Assignment: design based research Gouwe Node – RZG Zuidplaspolder
Client: Province Zuid Holland, project office Driehoek RZG Zuidplas
Design: Monolab, team: J.W. van Kuilenburg with S. Fernandes, A. Hassouri, N. Haim, B. Heijnen
Traffic engineering: Goudappel Coffeng
Year: 2005


…an enormous treasure of programmable islands


The RZG area (triangular Zuidplaspolder between Rotterdam-Zoetermeer-Gouda) is the lowest polder area in Holland at minus 6-meter below sea level. The local government decision to keep pumping seepage from this low land, makes in into a valuable area. It will be redeveloped as part of the South Wing of the Randstad by a suburban spread with a respectful integration of soil, polder landscape, water and vegetation. Because of underground soil conditions the area is roughly divided into three parts, in the north stable clay, in the south low unstable peat and the ‘water pearl’ an area in-between the north and south zones settled on ‘kattenklei’, a rare clay mixture that filters seepage to crystal clear water. Monolab researched the urban development of the central area with the infrastructural Gouwe Node and two stations. The impact of air pollution contours with NOx, fine dust and also noise along infrastructural bundles is currently impossible to handle as a design issue, it results in European ‘political fog’. We are proposing emission corridors therefore, reserving 60-meter wide zones around highways, to be developed by the next generation.


At this moment the RZG planning operation (30.000 houses, 500 ha business program and 200 ha greenhouses) is the biggest in Holland. In operations like these, supervisors plan by using big arrows, symbols and big colored spots on the map. The RZG soil and landscape however are made with original and for all small scale ‘carriers’. The risk of erasing this contextual layer made us resist in a positive way. We integrated this fine tuned layer as foundation in our design.
Our position was defined by two issues:
1. we consider RZG not land cut by waterways, but inverted, as water covered with an enormous treasure of programmable islands.
This island layout, the original ‘DNA’ or ‘fingerprint’ of this reclaimed and drained landscape is our instrument for an exact, fine tuned, contextual and structural carrier of spatial planning.
2. we consider the large scale infra in RZG not restrictive, but contrary as a generator for development.
This makes our design productive from two outer ends at the same time. Bottom-up by landscape-triggered urbanism with the fine-tuned island structure and its high potential for variable programming. Top-down by developing large scale ‘infra-pockets’ and ‘multi layer nodes’ within the framework of highways and rail systems.


We took the original island structure and water system from 1850 seriously. Each island measures 385 by 34 meter, with an enlarged 6 meter wide zone of water around. This enlargement of the water surface is a necessity if we urbanise and mineralize the former landscape floor. The programming of the islands leads to many scales and variations in urban layouts, from small scale per single island to large scale per clusters of islands, from romantic to business-like, from natural to synthetic. We developed a toolbox, testing the physical as well as the programmatical capacities of islands. The toolbox as instrument leads to a variety of urban layouts.


The layouts are made of four categories: residential program, commercial program, public program, and recreation & landscape. By our toolbox we generated four basic layouts with two extremes: ‘classic’ (traditional city blocks as residential clusters with an edge of service program) and ‘freedom’ (a free mixture of individually programmed islands). In-between we designed the layouts ‘barcodes’ (strips of program in east-west orientation) and ‘flow’ (a meandering river or delta of service program in big fields of housing). The adoption of the barcode layout as main principle makes sense. The layout of original occupation patterns in RZG has a linear orthogonal character with its original north south roads and east west canals. The barcodes make this distinction respectively as well between north-south (maximum programmatic variety) and east-west (maximum programmatic use).


Within the central infrastructural area we defined five enclaves, completely surrounded by heavy infra and too small to adopt the island layout. Large scale urbanism is unavoidable here. We propose heavy programming by a leisure center, business program, recreation, commerce, distribution and residential program. Defined as infra pockets these can be compared to small scale ‘La defenses’: lifted decks with infra below and urban program on top. Programs can switch between these two spheres. Highway bundles will be bridged by the decks, forming envelopes around the emission corridors. Electrostatic filter systems will control emission.


Two stations are planned: the west Doelwijk Station at the nodal point of canal, local road and bundled train- and metro system, the other east Westergouwe Station in the east tip of one of the infra-pockets, in the split of rail tracks.


In several locations we deliberately concentrated national infra, local infra and waterways in points, to generate stacked nodes. These points are keys to read and understand the RZG area. To boost our notion of RZG we propose to apply ‘transparent’ infra by using steel grills as bridging road decks. In this way we can clearly display the original soil materials, techniques and layouts this land is made with.