A Trip to the Past

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Last Saturday, the Archis/Volume team visited two neo-traditional neighborhoods in the South of the Netherlands. Holland’s first neo-traditional neighborhoods are largely completed, and during this excursion led by Volume’s Editor-in-Chief Arjen Oosterman we had the opportunity to visit the most famous one of them, Brandevoort. The popularization of neo-traditional neighborhoods and vintage urbanism has led to intense debates in professional circles. Is this a good thing because people like it? Or is it fake because we are rebuilding the past without any historic anchor points?

Our first stop was Haverleij near the city of Den Bosch. This district by Sjoerd Soeters comprises approximately ten ‘castles’ situated in a natural and green setting. All castles, which are designed by different architects ranging from Soeters himself to Michael Graves, have a residential function and feel like gated communities, although there are hardly any fences. Many of the buildings have typical medieval elements, such as bridges and castle-like walls and towers. At the same time, the neighborhood hardly feels ‘fake’ due to the great variation in architecture and building materials. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: Haverleij and its residential concept makes a statement against the crumbling of social cohesion in the modern world. All castles breath social control, unity and safety.

The same goes for Brandevoort, our second stop. Brandevoort part of the latest generation of Dutch suburbs, the so-called Vinex neighborhoods. The state-led Vinex program regards nation-wide production of new large suburbs near almost all medium-sized cities in the Netherlands. Many Vinex projects have resulted in landscapes of monotonious houses in semi-modern building styles. But Brandevoort is a remarkable exception. This new neighborhood by Rob Krier, built close to the city of Helmond, looks and feels like a traditional medieval town. Brandevoort tends to breath history, although Krier’s plan has been existing for only eight years.

Most people would compare Brandevoort to ‘real’ fortress towns and medieval city centers and conclude that the streets are quiet and boring. But shouldn’t we compare the atmosphere to other Vinex-neighborhoods designed and built in the same period under the same conditions? In that case, Brandevoort is pretty lively and livable. People seem to be happy. After 40 years everybody could have been forgotten that this historical town is completely fake…

Click here for a Flickr set with more photos of the trip!
Photos by Valerie Blom