Schouwburg Plein Challenges Rotterdam
by Anita Van Asperdt
In the Netherlands, "West 8" refers to the predominant wind direction and its force that blows over the lowlands. "West 8" is also the name of a design firm that seeks to negate the distinction between engineering and design and to diffuse the already artificial boundaries between landscape architecture, urban planning, and architecture.
The firm's design for the Schouwburg Plein, a central plaza in Rotterdam, exemplifies this attitude. The plaza is envisioned as an empty stage where citizens can express themselves freely. This is hardly a new idea; plazas have always been public stages.
Watching others and being watched is a quintessential function of the public realm. However, the manner in which the void of the Schouwburg Plein is organized and materialized is unique.
West 8 is one of the best known multidisciplinary design firms in the Netherlands. Landscape architect Adriaan Geuze is the group's director and voice. The fact that the firm is led by a landscape architect reflects the growing influence that this profession has in the country's architecture realm.
Geuze's approach to design is grounded in the engineering tradition by which the Dutch "polder" landscape has come into being. This below sea-level icon landscape can exist only because of its engineered system of canals, dikes, and pumps. Yet the Dutch polders have a strong aesthetic beauty.
The lightpoles' machine aesthetic alludes to the cranes of the nearby seaport.
Photo: Anita Van Asperdt
The Schouwburg Plein, a plaza in central Rotterdam, is envisioned as an empty stage where citizens can express themselves freely.
Photo: West 8 Landscape Architects & Urban Planners
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