30,000 houses near Utrecht

article by Rients Dijkstra, Michelle Provoost and Wouter Vanstiphout
Max. 2 designs Vinex location of Leidse Rijn
1 August 1995

The architecture historians Michelle Provoost and Wouter Vanstiphout, who together form the firm of Crimson, took exceptional pleasure in being able to collaborate on the urban plan for Leidse Rijn. Here they join forces with the urban planner Rients Dijkstra of the Max. 2 office to give their account of the equally exceptional way this project is being tackled.

The success or failure of urban, civil engineering or architectural projects is dependent on an invisible landscape of 'Orgware'. Orgware (Organizationware) is a term derived from economics that refers to factors of an administrative, political or policyrelated nature which precede the implementation of certain ideas and knowledge (software) and the construction and deployment of physical elements (hardware). Orgware can be regarded as a topography of opportunities and constraints, with implications at least as significant for a plan as the long-accepted influence of physical topography. Orgware can present itself as an orderly landscape of predictable patterns; it can also manifest itself as a rugged country of rules and regulations, or as a soil pollution of secret ideals'. Why is the presence of a non-genetically manipulated orchard or the porosity of the soil taken into consideration, while noise pollution legislation, the position of a municipal boundary or the idiosyncrasies of local politicians are not regarded as design themes? The orgware of a plan has to be understood first before its software can be intelligible and its hardware made real. Urban design is getting more and more an orgware affair'.
The current Vinex task requires that 1.1 million dwellings be erected by the year 2005. Vinex, or the Fourth Report (Extra) on Spatial Planning in the Netherlands, is an orgware operation of gargantuan proportions. It is a policy rather than a plan, consisting as it does of contracts with local authorities, allocated quotas and selected sites. The current concern about uniformity and lack of image of the Vinex expansion schemes is due to the fact that this operation, which will radically alter the Dutch landscape, is invisible as an urban or planning project.

In terms of sheer size, Vinex may be compared with the postwar reconstruction in the Netherlands. At that time, the extent to which the country changed after the war was reflected in the blitheness and self-assurance with which planners, urban designers and architects set about this task. It is astonishing to see how the present generation of designers and critics can only respond with gloom and lassitude to the task now at hand. The Netherlands as a whole is being stigmatized as a 'problem location': it is being divided into areas in which a vulnerable landscape needs protecting from the urbanite, and areas in which the urbanite needs protecting from a hostile landscape.
The same distrust characterises their dealings with the private sector: the dynamism of the individual housing consumer is met with fear of mediocrity and chaos and is subjected to restrictive regulations; there is too a reticence towards the market that hampers discussion and co-operation.
Whereas the tradition and ethics of urbanism in the Netherlands has its origins in housing financed and organised by the state - and thus in Brinckmann's paradigm 'Stadte bauen heisst: mit dem Hausmaterial Raum gestalten!' (Urbanism is creating space with housing material) - the unsubsidised sector and the individual owner-occupied dwelling have gained the upper hand in the country's urbanisation. Urbanists are learning to accommodate themselves to a landscape consisting of the remnants of an urban and spatial planning whose mythical origins are in social housing. The domain is no longer being monopolised by collective bodies and the state, but by private enterprise, the market and the individual.
A disappointing feature of recent Dutch urbanism is that it is unable to take responsibility for what it creates. The character of an urban district is informed by the need to successively satisfy the desires of an ever-expanding series of autonomous disciplines and interest groups. Given its weakened claim to space and form, urbanism is collapsing beneath an orgware of splintered and specialised departments ironically called into being long ago to guarantee it maximum effectiveness.
The dismantling of Dutch urbanism as a practice, a history and a myth has engendered a pathological weakness among the profession's practitioners and commentators, just when their services are so badly needed. This opens the way for a paradigm shift, for an influx of new generations of designers and the emergence of design methods with which the unprecedented riches of the contemporary city can be exploited.
Mass effect, geometry and public space were the instruments previously used to create an image of corporate well-being. Whereas urbanism once provided guarantees (of coherence, collectivity and form), it is now being called upon for its capacity to create opportunities. The shift of attention from collective to individual now requires an urbanism based on such generative concepts as contrast, temporal uncertainty, market conformity, image (in the general, cultural sense) and ambiguity.
Up until now, the rejuvenation of urbanism has chiefly taken the form of a fata morgana, consisting as it has of runners up in international competitions, experimental projects for publication purposes, and occasional designs for exhibitions. Many of these projects irritate because they present a noncommittal, 'campy' description of anonymity, uniformity and chaos as found in the peripheries and suburbs; or because they dramatise the chaotic and congestive aspects of the city in outdated apocalyptic images of a post-industrial metropolis.
At the same time, we are witnessing a reparcelling of the profession itself, based on the axiom that urbanism is the opposite of fixing. This has produced an idea of urbanism as a generalising profession, which on the one hand has something to say about all aspects of city and country, yet on the other reserves the right not to pronounce on topics traditionally part of the urbanist's repertoire. This is how doing nothing at all to large sections of a planning area is polemically presented as the main thrust of a design. This urbanism of blank spots on the map is informed by the altered view on the relationship between urbanism and urbanisation, in which the city is seen as a process and urbanism a means of participating in that process. Sanford Kwinter summarises it as follows: 'What we seek is a genealogical urbanism that both invents and unearths embedded histories- in-the-making and through such invention transfigures and transvalues the very landscape on which it operates'.(1. Sanford Kwinter, ‘New Babylons: Urbanism at the End of the Millenium’, Assemblage nr.25, 1995, pp.80-81)
Such an urbanism will only become operative if it can be easily interpreted as a specific response to a specific task for a specific site, but also as a logical component of what urbanism is and always has been.
The plan for Leidse Rijn is related to developments in the avant-garde and international debate, but above all it seeks to place itself in the tradition of Dutch urbanism as a self-assured intervention in an artificial, historical landscape.

