Eastern Scheldt: from nature – to human reserve

Neeltje Jans

Deltas are of great importance to humans all over the world. Densely populated coastal areas where land arises from sea. An amazing gradient where two worlds meet and nature and humans traditionally proliferate. It is the area where one hears, smells and sees the awakening of nature between the ebb – and flood line. It is where the sailor exalts navigation to a form of art and where he falls dry with his boat to be alone and to enjoy the mind-expanding vastness. Yet these qualities increasingly disappear due to the great technical advances since the 19th century, which tried to control the marine dynamics of deltas to ensure safety of the hinterland against inundation.

The Delta Works in the Netherlands embody this. The masterpiece of the Delta Works meant the construction of a national icon: the Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier in Zeeland, which does not only withstand storm surges, but even controls the tides of the sea daily in its Eastern Scheldt. However, this permeable dam has resulted in the erosion of the intertidal area (1) and subsequently in an insatiable demand of sand, which increases annually due to sea-level rise. The intertidal area will have disappeared in about 2080 as a consequence of this sand hunger (2), with major social – and ecological problems as a result.

Besides sand hunger, Zeeland also suffers from space hunger. The rise of mass recreation in the past century has led to the cluttering of holiday parks in the hinterland of the delta, which destroy the lowlands and the sea in their vastness. Therefore, a holistic solution for the Zeeland delta does not only secure the intertidal area, but also encompasses the finding of a suitable place for recreation in its delta.

This is achieved by means of the deconstruction of the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier and Grevelingendam, and using the resulting new marine dynamics (3) to promote the social – and ecological situation of the Eastern Scheldt. The new coastal defense systems (4-6) protect the hinterland from inundation, grows along with sea-level rise, and is in itself a new landscape entity of Zeeland in which the function of recreation becomes integrated into the landscape (7-11). This way Zeeland is strengthened integrally between sea and land and the Eastern Scheldt (12) is transformed from a nature – to a human reserve, where all interactions live together as an obviousness.



Figure 1: The Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier caused a decrease of tidal volume and thereby shifted the marine dynamics from a sand exporting – to a sand importing system. 

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Figure 2: As a consequence of the shift in marine dynamics the intertidal area will mostly have dissappeared in 2080.

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Figure 3: The Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier is deconstructed along with the Grevelingendam. The new marine dynamics are used to stimulate the social – and ecological situation of the Eastern Scheldt.


Figure 4,5,6: The new multifunctional coastal defense systems do not only answer the social – and ecological situation of the region, but also their cultural history aesthetically. 


Figure 7: Watervillages become part of the new coastal defense systems, unveiling the qualities of the delta to its visitors

Neeltje 1op15000 Masterplan

Figure 8: Neeltje Jans, the terrain section of the barrier, as the symbol of the old – and the new relation between man and water.

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Figure 9, 10: Former parts of the barrier become breakwaters and borders to protect the new heritage and the most vulnerable shores at the mouth of the Eastern Scheldt.

Surf village

Figure 11: Surf village Neeltje Jans

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Figure 12 Human reserve Eastern Scheldt in which all interactions (co-)exist as an obviousness.


Full access at:

Eastern Scheldt: From nature – to human reserve (2015)

For consultation or more info please contact the author

Koen Steegers (koensteegers@gmail.com)

Opening Academic Year WUR: The inclusion of Landscape Architecture | TOPOS

_OVERIGE_ door Rosanne Schrijver en Cor Simon A reflection of the opening of the academic year of the Wageningen University. It is striking how the controversial discipline of landscape architecture within the Wageningen University now seems to play an essential…

Source: Opening Academic Year WUR: The inclusion of Landscape Architecture | TOPOS

the whole opening ceremony can be watched here (there are green marks, for each new session in the whole video – the landscape machine part is at the fourth green marker).




e-lecture ‘how to design a landscape machine’

Here is the complete video of the e-lecture on landscape machines.

It contains some minor technical failures, as were part of the original e-lecture,


Yours, Paul R.

open e-lecture: how to design a landscape machine


Teaching Landscape Architecture series – teachers for teachers

Monday evening  27.4.2015

18:00-19:30 CET Moderation by Elke MERTENS & Nilgul KARADENIZ Lecturer: Paul Roncken

eLecture Room


Title: How to design a landscape machine This lecture is about the design of productive landscapes. If designed well, landscapes can purify the air, detoxify the soil and raise the water quality of both surface water and underground water reserves. Well-designed landscapes also supply the necessary terrain for plants, mammals, birds and insects to find nurture and shelter and use migration routes. At the same time, these thriving natural landscapes can provide food and other resources that are in daily demand. The intricate performance of landscapes is not merely beautiful and a general commodity, it entails a sublime ambition and is in need of design. By the design concept of the Landscape Machine a provocative and somewhat paradoxical idea is introduced. The central idea is to offer a practical but nonetheless visionary answer to the growing concern of large scale landscape development. The increasing trend of urbanisation will not cease being dependent upon a range of services provided by the performance of landscapes. At the same time the often idealized urban-rural duality is in need of a serious update. While many designers and urban developers focus on building innovation and smaller production cycles, the landscape machine design laboratory (www.landscapemachines.com) claims that such developments will be only marginally effective. The majority of the earths landmass will not be urbanized and remain landscape or inhabitable wilderness. There is an improved idea needed to combine ecological thinking and systemic technology to develop landscapes that can be both productive and natural reserves. By a combined intellec tual and artistic effort, the concept of the landscape machine includes decades of ecological understanding, challenging aesthetic experiences, practical environmental concerns and replenishable technological advancements.

