Organisatie - 24 september 2015

The studio as laboratory

Rob Ramaker

The renowned designer Adriaan Geuze is helping give the Wageningen
Landscape Architecture programme an upgrade. Students are getting a
new studio and real assignments. ‘I am in my element here.’

It is the first week of the academic year and on the top floor of the Forum 23 new Master’s students of Landscape Architecture and Planning are listening to their teacher, renowned landscape architect Adriaan Geuze. Only three weeks ago, Geuze was a guest on the Dutch TV programme Zomergasten, spending three hours talking enthusiastically about his profession. Now the designer explains in clear English what will be expected of the students during the ‘Master Studio’ in the weeks to come. Amongst other things, the students – half of them from Asia – will create a design independently.

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Wageningen University appointed Geuze as professor by special appointment in 2012. His brief was to breathe new life into landscape architecture as a design discipline. He himself studied in Wageningen and went on to start the studio West 8 with which he has won international acclaim. Among his designs are those of the Jubilee Gardens in London, Governors Island in New York and the Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam. The spanking new studio on the fifth and sixth floors of the Forum is another one of Geuze’s designs. ‘There was a pressing need for that space.’ Around him, students bend over maps. A studio is to a Landscape Architecture student what a laboratory is to a student of Molecular Life Sciences. Three years ago Landscape Architecture did not have such a ‘laboratory’; students worked in ordinary classrooms or at home. ‘But what you want is precisely that students collaborate on an assignment and meet each other here.’

Hanging up drawings
So the new studio is not just window dressing, says Geuze during a guided tour. It is a necessity for getting the best designs out of students. When VHL Applied Sciences University vacated the space, the walls of the old classrooms were taken down to create one large space on each fl oor. In the studio every students gets a mobile pinboard on which to hang up their numerous sketches to give a good overview. ‘Then students can give each other feedback, pose questions and learn from each other,’ says Geuze. ‘What is more, teachers see the work developing and can follow a student’s learning curve.’ The pinboards are in the wrong place at the moment, he comments. By putting them between the pillars you create walls. ‘Like that you still end up with small spaces. It needs to be one big space.’

The new setup is intended to make clear to students that their work is taken seriously. ‘Drawings come into their own this way,’ says Geuze, ‘which doesn’t happen when they lie on tables covered in crumbs and coffee cups. On a music course you won’t be made to practise in a room with poor acoustics either, will you? That wouldn’t do justice to the music.’ To present their work the students will soon push their pinboards to the new presentation room, complete with a platform.

This new approach shows students their work is taken seriously

Geuze thinks students should work as much as possible on real assignments, at least during the Master Studios. ‘I want to strengthen the programme’s reputation for design.’ So in the coming weeks the students will work on an assignment Geuze acquired for Wageningen UR. They will design a ‘countryside’: a place where city dwellers can go to get away from the pressures of urban life. The location is in Midden- Delfl and, a green belt hemmed in by The Hague and Rotterdam and at risk from urban expansion. The aim is to make it a useful and attractive area for city dwellers, which means good cycle routes between the city centres and the green space, and attractions for day trippers. ‘That could mean cafes, pancake houses and shops,’ says Geuze. He can count on the enthusiasm of the mayor of Rotterdam Aboutaleb, who is already talking about the Central Park of the Randstad. ‘Fantastic,’ says Geuze.

Central Park
There is also a small grant for the project from the ministry of Economic Affairs. Nothing spectacular, but enough to send the students on a field trip and to make good quality prints of their designs. And a mini-symposium will be held at which students will present their work to people from the nature management service Staatsbosbeheer, civil servants from the local municipalities and the Midden-Delfland association.

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Of course, being part of a Master’s degree, the design project needs an academic element. The students are studying to what extent a green inter-urban environment improves the quality of life in cities. For inspiration for creating pleasant ‘countryside’, Geuze looks to the seventeenth century, an era when wealthy citizens built country estates to relax at. A long line of such country houses can still be seen along the Vecht river north of Utrecht. For inspiration the students are going to work in pairs on reconstructing a garden of one of these historic country houses. It varies to what extent the original designs of these gardens have been preserved and documented. The task helps the students to ‘learn to look,’ says Geuze.

The Master’s in Landscape Architecture and Planning sometimes struggles with a tension between beautiful designs and academic depth, as the programme director admitted to Resource last June. Geuze reacts with slight irritation to questions about this tension. In his view, these things go hand in hand. Which means the Master Studio delivers not just designs but also a book of reconstructions of historic country estates. ‘Research-based designing and design-related research,’ is how he puts it. And Wageningen remains the perfect place to learn this profession. ‘There is a long tradition at the university of design which combines several disciplines – water, soil and vegetation studies.’ He recalls one particular student who needed highly specialist knowledge about things like vegetation species and drainage for a design project in the Krimpenerwaard. ‘All three of the experts needed for that project were 100 metres from my office. Isn’t that fantastic?’ asks Geuze. ‘I am in my element here.’

Photo: Guy Ackermans