»What the map cuts up, the story cuts across.«

Michel de Certeau: Spatial Stories

Blog Building of the Week

Last Ditch Dutch Defence

Anne Holtrop’s Waterline Museum

  • Fort Vechten from the air, with the new museum by Anne Holtrop at centre-top. (Photo: Ossip, all images courtesy Studio Anne Holtrop, unless otherwise stated) 1 / 17  Fort Vechten from the air, with the new museum by Anne Holtrop at centre-top. (Photo: Ossip, all images courtesy Studio Anne Holtrop, unless otherwise stated)
  • Viewed from above, the museum is visible in the context of the fort and its surrounding moat... 2 / 17  Viewed from above, the museum is visible in the context of the fort and its surrounding moat...
  • ...although with no exterior façade, it is almost completely invisible from ground level... (Photo: Bas Princen) 3 / 17  ...although with no exterior façade, it is almost completely invisible from ground level... (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • ...but peer in... (Photo: Anneke Bokern) 4 / 17  ...but peer in... (Photo: Anneke Bokern)
  • ...and the scheme becomes clear. (Photo: Bas Princen) 5 / 17  ...and the scheme becomes clear. (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • A concrete model of the New Dutch Waterline sits in the museum’s central patio... (Photo: Bas Princen) 6 / 17  A concrete model of the New Dutch Waterline sits in the museum’s central patio... (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • ...the concrete model includes brass reproductions of the system’s various forts... (Photo: Anneke Bokern) 7 / 17  ...the concrete model includes brass reproductions of the system’s various forts... (Photo: Anneke Bokern)
  • ...and can be flooded by visitors turning wheels to open miniature locks. (Photo: Anneke Bokern) 8 / 17  ...and can be flooded by visitors turning wheels to open miniature locks. (Photo: Anneke Bokern)
  • Tall walls of rough concrete surround the patio... (Photo: Bas Princen) 9 / 17  Tall walls of rough concrete surround the patio... (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • ...maintaining the austere aesthetics of Fort Vetchen. (Photo: Bas Princen) 10 / 17  ...maintaining the austere aesthetics of Fort Vetchen. (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • Large windows with brass frames provide a visual connection between the museum’s exterior... (Photo: Anneke Bokern) 11 / 17  Large windows with brass frames provide a visual connection between the museum’s exterior... (Photo: Anneke Bokern)
  • ...and the undulating corridors of the interior. (Photo: Bas Princen) 12 / 17  ...and the undulating corridors of the interior. (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • Brass and concrete dominate once again... (Photo: Bas Princen) 13 / 17  Brass and concrete dominate once again... (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • ...demonstrating Anne Holtrop’s “reductionist” approach to architecture. (Photo: Bas Princen) 14 / 17  ...demonstrating Anne Holtrop’s “reductionist” approach to architecture. (Photo: Bas Princen)
  • “...camouflage architecture with sandbags of character.” (Photo: Anneke Bokern) 15 / 17  “...camouflage architecture with sandbags of character.” (Photo: Anneke Bokern)
  • Plan showing the ground level with the Waterline Museum in its topographical context. (Image Anne Holtrop) 16 / 17  Plan showing the ground level with the Waterline Museum in its topographical context. (Image Anne Holtrop)
  • Plan of the Waterline Museum’s subterranean floorplan. (Image Anne Holtrop) 17 / 17  Plan of the Waterline Museum’s subterranean floorplan. (Image Anne Holtrop)

The idea of deliberately flooding land as a defensive measure was developed in Holland from the sixteenth century onwards, later saving the country from French invasion in 1672, and reaching its most sophisticated form in the New Dutch Waterline built between 1815 and 1870. This astounding piece of engineering is an 85 kilometre long defensive line of military forts and fortifications, surrounded by land capable of being flooded through a complex system of locks and sluices, cutting Holland off like a virtual island. To commemorate this long redundant system, a new museum has opened underneath one of its largest remaining forts. Anneke Bokern visited for uncube, getting down-to-earth in a Dutch ditch or two.

Anne Holtrop is an outsider in the pragmatic world of Dutch architecture. While most Dutch architects succumb to the economics of the construction business and start their projects by fitting the required spatial programme to the available budget, trying to maximise what’s possible within the given restrictions, Holtrop turns this process upside down. His designs start with meandering shapes and spaces, to which any programme has to adjust. It's no wonder that so far, most of his buildings have been temporary pavilions, hovering on the border between installation art and architecture. But with the recently opened Waterline Museum near Utrecht he's proved that his philosophy can also be applied to permanent structures – even in the down-to-earth Netherlands.

