Landscape Architecture and Town Planning in The Netherlands

25 leading projects. Design in time of change


Klavertje 4 (‘Four-leaf Clover’) near Venlo will become a self-supporting working landscape where greenhouse farming predominates. Energy, water and waste constitute closed cycles within this new, functionally designed environment.

Project: Klavertje 4: a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ working landscape within the Venlo region

Designers: Studio Marco Vermeulen / Urban Affairs collaboration with De Urbanisten / VHP and Heuschen- Copier (landscape planning)

Assignment: Development Company Greenport Venlo (regional plc: three municipalities plus
the Province of Limburg)

Area: 5000 ha

Design: starting 2007

Implementation:2010 – 2020

Klavertje 4 is situated to the northwest of Venlo. In 2007, Venlo, the municipalities around it, and the Province came up with the idea of creating a self-supporting working environment. In this, the intention was to link up the closed cycles of the energy, water and waste flows from greenhouse farming, cattle breeding, industry and logistics. At the same time, new nature was needed in the area to strengthen the national ecological network. The use of ‘cradleto-cradle’ principles, particularly on this scale, was a novelty at the time – and still is today. Nevertheless, helped by its favourable location near the Ruhr area, the plan has a good chance of succeeding, according to its initiators. Land costs are cheaper here, and it is cheaper to transport the greenhouse produce to Germany from here than from the Westland region in the west of the country. Besides, certain facilities were already present, including an auction building and good road, rail and water transfer connections.

In their long-term spatial vision for the region’s development, Marco Vermeulen (Urban Affairs/Studio Marco Vermeulen) and Florian Boer (VHP/De Urbanisten) propose to divide the business functions over cloverlike sectors embedded in a framework consisting of landscape, infrastructure and collective facilities. The area’s most important elements are the eight cloverleaves and a main road, Greenport Lane, which branches onto the A67 and A73. Spectacular wooden eco-ducts will be constructed where the roads cross the national ecological network.

The clover-shaped ground plan of the subsectors stems logically from the functional requirements of the business areas and the cradle-to-cradle principles. Within every clover there will be a maximum of four business areas, each comprising 4 to 30 hectares grouped around centrally located collective facilities. The buildings are constructed of sustainable materials. Each clover is surrounded by a bank of topsoil, which comes from clearing the land for construction. Between these banks, there are wedge-shaped green corridors where rainwater is stored and wastewater is purified. The wedges are also used for growing fruit and for viniculture. On Greenport Lane there are combined heat and power plants, each capable of providing the electricity and heat for two 4-leaf clovers. These power plants work on biogas, generated by fermenting waste from the greenhouses, landscape, villages and livestock farms in the neighbourhood. To further meet the energy demands, solar panels will be placed on the roofs of all large business units.

The spatial design and the landscape plan envisage a new landscape, which wherever
possible fits in with the features of the existing or original landscape, but is primarily geared to the new programme’s functional logic and its large scale. The clover-shaped ground plan
facilitates an optimum interweaving of spatial and technical aspects. In addition, the clover
makes a distinctive icon for this large-scale, innovative regional development. An icon like this may help to kindle enthusiasm for the project – for integrating the spatial and technical aspects in this way requires the commitment of many different parties. The importance of such commitment already became clear during the construction of the first clover. As the design deviated so much from conventional forms of energy, waste and water management, it was impossible to realize all ambitions at once. In this respect, each following clover will represent a step forward. The construction of Greenport Lane has also started. The next clovers are still on the drawing board, but work will start on these in 2011.


Water squares fill up when it rains, but the rest of the year they serve as a playground. Combining public space with hydrological engineering is boosting Rotterdam’s image as a water city.