– the concept of the landscape machine will be explained

– a few design examples will be explained

– the method to design such a complex and large scale intervention is discussed (interactive)

Paul Roncken (1972) is an assistant professor at the landscape architecture department, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. You can read more of his ideas and work at http://www.paulroncken.com and http://www.landscapemachines.com via LE:NOTRE – Calendar.

First price Archiprix competition won by a landscape machine!

The project ‘Ems, Full Hybrid’ by my former students Remco van der Togt and Jonas Papenborg (co-supervised by Harro de Jong)

won the prestigious Archiprix first price 2014.

For the project description see here

and for the jury report see below:

Each year the Dutch institutions offering Master’s programmes in architecture, urban design and landscape architecture select their best graduation projects and submit them to Archiprix.

Of the 27 submitted projects 21 are by students graduating in architecture. Two entries have urban design as the major subject and six have landscape architecture. Thirteen of the graduation projects are located abroad.

Armed with an ingenious strategy, this graduation project presents more than just an all-in solution to the serious and complex economic and ecological problems afflicting the Ems estuary. It adds a convincing long-term perspective for developing this area on the border between the Netherlands and Germany. The approach is professional in the extreme and scientifically underpinned where possible and clearly documented. The designers correctly acknowledge that this is a so-called wicked problem. There is a margin of uncertainty to be considered, since the effects of the proposed interventions are not entirely predictable. This explains the manoeuvrability of the strategy to be followed. The project makes a credible impression, illustrating that designing can combine well with scientific research. The design has appealing spatial qualities and is presented in a way that is transparent to all involved. The compelling tale is clearly told and beautifully portrayed. The project unfolds a series of related proposals that are technically well underpinned. The proposed measures are targeted at benefitting the processes in the area. These are not just natural processes such as the flow of the river and the effects of the tide, but also the displacement of water by the cruise ships passing by. The long disused polder system to either side of the river is exploited in a new way, in which discarded North Sea oil rigs get a new duty to perform. Besides generating an attractive landscape in which nature and production join forces, the project provides economic opportunities while putting an end to the expensive business of constant dredging. The designers make a convincing proposal, one that gives shape to their intention of taking the vitality of the Ems region to a higher level. It is a project that provides valuable insight to a wide audience, from scientists to inhabitants, from harbour barons to nature lovers. A project that impresses and delights.

Why a landscape machine?

Designers should design landscapes that challenge human beings and human collectives to allow them to redefine nature within and beyond themselves.

We are well aware that the two words ‘landscape’ and ‘machine’ are dissonant in many ways; something technocratic versus something pristine? The dissonance is on the other hand exactly right, if you consider an important pragmatism in the field of large scale landscape interventions: (1) landscapes are mostly created by (generic) professionals, only dimly including local people. (2) Landscapes, for a large part, serve a purpose, in most cases as agricultural production area, as natural reserve or as urban/infrastructure territory. These two pragmatic elements make it more feasible to consider the machine part of the landscape. Being an optimised production facility for desired outcomes. Any dissonance with local people and out of radar ecological developments, is what interests us, as part of the landscape machine concept.

The (welcome) dissonant to any fixed machinery thinking is provided by the rather slow and gradual development of landscapes. People can change, as landscapes change and thereby initial negative experiences can change. This is what is magical and unique in landscape development and this is what needs to be taken into account when considering the machine-aspect in a developing landscape. The machine may be static for a while, but will change and so will the opinions, aesthetic references and social inclusions. This is a fact that has been recognised by many designers for years, but has not yet been included and explored academically.

Landscapes need not be designed at all if they are to reflect the potential of wildernesses. Despite the autonomy of natural landscapes, we consider human imagination central and essential in the development of new types of productivity. We are worried about the increasing absence of landscapes as future places other than for parkish delight or arcadian wildernesses. Biodiversity can be increased by allowing landscapes to be productive, according to their ecological potentials. Yet, as the attention for urban centres and urban farming increases, the notion of the vast amounts of landscapes are left barren and desolate. In an average country, over 70% percent is landscape and only 8% is urbanised, this means that a future vision on the productivity of such large stretches of land is needed, to maintain a growing urban population. Urban life produces waste and dirt that can be cleaned and processed by landscape machines, if they are big enough, flexible enough and self-sustaining enough. This is the aim of every designed landscape machine. Landscapes are thus not only places to comfort and satisfy human needs, they are places that are proof of human inventiveness, natural self regulation and intricate technical competences. Additionally, designed landscapes are contemporary sublime environments to enhance dormant potentials of the abundance of energy that is present on an everyday basis.

Landscape Machines are technically complex designs that serve to clean and produce all that humans use and need for themselves and simultaneously adhere to the abundance principle of living systems. The composition of landscape machines is dynamic because of the continuous interchange of expansion and diminishment of living system components. A landscape machine is deliberately kept on the verge of imbalance because of the continuous yield of food, energy and resources that put stress on natural resilience. The design effort to create the appropriate type of imbalance is the main challenge when designing a landscape machine.