscape. For a good understanding of the landscape and how best to use it, it is of great practical and cultural importance that these materials are preserved and made accessible for education, research, design and management.
No home for garden and landscape architecture archives
In contrast to the situation for architecture and urban design, for garden and landscape architecture archives there is no obvious “home”: the materials are stored in a fragmented fashion at a variety of archival institutions. There are various organisations that play an important role in specific areas that relate to the landscape, such as the National Archives, Het Nieuwe Instituut, WUR Special Collections, regional and municipal archives, public organisations such as the National Forestry Commission and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, and of course the design studios themselves. But the number of neglected and destroyed archives shows that the current options are limited and that we need an integrated vision for collecting these archives.
In 2018, following a meeting with Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Board of Government Advisers put the situation regarding garden and landscape architecture archives on the agenda of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. This was necessary because the management of, and access to, the archives of (and for) landscape architecture are not adequately organised. Archives are in danger of disappearing due to the reorganisation of institutions and the dynamic development of design offices.
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has asked Het Nieuwe Instituut to investigate a potential collection policy for garden and landscape architecture archives. As the guardian of the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, Het Nieuwe Instituut has extensive knowledge of, and experience in, collecting, managing and providing access to the archives of architects, urban planners and designers. The collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut also contains archives and archival documents relating to garden and landscape design.
Het Nieuwe Instituut, like its predecessors, has always collected from the perspectives of architecture and urbanism. This has meant that garden and landscape architecture have not been collected as autonomous disciplines, but as components of the fields of architecture and urban planning. For example, Het Nieuwe Instituut has collected designs for large urban parks or public gardens as part of urban planning designs (including the archives of Alle Hosper and Michael van Gessel), and designs for cities, large urban parks and public spaces with a strong landscaping component (such as the archives of Cornelis van Eesteren and Frits Palmboom). While this perspective on garden and landscape architecture certainly provides insights into the interactions between architecture, urban design and landscape design over the decades, it also means that the development of specific areas of knowledge within the field, such as botany, land development, agriculture, geography, cultivation techniques and ecology, have largely been omitted from this collection policy.
Apart from the question as to who is served by this separation of knowledge areas, the future of an integrated policy with regard to the preservation of garden and landscape designs is also wrapped up in larger current issues such as the Anthropocene and how current and future stakeholders in the landscape deal with the relationship between humans, nature and the environment. The study currently being conducted concerns not only the archives of garden and landscape architects, but also those of other bodies involved in the creation, layout and design of the landscape, such as water boards and nature organisations. It is important to gain an insight into this broader field of relevant actors and to ascertain which structure of archive repositories is most appropriate.
Research and advice
As part of this study, Het Nieuwe Instituut is working with various archive creators, archive management institutions and potential users to identify the major problems. This raises questions such as: who are the users? For whom do we preserve archives and for what purpose? What is the social relevance of the archives? Which audience is addressed in the long term, and what does that say about selection criteria and access? The materials themselves will also be examined.
What are the materials and how do we determine whether they are “worth archiving”? Whereas previously the emphasis has been on the preservation of archives relating to the body of work of individual designers, there is now a tendency to assess materials in terms of social context, broader issues and public debate, based on the desire to tell stories about the landscape that fall outside the dominant narrative and which reject the idea of authorship. What does that mean for selection and access? Knowledge about how to store archival materials and make them accessible is developing rapidly. The traditional image of a central, physical repository is shifting to a digitally organised network of repositories. However, this raises new questions about ownership and responsibility. What is archiving today? How is it done? And which parties can play a role in this?
The proposals will provide clues for a collection policy that will ensure better access to garden and landscape architecture archives so that the materials will remain available long-term in a sustainable fashion. The study is being carried out on behalf of Het Nieuwe Instituut by the landscape architect, researcher and writer Noël van Dooren and the social geographer Marieke Francke. The proposals will be presented to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science in May 2021.
Research design and digital culture archives
Since the spring of 2020, Het Nieuwe Instituut has also been working towards an archive facility for the fields of design and digital culture, areas in which the Netherlands enjoys a significant reputation, but whose further development cannot rely on a solid and centrally accessible “memory bank”. With the current emphasis on a diversity of voices, the need to look at design history from different perspectives has only grown more urgent. The Network of Design and Digital Culture Archives and the study to determine the position with regard to garden and landscape archives also respond to the demand for a memory bank for disciplines within which archiving has so far lagged behind or has been entirely absent. In this way, Het Nieuwe Instituut aims to contribute to the development of a multidisciplinary knowledge domain that will strengthen the design sector’s position in innovation and society.
Landscape and Interior Programme Track
The boundaries between public and private, physical and digital, and culture and nature are becoming blurred. At the same time, new borders continue to develop, and the once clear distinction between inside and outside, known and unknown, and between ourselves and the other, is shifting. This changing world, which is also recognised in the government’s adjusted policy on spatial planning, calls for a new approach to the concept of space. The Landscape and Interior programme explores these shifts and researches how the concept of space can be redefined on the basis of these two extremes.
Total Space explores interdisciplinary exchanges between the fields of architecture, urban planning, anthropology and systems theory. The core premise is that architecture and urban planning can be understood as ecological systems. The point of departure becomes interactive networks, rather than discrete objects and domains. From the first propositions for networked cities and megastructures in the 1950s and 60s, up to developments such as smart cities and virtual territories today, the concept of a total, all-encompassing space remains a recurrent motif.
Acquisition of the archive of landscape architect Michael van Gessel
Het Nieuwe Instituut has recently acquired the archive of garden and landscape architect Michael van Gessel, a designer the general public has encountered, often unknowingly, through visits to public parks, redesigned estates, public spaces in new neighbourhoods and larger landscaping projects. Who is Michael van Gessel? And what does the acquisition of his archive mean for research into Dutch garden and landscape architecture?
Sicco Mansholt was a farmer and social democrat who became an influential Dutch postwar agricultural minister. After 14 years as minister, Mansholt became the EEG’s first agricultural commissioner. In that role, he functioned as one of the architects of today’s European Union. Mansholt’s policy powerfully affected the economic position of farmers, the unification of Europe, and the design of the Dutch landscape. The installation for the exhibition as designed by Studio PolyLester, tracks the rise, fall and radical change of heart of this emblematic figure of European agricultural politics.