How to tackle a commission in which the available budget does not match the program of requirements? Well, by getting together with all parties and show them the available options; by sketching and inspiring; by presenting a plan which makes each stakeholder see that there is more to be gained than initially thought. A plan which makes all parties think: ‘if we can achieve this, we will all be striking it lucky’. And as a result, will make them gather funds and brainstorm for ways to obtain the rest of the required budget. 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
Until recently, the Molenwaterpark consisted of loose fragments. Dense planting and fences divided the space and disconnected its different functionalities. The new design proposed to develop a cohesive urban park that interconnects with the historical facades of the adjacent residential districts. To this end, parkland edges are opened up and internal barriers removed, to create a large and unified park space, woven into the urban network.
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.
The future park should fit logically into the surrounding urban web. For this reason, streets and squares in the immediate surroundings were included in the design. The result is an integral plan stretching from wall to wall, in which each urban element finds its logical place. The design has introduced a contemporary landscaping style. A web of sloping paths connects the park with the wider urban network. The space originally designated for the theatre turns from a rudimentary parking lot into an urban location with appeal. The tree canopy connects the park with the historical bulwarks of the city centre.
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.
In recent winter months (2019/2020), contractors worked hard to make the designs for the Molenwaterpark a reality.
After the old and worn-down elements of the park were removed, groundworks were started. A slight slope and a system of wadis were realised in the lower parts of the park. Here, excess rain water from the wider area will be safely stored.
Subsequently, the paths were asphalted and the construction of the large reflecting pool (including a fountain) was finished. Apart from the necessary pouring of concrete, a wooden deck was realised, connected to the city streets via stepping stones. From the start, this feature has attracted many children playing. In spring, the asphalt will be coated with an attractive top layer, planting will be added and lawns will be sown, to bring out the design in full. After completion, the people of Middelburg will once again be able to take pride in this urban parkland.
Title: Reconstruction Molenwaterpark
Location: Middelburg, NL
Size: 4 ha
Client: Municipality of Middelburg
Cooperation: Werkgroep Molenwater, KNNV, Vlinder- en Libellenwerkgroep Zeeland
Type: Park layout, final design
Image credits: BoschSlabbers
Project code: bs-S 17-09