There are architecture photographers that refuse to photograph anything from November up to February. In their view the long shadows and dimmed light intensity of the winter season compromises their work. The effect is that - in the architecture media - not only the sun always shines, but that it is also never winter.
How difficult it is to photograph architecture in the winter became apparent when I examined the photographs I took this week on a visit to ‘de Haverleij’, a newly developed neighborhood in the south of the Netherlands. On site the weather seemed clear. On the photographs however shadows darken the ground and the facades. Even more painful is the light, that somehow takes the depth from the compositions. Will there ever be a function in Photoshop with which we could turn the winter on the photographs into the summer?
In the meantime I kind of like the photographs for advertising the season. The neighborhood on the photographs is a suburban development of the city of Den Bosch. The masterplan for the area has been designed by Sjoerd Soeters, one of the few postmodern architects in the Netherlands. When the municipality of Den Bosch in the nineties asked Sjoerd Soeters to come up with ideas for the expansion of the city, he suggested to build a series of ‘castles’ that would leave the landscape open.
Now, at the end of 2008, six ‘castles’ plus a ‘citadel’ have been build. The construction of another three castles has just been started. Instead of a sea of low-rise housing, a neighborhood has emerged where a differentiated, yet continuous, landscape is punctuated with medium-rise housing complexes. The sheer is space is just magnificent!
One of the elements that make the plan work is the sharply cut perimeter of the buildings. With only one or two entrances from the surrounding landscape the architecture stands apart from it. Pretty much each house looks out over the landscape, but doesn’t touch it. The houses have balconies and terraces, no gardens.
The castles of ‘de Haverleij’ could be considered to be a continuation of the Modernist planning, favoring a continuous landscape and communal housing complexes. There are significant differences between ‘de Haverleij’ and the Modernist city too though. Differences that in my view shed some light over the failure of Modernism.
When travelling to ‘de Haverleij’ by bus, I passed through the post-war neighborhoods of Den Bosch. What struck me was the density and the poverty in architecture - rows and rows of boxy social housing. By contrast, ‘de Haverleij’ has a very low overall density and features a careful and distinct architecture. Each building has a different layout and a different architecture.
An example. I love the urban design by Rob Krier in the ‘citadel’ – even though I am certainly not a protagonist of traditional architecture. The urban design shows a great concern with public space works and how it can be materialized. I also have to (painfully) admit I like the brickwork of the facades. The detailing of it distracts from the fact that the composition of the facades refer to a tradition that really existed in Holland. It is bullshit that is nicely detailed.
Another difference with the Modernist city is that in ‘de Haverleij’ you stumble over the Porsche’s and Maserati’s. In a neighborhood where nobody has a garden. The fact that almost a third of the landscape is occupied by a 18-hole golf course has probably something to do with it. The golf course has been draped between three of the castles and the citadel. As a tissue the golf course blends in with the grasslands, the wood, the fields with hedges and the water lined with reed. What sets the golf course apart is that it is inaccessible when you are not a member.
What I find the most beautiful aspect of the design, is how the landscape seamlessly continues into the countryside to the east and the river delta to the north. ‘De Haverleij’ shows how city and landscape can mingle into a new, powerful synthesis.