Friday March 14th, 2014 Hoorn


Hoorn, nestled on the Markermeer in Northern Holland, is a town layered with histories. Various periods and stories manifest in its stone paved, moss lined streets- in its extending harbor rooms, canals and bridges. As we walked through the historic downtown of Hoorn, Gerard Jan Hellinga, of HzA architecture/landscape architecture/planning, explained how development must “respect the DNA of the location.” The DNA includes the physical landscape, both manifested through natural and human forces, as well as the historical and contemporary buildings and uses. Hoorn is dripping with history and tradition, revealed in its espalier street trees- a rigid and elegant marker for a street that was built upon a dike and now leads to the main shopping district. Other parts of the town have evolved too, as the town cattle market now tethers cars and motorbikes with white painted guides protruding from the former cattle posts. The historic buildings lining the harbor are maintained and also augmented with complementary architecture from the late 1900’s onward, each combining aspects of traditional Dutch design with modern explorations and modifications. In the Red Stone Square (Rode Steen Square) of Hoorn, a statue of the violent and volatile VOC officer Jan Pieterszoon Coen stands, appropriately in the square named for the blood stains from its former gallows. Still known by its historic name, a moniker both matter of fact and sensational, Red Stone Square also holds the main attractions of the gentler, modern era: restaurants and the tourist cheese market De Waag (a historically preserved but also renovated building with a fresh blood red paint job on its window shutters).

The port status of Hoorn, once known as the “front porch of Amsterdam”, where boats would dock for a land transfer of goods from Hoorn to Amsterdam, has shifted as Rotterdam has become the foremost port of the region and better canal access to Amsterdam was carved from land. This period of Hoorn has been preserved in many ways, as it maintains its maritime identity but with a shifting focus towards modernity, recreation and a varied economy. While Hoorn once took goods: spices, textiles and raw materials, to Amsterdam, it later took families from Amsterdam to its garden cities and subsidized houses during the 1960’s housing crisis. Such an increased housing demand called for extra infrastructure, but without compromising the very history and sense of place that made Hoorn an ideal location in the first place. Hoorn both begs and begins to answer the questions: What happens when historical foundations, culture and heritage meet the modern demands of quality of life and population growth?  How does its identity shift with its economy? What happens when a stad of 10,000 grows to 70,000 and everyone requires the space and watts for a refrigerator, TV and washer dryer but also a sense of culture and narrative?

The evolution of the old to fit the new takes many forms within Hoorn. Some older buildings now feature skylight windows where there was once only clay shingle roof. A glass patio attaches to the former jail turned mixed use building, creating a sun room like legs springing out of that first walking “fish”. New developments take inspiration from historic periods, but are generally taller and more spacious. One development we passed had a facade reflecting the scale of the various town-homes of the historic district, but with floor plans moving beyond their respective facades. While the scale of living space appeared to be on par with its older, neighboring homes, they were actually far larger. Thus, as one moves from the living room to the bedroom they may pass through entirely different window typologies and to the outside viewer, seemingly different buildings. This creative compromise between historic identity and modern demands is commonplace the developments of Hoorn.

DNA changes through the process of copying. Just yesterday I remember arranging pretzel sticks into the various stages: anaphase, prophase… you get the picture. A change (or error) within the sequence during copying brings rise to change or variation. DNA is a series of nucleobases (guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine). Hoorn seems to be a series of various elements: sandy earth, water, clay, moss, birds, cheese, blood, dikes, boats and lake breeze, all shifting with external and internal drives. Certain aspects are copied by newer generations, others discarded or manipulated. Here a lake became the sea, then a lake again, but only through the power of dikes, men, dreams and memories. Just as the Dutch control water, adding land and pulling water in desired directions, they manage their identity and culture through reinvented commemoration: a cow in a polder, silhouettes of a windmill juxtaposing a turbine.



I just sat down in a cafe in Amsterdam to reflect on some adventures so far, and ordered a goat cheese salad (or possibly a roasted goat, Dutch is deceptively tricky). At any rate, on Friday we changed speeds, from meandering around charming cites, touring project sites, and sitting on top of dikes to sketch the amazing panoramas. Instead, we headed about an hour north by train to Hoorn, where we met up with Designer/Planner Gerard Jan Hellinga and his colleague, a Hoorn resident, and Landscape Architect, Anita Wijnholds. After a quick walking tour of the city, we gathered at their HzA architecture/landscape architecture/planning office.