Improbable overlappings
The orgware component of the Leidse Rijn scheme has been approached with the same subtlety with which project manager Riek Bakker (BVR, Urban Management) assembled the project team that produced the master plan, combined with the stubborn naivety of the designers -'but why can't we do that?' By bringing together representatives of the relevant disciplines and official departments in a single project team, they became party to the urban design and to all decisions at all levels.
Pitted against the parallel lines of specialised departments are the 'improbable overlappings' of Leidse Rijn. Categories such as economics, public space, traffic, housing, environment and politics have been overlaid and intermeshed, with the aim of creating a maximum difference. Unlike the urbanism of entrenchment, this plan rearranges the boundaries of the profession, taking by storm the sub-areas to which the various departments and disciplines cling limpetlike. Two weapons are wielded to this end. First, the infrastructure is seen as the new city's steering mechanism and has in fact been among the set of urban design tools since the scheme was conceived. Second, the image and form of the new town are not fixed in advance and then defended, but rather are regarded as the partially unpredictable outcome of dynamic processes. The most finely tuned strategies have been unfolded to generate them and to manipulate their development.

Thank heavens, a problematic site!
In Leidse Rijn, as in all Vinex expansion schemes, the required compact city combines with a planning area behind a bundle of infrastructure to spawn a 'problematic' hybrid.
The designers didn't want the town's form dictated to them by the need to site the dwellings at a considerable distance from the motorways, whose outcome would have been an evenly spread density programme hemmed in by a ribbon of parks, sports fields and business parks. Rather than fight a heroic rearguard action against the 'mediocrity and monotony' of Vinex, they decided to quickly sort out the underlying technical and organisational problems and build a town based on desires instead of obligations.
Regarding the motorway - the domain of the State Department of Roads and Waterways - as part of the urbanist's repertoire from the scheme's inception, provoked an interdisciplinary border clash whose aim was to unmask what had always been considered a problematic site as an area abounding in opportunities and possibilities. The proposal to not only resite the A2 motorway, but also to roof it over with a gentle incline of earth and buildings, suggests a paradigm shift in the relationship of motorway to city to nature. Here three strictly separated zones have been brought together in a new type of artificial landscape.
The A2 is to become a sloping dyke with tennis courts on its roof. All at once, this is to be a wide strip of prime development locations along the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal, opposite the postwar reconstruction flats on Kanaleneiland across the canal.
This intervention is the clue to the orgware plot, a plot hatched to enable the design to make its particular contribution thanks to rather than in spite of the various policy-makers, even though these would appear to have conflicting aims. Central government and the City of Utrecht wanted to build a compact new town close to the existing development. However, noise pollution legislation forbids the erection of dwellings within 600 metres of motorways. The municipality of Vleuten-De Meern wanted to be part of the expansion scheme, while at the same time wishing to increase its own autonomy vis-a-vis Utrecht. The designers intended to range the 30,000 dwellings round an immense programme-packed green void. All of these paradoxical aspirations were harnessed to the strategy, derived from 1 9th-century urbanism, of 'creating work with work'. Roofing over the motorway would remove the noise pollution zones and enable the new town to be built right up against the existing city. The greenery - whether allotments, shrubs or football pitches - with which as a rule and of necessity the noise pollution zones along motorways are filled, has been compressed into a central park, which marks in declamatory fashion the boundary with Vleuten-De Meern. This quick-change routine meant that the internal arrangement of Leidse Rijn could be couched in positive terms and every form of defensive or remedial disaster contingency planning avoided.
