‘Why Didn’t Anybody Think of This Before?’


In the mid-1990s, Bureau B+B investigated new strategies for residential areas on the peripheries of cities and villages. As a reaction to the interchangeable language of forms with which many urban expansion districts were being rolled out across the landscape, the firm developed an approach employing the variegations of the Dutch cultural landscape as a weapon against the phenomenon of levelling-out. The existing landscape was conceived of as an adaptable structure. By enlarging elements from the existing landscape substrate and combining them with new spatial elements, new occupation patterns could come about. Urban design was interpreted as a means of strengthening the existing landscape, rather than ‘cannibalistically’ consuming them.

Ground Breaking
Both B+B’s clear concepts and the attractive black-and-white design drawings for its residential landscapes received much attention in domestic and foreign professional journals. The apparent simplicity of the designs elicited the following lament from someone writing in the magazine, Topos, in 1997: ‘This working procedure proposed by B+B is so simple that you ask yourself why nobody thought of it before.’ The area-specific approach also appealed to the Ministry for Housing, Regional Development and the Environment (vrom), who, in that same year, asked B+B to put together a book presenting exemplary urban and village peripheries.

The three most representative designs for residential landscapes by B+B from this period are: Ruskenveen in Hoogkerk (1995), Hemmeseiland in Zaanstad (1995) and De Nielt in Cuijk (1997). Ruskenveen was the last ‘frayed edge’ where Hoogkerk (Province of Groningen) could expand. The area resembled a crazy quilt, randomly filled-in with sports fields, allotments and sewage farms from the nearby sugar factory. Ruskenveen was interpreted as one of the seemingly chance components of this zone on the urban periphery. A high dike surrounded the area, which was divided into five 50-m-deep strips. A hierarchic road structure was missing – the parcellation size structured the district. Each home was given an unfixed location on the parcel, such that the area had the atmosphere of an allotment garden complex. In place of separate parks, a few parcels were made accessible as playgrounds.

The design for residential landscape Hemmes, in the Municipality of Zaanstad, offered an original solution for building 300 homes on this heavily polluted industrial island. This plan, too, accepted the existing landscape: rather than removing the polluted ground and applying hydraulic filling – which would, incidentally, have been extremely expensive – all of the residential units were designed on long piers. The piers harmonized well with the water, and the light wooden homes referred to the typical wooden architecture of the Zaan district. The spaces between the piers were, depending upon the manner of and need for decontamination, formed by marshy grassland, reedland, marshland or, in the case of extreme pollution: water.

De Nielt
For the residential island De Nielt, to be created near Cuijk, the brief was to design a new district with 500 homes in the most sustainable configuration possible. B+B distributed the requested density of 40 homes per hectare unevenly over the island, taking the Italian Isola Bella as its inspiration. The smaller home types were clustered in five compact groups of houses located on the water, like small villages. The rest of the island was subdivided into parcels by a network of loosefilled paths, all different from one another. More than one hundred villas and double residential houses were placed here and surrounded by a large garden, to enable the maximum permeability by rainwater to be attained.

Never Executed
The firm’s strong concepts for residential landscapes, in whose regard it clearly was the leader, were never to reach the execution phase. The housing market was not yet ready for the idea, and the firm itself lacked the requisite urban design expertise at the detail level. In Ruskenveen, the parcels were too large for the residential housing category envisaged, and in Cuijk a more conventional, and thus more interchangeable plan has been constructed.

  • Location: Nederland

In Hemmes all of the residential units were designed on long piers.


Residential island De Nielt


In Ruskenveen the area was parcelled out into five 50-m-deep strips