This is a good time to note that the world of landscape architecture is pretty new to me; the jargon, studio etiquette, sketchbook throw downs, moleskin journals and stopping to “oooh” and “awww” at paving stone patterns or other details previously gone unnoticed. The world of urban planning isn’t without its own quirks. Planners are notorious for using acronyms: NIMBYs (not in my backyard), BRT (bus rapid transit), EIA (environmental impact assessments) and my favorite: LuLu (local unwanted land use). Surprisingly, after our conversation at HzA with Gerard Jan and Anita, it was clear community development techniques are somewhat universal. Even in a vastly different topography and socio-economic context, techniques in participatory planning are very similar; all is not lost in translation.

As Gerard Jan and Anita described their projects, I noticed some of the striking similarities in common planning processes. Their firm stands out as one of few engaging in participatory planning, and they’re doing so in some tried and true techniques. They start with a visioning process by inviting everyone they can think of in hopes that the group was representative of the community. In their process, they ensured youth felt welcome and heard by asking them to contribute drawings. They engaged the public via visual communication and eased tensions by focusing the conversations on the positive.

They asked stakeholders what they like about their community and wanted to see replicated, rather than hosting forum to voice complaints. These techniques run almost parallel to a well-organized open house hosted for a planning project.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs suggests cities are at their best when multiple people are involved in their creation. In planning jargon, it can sound complicated by doing stakeholder analysis, hiring unbiased third party trusted advocates as liaisons and holding visioning sessions. Engaging the community, and keeping them engaged throughout the process is a great opportunity to not only provide an outlet for public input, but to gain trust from the community and earn their support for projects.

Participatory planning isn’t without its faults. When done well, it requires an intense amount of preparation and facilitation. From planners and landscape architects, this means skills in conflict resolution, mediation and negotiation. Staff at HzA spoke about their ideas for water management techniques, but also about their approach to their design and planning process. The combination of the two makes their firm unique and successful.

While the geographic and cultural context are different from anything in Minnesota, HzA and similar firms in the States are engaging in parallel processes. From a planning perspective, it’s reassuring to know theses techniques translate not just from project to project but can be applied in a much larger, international scale.

(P.S. The salad was grilled root veggies with goat cheese. Yum!)


Ever since we arrived in Netherlands the weather has been extraordinarily pleasing, the temperature was around 20 degree Celsius. The last four days, walking the streets with the warmness of the sunshine and the fondling of the breeze, the city seems more approachable and lovely. When I woke up this morning, in the cold atmosphere with black clouds gathering overhead outside of the window, it was not the scene I expected. Floundering to crawl out of my bed, I was not ready to go to the city of Hoorn, our destination today.

As I sat on the train the Dutch landscape was hiding in the fog and haze, but Hoorn was waiting for us right outside of the train station. The combined action of the damp air and the black stone pavers made the street feels unusually clean and tidy. On both sides of the street there are neat rows of houses possessing the Netherlands’ distinct feel.  We walked for about twenty minutes until a unique piece of architecture caught our attention.  It was a social housing building. The circular structure had a maroon brick façade that is reminiscent of the traditional Dutch typology in the surrounding environment. We went through a metal arch gate into the courtyard; it was a decent sized open space, not particularly large but exudes the experience of peace and quiet.  On the other side of the street is the ancient wall gate, which has a similar shape to the social housing.  The gate’s circular design compensates the abruption of the social housing building within the rectilinear historical city.

This kind of housing system ensures that more than 2.4 million households in the Netherlands have access to adequate and affordable housing. The sun showed its head for a little bit at this time.  Here social housing units are integrated within the existing community along with renters and buyers, without being separated and titled “low income”.  Respecting and treating people equally in Netherlands is not only a concept but a behavior carried out by actual efforts, regulations and planning. The coldness has swept away at this moment. I have received more knowledge than anticipated in this lovely city. The emotions buried in my chest for so long have been harvested, and I know even with this low temperature, today is going to be another sunny day.