Revisiting Two Poetic Landscape Projects
July 25, 2012
The Netherlands has developed a strong cultural tradition of landscape architecture and intervention, due to the simple fact that much of it should be underwater. Renowned for its systems of berms, levees, canals, and artificial islands built to keep out the at times violent North Sea, the country sees its geography as both a threat and a blessing. One way the low-lying landscape was turned into an advantage was through the construction of the Water Line, a series of low areas that could be intentionally flooded to protect the province of Holland, the Netherlands’s economic center, from foreign invasion. Originally built in the 16th century during the country’s war for independence from Spain, the Water Line functioned, with various additions, until the 1940’s.
Two poetic projects, the Moses Bridge (2011) and Bunker 599 (2010), seek to highlight the Water Line’s important role in Dutch history, and use the straight line and the act of slicing to contrast the variation of topography and to highlight the changeability of water levels. In this era of climate change-induced anxiety about rising water levels and of watery disaster, we thought it would be interesting to revisit these projects to extract some lessons on how to remember and honor a land submerged.
The Loopgraafbrug, or the Moses Bridge as many have taken to calling it, is a path partly submerged in the moat surrounding an old earthen fort. The designers, RO & AD Architects, sought to put visitors at eye level with the water, and to preserve the visual continuity of the moat as seen from the fortifications. Built out of water-resistant Accoya wood, the walkway also cuts into the earth on either side becoming invisible when seen from the side, and providing a unique experience of the landscape.
The project allows visitors to occupy spaces normally found only during war: the ground and the water. The cut in the earth recalls trench warfare, while walking through the water recalls fording moats and rivers, walking with hands held high to keep equipment from getting waterlogged. It also references the general geographic condition of the Netherlands: below the water, but not wet.
Images of the Moses Bridge via MyModernMet
Bunker 599, by Rietveld Landscape and Atelier de Lyon, is a project of similar scope, but different objectives. If the Moses Bridge is about getting from one side to the other, Bunker 599 is about going, standing, and coming back. Visitors descend a steep embankment along a wooden staircase, which then continues to become a straight boardwalk shooting out into the water. Its straight line is unflinching: the walkway completely bisects an existing concrete bunker, giving this project the same feeling of compression, and of occupying a strange territory.
After passing through the bunker, visitors pass over the water on a jetty that slowly descends until it hovers just above water level before slipping under it. The effect of this move reminds us that water levels change and that what is now above can one day be below. It calls attention to the flooded lands and the former possibility of walking there; the submerged jetty revives this possibility, if only you take off your shoes.