The Blue Heart: Embracing a Soggier Holland

“The Blue Heart: Embracing a Soggier Holland”
for Rhine-Meuse Delta, The Netherlands
by Claudia Bode, Denver, USA
2016 Shivaji Competition Finalist


New water means opportunity: new forms, new economies, new mythologies, new images. Embrace sogginess! Embrace the Blue Heart!

My art project works focuses on the mechanisms of perception and dreams, the private world of the world of fantasy and unconscious,   the conditions underlying the system by which mind and spirit operates. At the same time, the (in)-visibility of the structure ignites a confusion on the viewers’ perception of the work and of the space where it is placed, thus provoking and ambiguous relationship between the object, its function and its appearance, unlock a mysterious force field on the border of the truth and lie, that is able to create unexpected angles of approach which in turn force the viewer to take up a new position in the observation of the surrounding world.


The Dutch landscape is curious ““ almost entirely man-made, seemingly infinitely moldable, understandable as a system of systems, and yet mythologized. The historical production of the Netherlands is a story of landscape manipulation through technology, starting with the need for defense: against water (poldering, diking, damming, etc), or using water (the defensive hydrology of Water Lines and associated forts).


The Randstad is the historical, economic and cultural core of the Netherlands; the cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and the Hague surround an agricultural area called the Green Heart, which since the 1960’s has served explicitly to prevent the Randstad (“Edge City”) from becoming a megalopolis. The Green Heart was created artificially out of the need for an anti-city; it represents a mythical, romanticized Holland out of the Golden Age even as its small family dairy farmers are forced to consolidate in light of increased globalization. Those forms that produce this myth (the cow, the windmill, the barn, straight canals, green grass, etc) are strictly protected even as they become less and less relevant to the modern economy. As urban Holland grows, this false “countryside” takes on the role of the void: a green, peaceful, natural, historical antidote to the sprawling city.


The entire Randstad region, with the Green Heart at its center, functions as a “sponge”, soaking in and holding excess water in the boezem system before it floods the cities. In light of climate change, the region’s capacity to store and hold water is not enough. In fact, water is already creating space for itself: the Green Heart is made of largely peat polders, which are the oldest pieces of reclaimed land in the Netherlands and which are subsiding very quickly (making agriculture increasingly difficult). Given climate change and rising seas, the Green Heart will need to be able to become significantly wetter if it is to continue absorbing enough water to keep cities from flooding


As threats from water increase and the dairy industry in the EU is restructured, the basic building blocks of this binary landscape (Randstad / Green Heart) are forced to evolve. Climate change and globalization are forcing fundamental changes not only in how it looks, but how it functions.
What if existing waterways within the Green Heart were reconceptualized as places for flexible water storage and new economic diversity? What if existing typological landscape elements were adjusted and rethought to provide new functions, land ownership arrangements and architectural typologies?


The Blue Heart is a wetter, more communal evolution of the Green Heart which is adapted to changing environmental and economic conditions, but which continues to operate within the myth of the pastoral even as its physical, social and economic processes are radically shifted. The water functions as a commons and as the landscape shifts, so too do the iconic forms within it. (The cow, the windmill, the barn”)

The Blue Heart is a systemic shift to the Dutch landscape that creates an opportunity to question the pastoral: is there even such a thing as a modern pastoral void? Can the forms which create the mythologized Dutch countryside change without losing their significance?


The Blue Heart landscape extends the water-storing boezem system into the heart of the agricultural polders to make new wet zones with water levels that vary according to storage needs. This system takes advantage of the predictability of the old reclamation forms; between the urbanized strips typical of peat polders, parallel canals called weterings are widened and the excavated earth used to create mounds between the water and the farmhouses. Through a process of negotiation (a “de-polder system”), groups of farmers can choose the profile of their mound, which will determine how wet their land is. Between mounds, a feeder canal connects the new water storage area to the existing canals via a pump. This produces long linear water storage areas between farmhouse strips ““ a new commons.


The Continuous Barn is a formal adaptation of an existing pastoral typology that enables farmers to access the economic potential of this new landscape. It is a transect that cuts across all wetnesses and topographies, bringing together farmers, cows and visitors into new productive assemblages. The structure is located atop the pump that connects mound to mound and boezem water to existing canal.

Its program is informed by its relationship to the ground in both plan and section and marked by certain critical moments: its facade on the street, the moment at which it lifts off of the ground/the pump, and the end which hovers over the water.


The Continuous Barn houses not only cows, but also people: as a productive space, it generates income for dairy farmers from multiple sources: livestock, tourists, and locals. This intensity of production is also a strength: visitors experience a true working farm, while farmers are able to supplement their incomes and cows are given free range to roam.
The Continuous Barn is an expanded prosthetic: while the profile of the barn is a signifier of the (strangely warped) pastoral, the envelope is delaminated into the external shell (a minimal, non-insulated rainscreen suitable for cows) and an internal Human Tube (a fully insulated space for human activity).


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