Observatorium Nieuw Terbregge
Sculpture for residential area
An enclosed garden with a viewpoint on a noise bund. The garden and the staircase are composed of slabs of used asphalt. The viewpoint and the pavilion are made of crash barriers. Years later it became an official war memorial site. LINKING SEPARATE WORLDS Observatorium takes a stand against the fragmentation of the world into separate zones for working, leisure, transport, shopping, housing, nature and waste. Observatorium rejects the boundaries between the separate worlds, and uses them to make connections.
A sculpture for a new housing estate Proper-Stok, the company responsible for the development of a new housing estate of about 850 homes, commissioned Observatorium to provide a sculpture which would be a gift to the City of Rotterdam and the new residents, to mark completion of the development. The ideas behind the sculpture, and its form and siting, were left to Observatorium to decide. The first visit to the site terminated on the noise bund, between the densely built, varied housing of the estate and the wide, noisy open space of the motorway. The A20 is a notorious bottleneck in the Rotterdam orbital road system, endlessly jammed with traffic queues (if the radio news is to be believed); although in this instance it made an impression of superbly organized linear mobility. It was striking that all the urban features lay parallel to the motorway: the city park, the railway, the noise bund, residential streets and the River Rotte, with the tower flats of Ommoord in the background.
Here it was possible to observe the spatial structure and the conjunction of realms that are spatially separate but which city dwellers all use at some time or another. This spot, on top of the noise bund, was the right place for the sculpture. At the boundary between stillness and motion, it was possible to oversee two separate worlds. Here, alone, you can see where you are. Linking separate worlds The reason the noise bund takes the form of a huge embankment measuring 2 kilometres long, 60 metres wide and 12 metres high is not because it needs to be so big to protect the adjoining areas from noise. It is because the strip of land along the new housing estate had been used to store polluted soil which was dredged up from the Rotterdam harbour. The size of the bund was dictated by the economics of soil storage; and the size of the housing estate was dictated by the size of the bund. A mere thirty years ago, this had been a district of farmland and meadows. And just over sixty-five years ago, at the end of the Second World War, this had been the locality outside the city where allied planes dropped food parcels for the inhabitants of Rotterdam. This place, no seemingly devoid of history, actually lay at the intersection of two diachronically distinct worlds. This should surely be reflected in Observatorium's sculpture, but how can an artist turn sculpture (which, after all, occupies space) into a pure act of revealing? How can the work of art show what is there without devouring too much attention in its own right?
Literally and figuratively An enclosed garden demonstrates countless variations on the paradoxical human need to appropriate territory from the world and then admit the world into it. We can invite the earth and nature to enter into the enclosure of a garden that forms part of our habitation. This paradox was incorporated into the design: an enclosed garden alongside the motorway could be both a sculpture, the tangible object that had been commissioned, and a means of condensing the bizarre combination of disparate worlds. An enclosed garden is a building. From this building, it must be possible to look into the separate worlds, and they must in some way or other meet here. What if you were to stretch both the housing estate and the motorway up onto the noise bund, in an over-literal attempt at linking the two worlds? It could result in nonsense, or it could result in humour, but in this case it resulted in a sculpture: a house on the bund with a closed garden paved with asphalt.
Elaborating on this simple concept engendered further ideas. If there is one enclosed garden on the dyke, and it has to be visible from two sides, then it must have a difference in vertical relief and will be partitioned into a quiet part and a noise-exposed part. If the garden is lower than the top of the bund, it creates the suggestion that landfill material lies under the grass over the whole bund.
location: Rotterdam, The Netherlands