Science - December 14, 2010

Professor of cultural history: we need gripping stories

Joks Janssen has been appointed extraordinary professor of Spatial Planning and Cultural History at Wageningen University. He will occupy the Belvedère chair for heritage conservation. Let’s meet him.

I thought they'd done away with the Belvedère chair?
'The national Belvedère programme did indeed end in 2009. But the extraordinary chairs at Amsterdam, Delft and Wageningen were kept. Just like my predecessor, André van der Zande, I am going to focus on the exciting relationship between heritage and spatial development.'
Do you have an example of that exciting relationship?
'I think the redevelopment of the former Philips factories in Eindhoven is a good example. First they were going to be demolished, and now they are to be called Strijp S and a whole new development is being designed based in the old industrial infrastructure.'

You got your PhD in 2005 in Tilburg for a study of spatial planning in Brabant. You called it a 'scruffy patchwork'.
'A lot of landscapes have been swallowed up by industrial estates and the bio-industry. That came about mainly because the bureaucratic and social elite in North Brabant in the period from 1920 to 1960 was afraid of urban development. The elite had the ideal of a rural Brabant. So to strengthen the livelihoods of village communities, all the villages were given space to develop. But this social emphasis had disastrous consequences for spatial design.'

You are an advisor on spatial development to the province of North Brabant. How will the landscape fare in the Brabant of the future?

'You have to see the relationships between the landscape, the citizens and the companies. We need to get rid of the idea that conserving landscapes is a form of monument conservation, in which experts indicate what is of value. Heritage is a dynamic concept. We have got to move 'from stone to story'. We need gripping stories in spatial development so as to carry people along with us and give the old structures some resonance in the new landscape.'