The Heerlijkheid Hoogvliet
The Heerlijkheid is a public activity park on the north edge of Hoogvliet, a satellite town of the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Set against the backdrop of the Pernis oil refinery the park’s design responds to its industrial context.
The Heerlijkeid is made up of 5.4 hectares of landscaped parkland including:
- “The villa”, which is used as meeting hall and cultural centre
- Smaller temporary structures or “hobby huts”
- A lake shaped like the Netherlands
- A nature playground
- A tree island
- An Astroturf sports area.
The park features a number of brightly coloured facilities including a communal barbecue and model-boat hut that reflect domestic architecture through pitched roofs and dinkily scaled doors, windows and decoration.
The villa takes the form of a large colourful shed, which has been constructed out of basic materials on a low budget. It is given character through additions to the external walls, such as a decorative screen and oversized graphics. The villa contains a party hall, a kitchen and a meeting room, as well as offices, toilets and storage. There are future plans to open a café and a cinema.
The Heerlijkheid Hoogvliet was created as part of a programme called WiMBY!, or Welcome into My Backyard!, a six-year settlement-wide experiment in urban renewal led by Crimson Architectural Historians. The name challenges the prevailing NiMBY (Not in My Backyard) planning culture.
WiMBY! was launched in 2001 as an experiment in establishing an alternative to demolish-and-rebuild renewal. It operated in the margins of a more traditional programme to tackle decline which sought to redevelop 30 per cent of Hoogvliet’s housing stock. The aim was to change the perception of the town from one of a sleepy and uninviting suburb to that of a lively urban place where people would choose to live. Crimson argued that rebuilding alone would not deliver this culture change.
Built in the 1950s on the site of an old fishing village, Hoogvliet was the Netherlands’ first New Town. Due to changing regional priorities the town was never completed and by the 1970s it was in decline. Vacancy and unemployment rose in its northern districts as the oil works and docks reduced operations. The middle classes left the increasingly dilapidated blocks of flats in search of better jobs and were replaced by recent immigrants attracted by cheap rent.
By the 1990s Hoogvliet had become a byword for decay. Unemployment, poverty and crime were at extreme levels, shops and businesses had closed and public spaces were poorly maintained. Faced with these problems, the authorities saw wholesale restructuring as the obvious solution. WiMBY!, however, advocated a contextual approach.
Rather than dismiss Hoogvliet as a failure, WIMBY! worked to identify and creatively build on:
- the town’s unique character, formed through its complicated history and circumstance
- the aspirations and activities of its diverse residents
A portfolio of projects emerged, of which the Heerlijkheid is one of the most tangible. The Heerlijkheid addresses a lack of civic space in which Hoogvliet’s diverse communities, including many immigrants from former Dutch colonies, could gather to stage events and activities.