Michael van Gessel: Dordrecht’s Hof (court) is the place where representatives of Dutch cities met secretly in 1572 in a bid to secede from the Spanish empire to which they then belonged. The Hof is therefore often regarded as the political cradle of the Netherlands. As part of a plan to revamp the Court Quarter as a cultural area, the municipality decided to refurbish the Cloister Garden adjoining the Hof, which had fallen into disrepair. The plan’s main goal was to give the historic site the elegant look it deserved, and to make this space a quiet, relaxing haven.
This required, above all, turning the courtyard’s separate compartments into a single space with clear entrances and unobstructed views. A further aim in designing the layout along these lines was to discourage drunks and drug addicts from hanging about. The municipal plan called for a “green courtyard” with a simple layout, high-quality materials and meticulous detailing. To frame the courtyard as a whole, the raised lawn’s outer edges run roughly along the perimeter, leaving a wide path in between for people to walk around its outer edge. The lawn seems to have been ripped apart in two halves, opening up an irregular space in between, where people can walk and sit under several existing large trees. One half of the lawn has been slightly rotated with respect to the other half to align the two halves with the layout of the surrounding buildings. Stone slabs, 150 centimeters wide, have been placed along the edges of the ostensible tear, accentuating the divergence between the two halves and providing space to sit. Vertical sheets of corten steel frame the rest of the lawn.
The wide path that runs between the raised lawn and the perimeter, which is mainly formed by backyard fences, has been paved but otherwise left open. The only elements that were added along the path are a number of shrubs—magnolias, dogwoods, hawthorns and shadbushes—to connect the public lawn with the more private atmosphere of the gardens surrounding it. The entire Cloister Garden is lit fairly evenly by a small number of unpretentious eight-metre-high poles fitted with floodlights.
Landscape Architecture: Michael van Gessel
Location: Kloostertuin / Dordrecht / The Netherlands
Design & construction: 2006 – 2008
Client: Municipality of Dordrecht
In collaboration with Caspar Slijpen (landscape architect) and Francine van Kempen (technician)
Photos: Emilio Troncoso
Text: Michael van Gessel