QW 2 – 2016: Ilse Mathijsen

Ilse Mathijssen, Mint Ruimtelijk Ontwerp & THIS IS WAT

Glass pavilion on the Meuse

Beauty is amoral

Around the world everyone who’s heard of Holland knows that the Netherlands has won the war against water, that the land lies below sea level and is a land of rivers. It is well-known that this country has always battled with fluctuating waters. Our literature involves rising waters, our artists paint the waters, our music sings the praises of water. Our structures, our merchant trading – much is rooted in our relationship with water. Our fears, our courage and ultimately our trust in our ability to live with water are part of the Dutch identity. Our oldest national government body is Rijkswaterstaat, the administration for water management that was established in 1798 as the ‘Bureau for Water Affairs’ and renamed simply as Rijkswaterstaat in 1848. Since its establishment this governing body has ensured the safety of our roads, dykes and other waterworks, and rivers. The Dutch respect water and have been able to live in safety and harmony with its forces thanks to the guardianship of Rijkswaterstaat.

It is human nature to become cocky when it seems that dangers have been conquered, and so flood disasters have left significant marks on the national psyche. In January 1916 the massive Zuider Zee floods, in combination with high river waters in the southern half of the country, caused major breaches in the protective dyke system. Lives were lost and the damage was so great that we even accepted aid from abroad to help the flood victims. After this disaster we built the Afsluitdijk dam/highway so that it would never happen again. However, in 1926, again in January, the river lands were flooded by excessive rain and melting snow. The Meuse dyke at Overasselt and Nederasselt gave way, which put the ‘Land van Maas en Waal’ region with its many villages under water. It was – and still is – the highest water level ever recorded in the Dutch river regions. The damage was immense. In January 1953 the combination of a severe North Sea storm and a high spring tide caused disastrous flooding in Zeeland. There were 1836 deaths, plus some 700 losses further abroad in Great Britain and Belgium. Once more, to ensure this would never happen again, the Dutch built their Delta Works – an engineering feat that has established our reputation internationally for ingenuity in managing water. Our superiority with regard to water became a renewed fact and fear was again set at bay. Our population grew, as did our prosperity, and so we built on top of the traditional flood plains since we had the dykes to protect us. Of course, it was inevitable that the rivers would overflow, this time with extremely high waters in 1993 and 1995. In 1995 250,000 people were evacuated from their homes. The dyke at Ochten was reinforced just in time, thankfully preventing another flood disaster. 

After this Rijkswaterstaat made a firm decision: all building plans in alluvial plains were halted. In 1997 they issued a policy document for the ‘Great Rivers Area’, in which it was stipulated that from now on building permits would only be granted on riverside plains if compensatory measures accompanied the plans – that is to say, space had to be reserved for the river to manoeuvre. For ten years Rijkswaterstaat did not concede a single permit. In 2005 more room was given for development initiatives.

In 2015 the municipality of Maasbommel launched a large-scale plan for a recreational park with 130 floating bungalows, including a water sports facility, apartments, a campground and restaurants, all in De Gouden Ham between Appeltern and Maasbommel. On the other side of the river in north-eastern Brabant is where Ilse Mathijssen will build her glass pavilion on the flood plain of the Meuse.

The beauty of the natural flood plains is impressive, but the fascination for water can only really be understood within the historic context of Dutch water management. The Netherlands has few real natural areas and we often forget what really constitutes nature. We are inclined to view what we see with a kind of protective, romantic  attitude. Apart from its beauty, let’s not forget the power of nature, because without this recognition we overlook the essence of nature. Together power and beauty create nature, in all its delicacy and brutality. There are many international artists who deal with this as their central creative theme. It produces work that is both humbling and a source of pride.

We wish Ilse at Mint Ruimtelijk Ontwerp & THIS IS WAT success in building a beautiful glass pavilion in the flood plains of north-east Brabant that will remind us of the significance of the flood plains for in the Netherlands. Beauty is amoral.

FGF-Q4-2016