How to tackle a commission in which the available budget does not match the program of requirements? Everything starts with inspiration, as the design for the Molenwaterpark in Middelburg has shown.
Middelburg has only one genuinely urban park: the Molenwaterpark, just outside the historic city walls. The park has a long history. It started as a turning loop for ships frequenting the city, a body of water subsequently filled and eventually transformed into an urban park. In between, it was used as a military parade ground. It even hosted an amusement park, Miniature Walcheren. Afterwards, only a rundown green space remained, echoing the ghost of better days. Awareness of the necessity of reconstruction only dawned when the relocation of the city theatre to the park was rejected in favour of renovation of the original theatre.
– designer Jeroen Matthijssen, BoschSlabbers
The idea to use the space to ease inner city parking pressure and erect a theatre led to fierce opposition from the city’s residents. ‘No way, keep your fingers from our park!’ was the general sentiment.
In a thorough participation process of design-based research, a specifically selected workgroup investigated how to best bridge conflicts of interest. In a number of work sessions with neighbouring residents and users of the park, opportunities for a new Molenwaterpark were explored. Gradually, opposition made way for surprise: ‘wouldn’t have thought of this as a way to achieve our goals’. The sessions resulted in a general sense of enthusiasm and co-ownership, and along with it, broad support for further development of the park.
In the old situation, the Molenwaterpark consisted of different parts. Dense planting and fencing separated the different functions, leaving them with little relationship to each other. With the new design, one coherent city park was developed that once again establishes a relationship with the adjacent, historic facades. To achieve this, the park edges have been opened up and internal barriers broken down, again creating one large coherent park, intertwined with the surrounding city. Therefore, the adjacent streets and squares were also included in the design.
The result is an integral plan reaching from façade to façade in which the various components find a place. The design is characterised by a contemporary landscape style, referring to Zocher’s nearby rampart park. A network of sloping paths connects the park to the urban network. The space in front of the theatre is transformed from a rudimentary parking facility into an urban space of allure. The tree deck forms a green link between the park and the bastions. Urban ecology has a prominent place; the natterjack toad, which has lived in the park for years, has its species-specific breeding ground in the water bowls, while the existing wintering place has been reinforced with debris remnants from the old Miniature Walcheren.
The new parkland design consists of 2.000 m3 of extra space, to temporarily retain excess rain water. This is the equivalent of 100.000 rain barrels, a massive volume that would put severe pressure on the sewage system of the city centre during extreme rainfall. Importantly, the rainwater provides high quality freshwater and as such is too valuable to dispose of in the sewer. A better solution is to collect and retain the water for as long as possible, to ensure it can be used in periods of drought.
To that end, rainwater drains of buildings in neighbouring streets are disconnected from the sewage system, and rainwater is led into the park, where it is collected and stored in wadis. Here, water seeps back into the ground to replenish natural water resources.
At the edge of the Molenwaterpark, a cascade of woodland wadis is realised. These wadis are landscaped ecologically, to attract dragonflies, butterflies and amphibians. In addition, they provide attractive opportunities for play. Water has always attracted and fascinated people. It is therefore only logical that the reflecting pool, with a width of 25 meters, will prove to be the park’s ultimate hotspot, mirroring the urban silhouette of Middelburg.
Title: Reconstruction Molenwaterpark
Location: Middelburg, NL
Size: 4,2 ha
Client: Municipality of Middelburg
Cooperation: Werkgroep Molenwater, KNNV, Vlinder- en Libellenwerkgroep Zeeland
Type: Park layout, final design
Image credits: BoschSlabbers, Jeroen Musch, Tom van der Heijden
Project code: bs-S 17-09