Project: Water squares: watercatchment and public space in Rotterdam

Designers: De Urbanisten (formerly VHP, formerly –SCAPE) in collaboration with Studio Marco Vermeulen (formerly Urban Affairs)

Asignment: Municipality of Rotterdam
co-financing by The Netherlands Architecture Fund/NfA

2004 – 2011


A square that’s a playground until the rain fills it up with water, which then drains off into a canal
after the shower. It’s hard to imagine a simpler solution to urban drainage problems. The principle of the water square was developed by Florian Boer and Marco Vermeulen. In 2005, they submitted ideas on the future of the water in the city at the request of the Municipality of Rotterdam. They came up with ‘living water cultures’, a super dyke along the river Meuse, and public water transport. They argued that rainwater catchment ought to be fun. The proposals were shown at ‘Rotterdam Water
City 2035’, a part of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam. This biennale had The Deluge as its theme and the Municipality of Rotterdam seized the opportunity to take a good look at how water was being dealt with in its own city – given that Rotterdam has reached the limits of its catchment capacity and that rainfall will be heavier in the future. Rotterdam is a low-lying city and its groundwater level is relatively high. When there’s a really heavy downpour, the water cannot drain away quickly enough, so in many places cellars are flooded and sewers overflow into the canals. A water square
can temporarily hold that rainwater when there is no room to accommodate extra surface water. It fills up when it rains hard and then gradually empties into the canals. The expectation is that a water square will store rainwater for ten percent of the year, and that it will be dry for the other ninety percent. But in both scenarios, the square can be used for playing in. The idea is that the money spent on a rainwater catchment system is now also put towards redesigning the public space. There is also another system that doesn’t show above ground and has subterranean catchment basins, but water squares make the water system visible and something to be experienced, enhancing Rotterdam’s image as an innovative water city. After the biennale, Boer and Vermeulen worked out several
alternatives for sites in Rotterdam, geared to the drainage conditions at the different locations. A water square may thus be a deep open-air theatre or a flat squarewith a floating surface, but it could also be a parking space, with at its deepest point a gridded gutter, or a ‘balloon’ in the central reservation of a road. Water squares will have to have separate drainage systems in the future, so that the rainwater is not channelled to the water treatment plant via the sewer, but instead runs off to the surface water through its own system of pipes. Because this drastic change cannot take place throughout the whole town at once, Boer and Vermeulen also worked out one variation with drainage via the sewer. In 2007, the municipality and the district water boards decided on Waterplan 2, and so these water squares became official policy. This was followed by an assignment to carry out a pilot project for the Bloemhofplein, a square in South Rotterdam. The pilot was primarily intended to work out the water management problems further, together with the Rotterdam public Works department. Apart from the technical design, Boer and Vermeulen
also did a landscape design for the square. Bloemhofplein is a typical neighbourhood square, where young people hang out and children play. Designed as a water square, it is segmented into compartments that gradually fill up when there is heavy rainfall. One half of the square consists of a sports field; the other half is an undulating play area. The square is about one metre below street level, descending gradually, with steps that vary in width and that curve along with the fanciful
shapes of the play area. All around there are low benches, which echo the curves of the steps, and behind them a green strip of grass with trees in it. In the Bloemhof neighbourhood, a public opinion poll was held to gauge support for the design being built. This brought mainly objections to light: people felt the water square would be unsafe for small children and were not happy about it still being at the experimental stage. The locals wanted their neighbourhood to get the second water square and not the pilot. The opinion of the local residents was respected: a different pilot project location was chosen, and the safety, hygiene and maintenance aspects of the whole water square concept was
subjected to further scrutiny. This has resulted in adjustments such as visible vertical contours, garden fences and the use of low-maintenance materials. The revision of the Water Plan has meant that at least one hurdle has now been taken: Rotterdam’s water programme –previously the exclusive preserve of hydrological engineers – is now regarded as a qualitative matter, and thus also a matter for designers. So the water square, in all its aspects, anticipates a future in which technical and spatial disciplines will more often be interwoven within a single innovative design.

Jelte Boeijenga, Martine Bakker en Mark Hendriks

Martine Bakker

Uitgeverij Blauwdruk



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