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Amphibious Living

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Edited by Hans Venhuizen, Nai Publishers, Kunstgebouw, Foundation of Arts and Culture, South Holland, 2000.

Apart from tulips, drugs and the Achterburgwal, what do you think of when you think of the Netherlands, asks Austin Williams. The little boy with his finger in the dyke, keeping the sea at bay?

The dredging of the Zuider Zee to prepare new land for development? A flat landscape protected from the elements by man-made alterations to the landscape? Whatever your mental picture, in essence, Holland projects an image of a natural forces tamed by human ingenuity in order to lay the basis of a modern economy.

Not any longer. This book examines the age-old problems of the Dutch landscape and proposes a range of solutions which, instead of challenging the encroachment of the sea, seek to 'work with water, rather than against it'- respecting and elevating the natural.

This book contains the entries to the Amphibious Living Design competition, organised by Holland's Foundation of Arts and Culture.

Among other things, the brief highlights the fact that the Groen Hart region of South Holland, has 'run out' of good ground for construction. In many cases pile foundations for domestic dwellings are sunk 20m to find firm, bearing strata. Unfortunately, the surrounding roads, sewers and landscaping - without equivalent support - often subside, leaving the piled houses protruding above ground. Laying slabs and infrastructures on expanded foam does not always work satisfactorily, so how should the Dutch authorities resolve this situation, and make the land useable?

Landscape Projects of Manchester, winner of the Landscape and Urban Design category, has proposed artificial islands, which remain dry all year round, set in an existing polder linked by causeways, bridges or boats. To celebrate the elevation of nature, the project is described in the style of a Walt Disney real life adventure: 'The water meadows are flooding. . . The community is preparing to migrate again.'

Future Lifestyle of London, which came second, presents a thesis which examines the 'artificiality' of Holland. In fact, this is the crux of the book.What used to be seen as a unique national record of flood defences, is now decried as a deviation from the 'natural' landscape.

The project to develop peat land in the Oostpolder region of Gouda is a case in point - it has an admirable premise (reclaiming land area for habitable purposes), but the conclusion is bizarre.Arguing that 'one fifth of the country is in danger of drying out', the authors note that the Oostpolder region is too wet to build on, but too dry for amphibious living. Their solution: flood the area! This will allow construction of floating houses and put the 'amphibious residents. . . at the mercy of the unpredictable behaviour of nature'.

And so we have a complete turnaround from transformative principles historically governing the landscape patterns of the Netherlands. It is a shame. Some of the ideas presented in this book are novel and ingenious, but they end up being diminished by their own founding prejudices.

Contact: info@amfibischwonen.nl

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