The New Dutch Waterline is an 85 kilometre long military defence line, reaching from Amsterdam to the Rhine estuary. It was built between 1815 and 1870 and consists of 46 forts and five fortified towns as well as hundreds of locks and sluices. In the event of an invasion, a broad strip of land in front of the line could be flooded hip-deep, making it impossible for soldiers and horses to cross. The Waterline concept was invented in 1589 by Prince Maurits of Orange and put to use several times over the centuries, until airplane warfare made it redundant during the Second World War.

Fort Vechten is one of the largest and best preserved forts of the New Dutch Waterline. Which is why it was chosen as the location for a museum about this defence system, the remains of which still lie in the Dutch polder landscape like a giant piece of land art. Holtrop's approach to developing the museum design also seems to have been derived from land art. He traced the topographic lines of the core of the fort’s hilly site and then drew a rectangle around this shape. Between this rectangle and the topographic lines lie the museum rooms.

A concrete model of the New Dutch Waterline sits in the museum’s central patio... (Photo: Bas Princen)

“For me, architecture is not an answer to a question”, Holtrop says. Instead, designing for him is a process of exploration, producing an interesting element of uncertainty in his buildings. Approaching the Waterline Museum from the entrance of Fort Vechten, it's completely invisible, being buried in the hill with no exterior façades. Access to it is hidden in the back wall of an old barracks building. A dark, humid corridor leads into the first room, which opens towards a small patio planted with ferns and a large patio with eight metre high curved concrete walls. In line with the sombre, ascetic atmosphere of the military fort, the concrete is purposely rough, with visible seams, and has an indistinct, brownish colour. The museum rooms, housing an interactive exhibition about the history of the Waterline, are arranged as a continuous sequence around the patio, ending with the café and then leading back to the entrance and shop. Three metre high curved windows with brass frames provide a constant visual connection to the large patio. On the ground of the patio there is a 50 metre long concrete model of the Waterline, that you can walk on, with all the forts and fortified towns made from brass. Visitors can inundate the model by turning water wheels to open or close miniature locks.

There's an interesting tension between the interior shape of the building, with its fluid, poetic curves, and use of materials, reduced to just concrete and brass. Holtrop doesn't like to speak of minimalism, but rather of reduction in his designs: they're about removing the unnecessary until you're left with only the essentials. A few years ago he visited the ancient town of Petra and was intrigued by the fact that the desert tombs, cut out of the landscape, are a result of a process of reduction. This seems to have served as an inspiration for the Waterline museum, which, conceptually speaking, is also excavated from the (artificial) landscape. In order to fully understand its layout, one needs to climb onto the grassy landscape of the roof and view it from above. Then it becomes obvious that this is camouflage architecture with sandbags of character.

– Text by uncube correspondent Anneke Bokern

anneholtrop.nl

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Advertisement

RECENT POSTS

more

Recent Magazines

25 Apr 2016

Magazine No. 43
Athens

  • essay

    From the Bottom and the Top

    Powering Athens through collectivity and informal initiatives by Cristina Ampatzidou

  • photo essay

    Nowhere Now Here

    A photo essay by Yiorgis Yerolymbos

  • Essay

    Back to the Garden

    Athens and opportunities for new urban strategies by Aristide Antonas

  • Interview

    Point Supreme

    An interview by Ellie Stathaki

>

03 Mar 2016

Magazine No. 42
Walk the Line

  • Essay

    The Line Connects

    An essay on drawing and architectural education by Wes Jones

  • Essay

    Drawing Attention

    Phineas Harper sketches out new narrative paths with pencil power

  • Essay

    Gotham

    Elvia Wilk on a city of shadows as architectural fiction

  • Interview

    The (Not So) Fine Line

    A conversation thread between Sophie Lovell and architecture cartoonist Klaus

>

28 Jan 2016

Magazine No. 41
Zvi Hecker

  • essay

    Space Packers

    Zvi Hecker’s career-defining partnership with Eldar Sharon and Alfred Neumann by Rafi Segal

  • Interview

    Essentially I am a Medieval Architect

    An interview with Zvi Hecker by Vladimir Belogolovsky

  • viewpoint

    The Technion Affair

    Breaking and entering in the name of architectural integrity by Zvi Hecker

  • Photo Essay

    Revisiting Yesterday’s Future

    A photo essay by Gili Merin

>

17 Dec 2015

Magazine No. 40
Iceland

  • Viewpoint

    Wish You Were Here

    Arna Mathiesen asks: Refinancing Iceland with tourism – but at what cost?

  • Photo Essay

    Spaces Create Bodies, Bodies Create Space

    An essay by Ólafur Elíasson

  • Focus

    Icelandic Domestic

    Focus on post-independence houses by George Kafka

  • Essay

    The Harp That Sang

    The saga of Reykjavík's Concert Hall by Sophie Lovell & Fiona Shipwright

>

more

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST Close

Uncube is brandnew and wants to look good.
For best performance please update your browser.
Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 (or higher), Safari, Chrome, Opera

×