Organisation - August 29, 2013

Impressive but boring

Text:
Roelof Kleis

Is our campus green? Yes, very green. Up to knee height. But it stops there. Surveys show we think the campus is far too bare. Too much grass and not enough trees. Impressive and modern, but boring, industrial and impersonal. Though improvements are being made.

The study by the ESG honours students shows there is a desperate shortage of seats on campus. Among students in particular, the demand for more seats is far and away the most popular item when it comes to improvements. The top priority for staff is facilities such as a crèche, a supermarket or a small bakery. ‘There is clearly a big need for more benches and picnic tables,’ conclude the students in their study. ‘Somewhere to relax and meet people. Preferably small scale and sheltered. Just a pleasant spot to eat your lunch outside or discuss a group project.’
The study by the ESG honours students shows there is a desperate shortage of seats on campus. Among students in particular, the demand for more seats is far and away the most popular item when it comes to improvements. The top priority for staff is facilities such as a crèche, a supermarket or a small bakery. ‘There is clearly a big need for more benches and picnic tables,’ conclude the students in their study. ‘Somewhere to relax and meet people. Preferably small scale and sheltered. Just a pleasant spot to eat your lunch outside or discuss a group project.’
Too much grass and not enough trees. That is the criticism of the current layout of the campus grounds in a nutshell. The ground cover is green but that is not the greenery we want. According to the honours students’ survey, two thirds of us would like to see park-like grounds with trees dotted around and cut grass as the cover. Roughly like this small section of the campus in front of the main entrance to Forum.
Too much grass and not enough trees. That is the criticism of the current layout of the campus grounds in a nutshell. The ground cover is green but that is not the greenery we want. According to the honours students’ survey, two thirds of us would like to see park-like grounds with trees dotted around and cut grass as the cover. Roughly like this small section of the campus in front of the main entrance to Forum.

What do you think of our campus? What image does the campus evoke, what atmosphere does it have? How do you experience the Wageningen campus and how do you use the grounds on a day-today basis? What do you miss and what would you like to add? A group of honours students went round campus with these questions and more. As many as nine hundred students and staff completed the questionnaire. We clearly care about our campus. Our campus? ‘A field somebody tipped some building blocks into.’ ‘The campus exudes a commercial spirit. Big money, the banking sector. Look who’s got the biggest one.’ ‘I would like to take this opportunity to complain about the symbolic statue in front of Forum: a dead tree. A misshapen, grey concrete shape, a kind of house of Mordor. The opposite of what Wageningen UR stands for.’

They did not mince their words. But there are different opinions. ‘I find it a really pleasant, attractive, fantastic campus. Don’t change a thing.’ There is no accounting for taste. And we are not that negative about our campus. A majority of us think that the campus is impressive and fitting for a high-quality international science institute, the students conclude in their report. So we are actually quite proud of our campus. That is also clear from the score we give the campus: a seven out of ten. It is noticeable that the international respondents are more proud of it than the Dutch. Even so, there is still criticism: we find the campus boring, impersonal and bare. And it is not just the students’ study that finds this. A recent survey by Alterra for the ‘Healthy Campus’ project got the same result. We like being outside but we find the grounds bare and too open.  

Long avenues
 
One particular bugbear is the central area between the big Atlas, Forum and Orion buildings. Open grassland that is neither one thing nor the other - as if there was no money left for a decent landscape architect. But that is not the case, explains campus manager Elike Wijnheijmer. In fact, the campus grounds were designed by the distinguished firm B+B Urbanism and Landscape Architecture. According to Wijnheijmer, the open character of that central area is an essential feature. It ties in with the cultivated landscape of the Binnenveld, where long avenues and open terrain dominate.

It is possible in this vision for the buildings around the central area to shape their immediate surroundings. Alterra does that, for example, with a much-acclaimed nature garden at the back of the building.  But Wijnheijmer says the B+B design was never fully implemented. ‘B+B had also planned a tree-lined route, wonderful swirls of flowers across the central area and a much more broken terrain.’ In fact, just the things that people now find lacking. The design may be taken further by planting trees and laying beds of colourful flowers. But the openness is here to stay, if only because parts of the grounds also have to do duty as a venue for events. And there is another factor to consider: the campus is still not finished. Wijnheijmer: ‘Once the southern site is fully built, I think people will be relieved to have the open space between Atlas, Forum and Orion.’ Furthermore, the existing greenery and new plants will carry on growing.

No vegetable garden
 
Meanwhile, plans are already being made for a more exciting layout. One possibility for the space between Atlas and Orion is the EAT group’s garden (EAT is the Dutch acronym for edible academic garden). But you must not imagine this will be a vegetable garden as ‘vegetable garden’ has too many tree-hugging connotations. Wijnheijmer: ‘The aim of the garden is not to deliver produce but to give an impression of Wageningen UR as a key player in world food production in a sophisticated, aesthetic manner. It may well contain edible plants, vegetables, herbs and fruit, but it is not a vegetable garden.’ And there may be more to come. Early next month, a strategic plan will be launched for the development of the campus. The plan will give room for initiatives to make the campus nicer, livelier, more informative and more sociable.

Photo's: Guy Ackermans


Re:act