Landscape and Infrastructure

Netherlands is one of those countries where a large part of the landscape is man-made and partly also retrieved from the sea. The forces of nature that have been felt here over the centuries have been so large that an individual or a small group of citizens alone could not defend themselves against them. So the country has developed a tradition of deciding  by consensus. The ‘polder model’ – a term used to define the political culture of deliberations and consensus – is, in fact, so entrenched in this society that in issues related to the environment too, many different professionals form part of the design team. It is in this context that the fields of urban design, urban planning and landscape design and planning have grown to overlap one another in the last few decades.

Shyam Khandekar, himself an urban designer/ planner who has led many multi-disciplinary design teams, talks to landscape architect Sylvia Karres on how she and her design-studio have been involved in a variety of infrastructural projects; projects where in most countries only the transportation engineers and civil engineers would have been involved. He also finds out how her inclusion in the team has helped achieve better environmental quality.


Clearly the studio Karres en Brands, that you lead with Bart Brands, is part of the Dutch tradition of working in multi-disciplinary teams. Your first major international success was in Australia, to be specific, the design of the Federation  Square (in  cooperation with                                       

LAB Architects) in Melbourne where this public square straddles the railway infrastructure. Two decades later it has become the heart of Melbourne’s public space network. What is the reason for its success?

The country has developed a tradition of deciding by consensus

Federation Square has become so successful in Melbourne that all major urban events are located there. It is to Melbourne, what the Museumplein is to the city of Amsterdam. According to us, the following factors have led to its success: Firstly, the design of the public square allows for flexibility of usage, allowing for big as well as small events. While some parts of the square provide space for cosy gatherings of small groups, Federation Square can also accomodate very large groups. During the demonstrations against the war in Iraq in 2003, an estimated 100,000 people congregated here. In parts, buildings surround the space to create a sense of enclosure and shade. Another space, called the Atrium, offering shade and protection, is linked to a museum and offers wonderful views over the Yarra River. The topography of the Square, with level differences, steps and interesting edges, ‘invites’ visitors to ‘hang around’. Secondly, the design of Federation Square allows a multitude of uses. There is a stage with a big screen for projections, a large sloping surface that works as a tribune, other smaller parts and the above mentioned Atrium, which allow groups of different sizes to perform different activities. Thirdly, Federation Square is very centrally located in the city, in front of Flinders Station and
between the Central Business District on one side of the Yarra River and the leisure and entertainment centre Southbank on the opposite side. Fourthly, and may be most importantly, the organisation that manages Federation Square programmes its events very well. It is, to my knowledge, the best programmed public space in the world. There is always something interesting taking place and the space is regularly transformed to house these events. At times lazy chairs are placed on artificial grass for people to just hang out and at other times it has sand covering it. There are also times it is covered with artifical snow and its sloping areas are used for skiing.

What are the other types of urban infrastructure projects in which you have been involved in the design-team as a landscape architect?

Our practice Karres en Brands is involved in a series of projects in which infrastructure design is involved. Basically, one can distinguish between three types of infrastructure projects, namely the projects involving the strengthening of dikes, projects involving railway lines and stations and those involving motorways.
Dike Strengthening Projects In a test carried out in 2011, the Hollandsche Ijsseldikes in the Krimpenwaard along the River Ijssel were singled out for their weaknesses. This meant that if nothing was done to strengthen the nearly 10 km. long dike, there was the danger of it getting damaged and the land behind the