By switching off the zoning machine, a predictable urban structure can be avoided and the planning area appropriated as a fertile field. Unexpected, unpredictable and disparate elements may now be set together in close proximity. This is the alternative to the satellite town behind the motorway that clamps onto to the existing city by means of innumerable bicycle underpasses. The A2 intervention is part of a method in which radical projects are reflected against a policy of restraint elsewhere; intransigence at one point makes flexibility possible at another. One example is the predicted discovery of important Roman remains; by roofing over the motorway, there is less need to utilise every inch of space and large archeological islands can be left high and dry in the sea of houses.
For the road network within the planning area, too, a solution has been chosen which refrains from imposing a formal hierarchy on the plan beforehand. Two main roads running from east to west will, like condenser plates, generate interconnections whose precise routes are obviously unknown as yet. Traffic has not been conceived as an underpinning, nor as a morphological a prion, but rather as a dynamic structure forming part of urbanisation and, therefore, of urbanism.

Critical scale
The plan, the method, the aspirations and images for Leidse Rijn stem from the complexity and size of the project. This is characterised in the first instance by the shift in urbanism resulting from exceeding a critical scale in time and size. When a scheme is really big - if a new city rather than a new neighbourhood is involved - it is not only possible to determine density but also to design with differences in density. By clustering the programme on one site, the existing landscape can be preserved on a significant scale elsewhere.
On a par with the size of the location and the immensity of the task, the lengthy period needed to implement the schememakes a mockery of such familiar devices as aerial perspective and habitat. Given the unpredictable development of the district, a non-fixing arsenal of design tools is needed to enable adjustments to be made and not pictorially dictate beforehand the district's future character.
Set between the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal and Haarzuilens Castle, the Leidse Rijn site covers an area of 2,550 hectares. The programme - 30,000 dwellings - is the equivalent of cities like Delft or Breda, but this time has to be built within a period of twenty years. In contrast to the programmatic mix of existing cities, the Leidse Rijn programme is defined only by the fact that 70% is to be built by the private sector. The construction of 21,000 dwellings in accordance with requirements and wishes which are as yet uniformly set forth but whose further development is unpredictable, has caused the designers to lump time, quantity and quality together as a single design theme.
Following a strategy of assemblage and exaggeration means that elements of a quite exceptional scale can be realised and a maximum contrast elicited from the 30,000 housing units. The central park, the dyke tunnel and the new water feature have been explicitly conceived as large objects in the landscape. They embody with their great size the true scale of the project. These over-dimensioned objects are what they are; they will structure the area logically, simply by being large and visible and beautiful.
In view of the scale of the plan, time emerges as a factor in the design. The plan is being implemented in accordance with a remarkable scenario. The roofing over of the A2 is to be completed last, as a result of which the greater coherence of Leidse Rijn will only become manifest in twenty years' time. Each of the plan's components will repeatedly change its role and meaning as the new Utrecht unfolds.
From the openness of the plan, the fact that even the positioning of the neighbourhoods is a variable, there emerges an analogy with the uncertainty regarding the demographic shifts within the urban expansion scheme. It is as yet unclear as to what these shifts will be; however, it is expected that an allochtonous middle class will be making its way to the estate agents and property developers. Leidse Rijn has resolutely not been conceived as a structure destined to stand in scaffolding for two decades, but as a loose linkup between introverted components whose coherence will be constantly changing.

