OOSTVAARDERSPLASSEN (NL) - Architectural and ecological landscaping skills merge in the nature reserve visitors centre designed by Olaf Gipser and Vista.
In the Netherlands, a man-made landscape if ever there were one, nature reserves are thin on the ground. Which makes it all the more remarkable that one of the most important nature reserves should be located in Flevoland, the country's youngest province. When the Flevo Polder was created in 1968, a new wilderness sprang up spontaneously in the undeveloped section that adjoins the IJsselmeer, the lake created when the Zuiderzee was enclosed. The marshlands on the former sea floor lie right below the migration route of hundreds of different bird species and are also a breeding and overwintering place for grey geese, white-tailed eagles, bitterns and spoonbills. Large indigenous herbivores like Heck cattle, Konik horses and red deer roam freely through the area and are a key component in the experiment to create a self-regulating ecosystem.
A large part of the nature reserve is closed to the public. Last year, Staatsbosbeheer, the body responsible for managing the reserve, organized a competition for a new Nature Activities Centre in the publicly accessible part. The centre has both a recreational and an educational function and is expected to attract some 150,000 visitors a year. The brief called for an 'inseparable relationship with the unique context of the Oostvaardersplassen'. One of the reasons why the design by the team around Olaf Gipser was chosen from among the hundreds of entries was that it delivered precisely that, in a design in which landscape and architecture are interwoven. The genesis of the Oostvaardersplassen is told thematically through three main elements: 'landscape showcases' that protrude into the building, a water roof and a steel lookout tower.
Gipser worked closely with Vista landscape and urban designers, who drew up the landscape design for the 250-hectare site. Vista reduced the various types of landscape in the Oostvaardersplassen to four main types, each of which has a distinctive flora and fauna, depending on the water level. Variations in the water level result in five-year cycles, which means that the landscape types repeat themselves after 20 years. These four 'plant growth stages' penetrate the visitors centre in the form of ten-metre-deep display cases. The centre thus becomes a 'showcase' of real landscape. This is reinforced by the layout, which progresses from the 'everyday world' (entrance zone) to 'wilderness' (at the rear of the centre). The rest of the programme (restaurant, shop, study area, Staatsbosbeheer offices, seminar room, washrooms) is inserted between the display cases. All rooms are accessed via the central axis, which acts as exhibition space and which leads directly to the lookout tower at the far end of the building.