dike being inundated. However, strengthening or simply raising of the dike is not only a civil engineering issue, since there are many old, monumental buildings on this dike and it is used as a road by vehicular traffic and cycles. Our studio was asked, in partnership with Wageningen Environmental Research, to define an Aesthetic Programme of Requirements for the operation of strengthening the dike. The intent was that instead of thinking only from the point of view of civil engineering, the environmental and spatial quality of the landscape and the urban and rural settlements would be defined and protected and possibly enhanced in the process  of strengthening the dike.
Railway Lines and Stations Within the concentrated urban settlements of the Netherlands and much of Western Europe,
railway-stations are seen as centres of urbanity. In the many projects that we are involved in the design of stations and their surroundings, the aim is on the one hand to reduce the barrier-effect of the railway-line in the settlement and on the other hand increase the accessibility to the station for different modes of transport, and in particular public transport, cycles and pedestrians. Another aim is also to increase the quality of the network of public spaces around the station so that the public space is seen as a great place to ‘greet and meet’ and simply hang around. Besides our design for the Federation Square in Melbourne (in cooperation with LAB Architects), we have been involved in the design of the areas around railway stations in the cities of Zwolle and Amersfoort (with an underground cycle parking for 5000 cycles).  In our design for the competition-winning


 Top: Plan drawing of pedestrian and bicycle tunnel railway station  Ny Østergade, Roskilde, Denmark Bottom: Future image of pedestrian and bicycle tunnel railway station Ny Østergade, Roskilde, Denmark

Overview plan area Groene Singel, Antwerp, Belgium

Federation Square, to  my knowledge, is the best programmed public space  in the world

scheme for the station area in Ny Østergade (Denmark), the effect of the barrier of the railway line is reduced by creating large holes in the railway platforms to allow light to filter down into the pedestrian and cyclists’ tunnel and by allowing the green elements of the landscape to flourish. In our design for the new entry to the railway-station in Dordrecht, the existing Weizigt Park has been incorporated in the redesign of the southern entry for pedestrians and cyclists.
Motorways As in the case of the reengineering of dikes and the design of railway stations, our studio is also part of the design team for the design of motorways. The most important project worth mentioning in this connection is the Schiphol-Amsterdam-Almere (SAA) project, in which the motorways in this area are being redesigned to increase their capacity and efficiency. Over a period of eight years, I was involved in this project as the ‘project supervisor’ (1). The intent has been to seize the opportunity of redesigning the motorway to also restore and enhance the landscape and improve ecological and recreative structures. In the project Groene Singel, our office was part of a multi-disciplinary team of urban planners, architects and ecologists to redesign the ring of infrastructure (including the motorway) around the Belgian city of Antwerp. This has resulted in an improved recreative network of cyclepaths, restoring of ecological connections by making ecoducts (faunapassages) and greener landscape (and trees) in the area around the motorway ring.
Can you tell us in more detail which different environmental goals were (and will be) achieved in the SchipholAlmere-Amsterdam project where in a very unique way you, as a landscape architect, were able to advise on the design of this major infrastructure initiative?

In the SAA, which is a massive project with a budget of more than € 4 billion, there are five different sub-projects. My role is that of the Design Supervisor for the entire project, with the responsibility to oversee that spatial and design quality is achieved. Before other designers could work on the five individual sub-projects, my role was to create a Masterplan in which the main design goals and objectives were defined. Since these design goals (also related to spatial quality through landscape and ecology) were defined and agreed upon right from the start in the Masterplan, the political and financial instruments were available to guarantee them. This integral approach to design and environmental quality (instead of the traditional approach in which the design is done in silos), has helped achieve better overall design without increasing the total costs.


Top: Two parts of AmsterdamZuidoost separated by Highway 9, Amsterdam, Netherlands Bottom: Two parts of Amsterdam-Zuidoost connected by a new park on top of a new tunnel in Highway 9, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Top: Two parts of AmsterdamZuidoost separated by Highway 9, Amsterdam, Netherlands Bottom: Two parts of Amsterdam-Zuidoost connected by a new park on top of a new tunnel in Highway 9, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Some of the many environmental goals that could be achieved in this massive infrastructure project were: Two separated parts of AmsterdamZuidoost were connected to each other by the creation of a tunnel with a park above it. An important ecological corridor has been created between two important nature reserves, namely the Naardermeer and the Ijmeer near
Amsterdam. The beautiful historic fortified-town of Muiden has been reconnected to the River Vecht by relocating the new motorway, removing the existing bridges and creating a new aquaduct. I can say with conviction that this integral approach to the design of infrastructure has great benefits in achieving environmental goals at different levels