As the size of the plan increases, so does the need for spatial and visual utterances that eschew the sketching of a final stage; not an urbanism that fixes and thus restricts the future developments of the city. Defining the final form at an early stage will invariably result in a steady degrading of that form evidenced by pronounced rejection symptoms on the part of the real-time urbanisation process. There has to be another way of introducing form into the design method. The problem lies in the consistency in which it is usually administered, i.e. as solid form. The solution is therefore to administer form as a powder, or as a soluble substance.
The procedure of the plan for Leidse Rijn may be described as the adding of mass to an area already well-filled and fertile, while at the same time ensuring that the whole does not congeal.
Creativity on the part of the urbanist consists of drawing up a 'field of opportunities'. He should use his intelligence to programme this seemingly empty field with all manner of booby traps, hidden treasures, force fields, gold-lodes and oases, as a result of which the future development - the 'formgiving'- can be generated without the need to fix it beforehand.
The language with which the fields of Leidse Rijn are being programmed is the language of indices. This particular design resource enables the pragmatic manipulation of visuals, use and programme. The indices are represented in maps designed in correlation. They determine the density, distribution and the architectural control but also - this is called the UX factor - that, for example, all bio-containers are of gold in a particular zone or along a particular line. The Building Regulation Index indicates the degree of interest in and control over the architecture in a sector. The Distribution Index shows whether the density in an area is uniform or concentrated in a few objects (the difference between a regularly spaced wood and a meadow with compact clumps of trees; between a suburb and a field of urban villas).
Spatial concepts such as density, congestion etc. are detached from their traditional urbanistic implications and deployed so as to be able to generate image and form in other, more direct ways. Thus, density is defined as the number of square metres a single individual has at his disposal, that is, the number of square metres divided by the number of people, rather than the surface area divided by the built floor area. According to the PSI (Person Space Index), an average villa development is comparable to a football pitch as regards the number of square metres per inhabitant/player. A footballer fills his 200m2 exclusively with constant movement; the villa occupant doesn't move about as much but fills his 200m2 with houses, sheds, fences, shrubs, ponds and cars.
The index maps are the equivalent of the planning map. The latter is simply regarded as the map showing the urbanism index. This index in turn shows the separation, relationships of alignment and distribution - the spacing - of the programme, infrastructure and landscape elements.
By spinning a web of indices, the area is prepared for a future packed with suspense. The indices though relatively autonomous are capable of responding directly to new conditions. Should an area in which the urban plan makes provision for a clear perimeter development along the park, be allocated for exclusive dwellings in a low development density, then by keeping the Distribution Index extremely low, the 50 inhabitants per hectare can be brought together in a row of luxurious villa towers built at 100 metre intervals.
The indices system irrigates the planning area with invisible qualities which will keep developing in unpredictable ways. A multiplicity of images is generated by this form of dynamic legislation, appealing as it does to the potential versatility of today's building industry. Begun as an analytical system for searching the history of urbanism for usable design techniques, the indices were discovered as a means of directing the future character of the district, without having recourse to formalising frameworks.
The fluidity of the design method for Leidse Rijn has in the preliminary phase enabled the scheme to assume a variety of forms and slip through the tiniest political and bureaucratic chinks and cracks without significantly compromising itself. In the second -current - phase, we can reveal that the combination of formlessness with a latent wealth of imagery is not only a strategy for getting the plan realised, it constitutes the very core of the design.[modula id="1987"]

Rients Dijkstra, Michelle Provoost, Wouter Vanstiphout, Archis, nr.8, 1995, pp.70-80