Holland’s Former Defensive Works Turned Into Playgrounds

The Netherlands is home to one of Europe’s great cultures, but it could also be called the world’s most successful civil engineering project. Being situated partially below sea level, the Dutch became master hydraulic engineers, creating vast tracts of arable land out of tidal marshes and building elaborate defense mechanisms to flood parts of the land as a barrier against its two belligerent neighbors, France and Germany.

In today’s less-warlike, NATO-protected times, the remains of these defensive engineering marvels are being given new, more peaceful lives via adaptive reuse. In two separate projects — Fort “Werk aan’t Spoel” near Culemborg and Pavilion Puur on the outskirts of Amsterdam — Dutch architects have transformed former military strongholds into parks and green spaces where people can relax and have picnics.

The old Fort "Werk aan 't Spoel" now transformed for picnickers. Image by Rob 't Hart via Rietveld Landscape.

The old Fort “Werk aan ‘t Spoel” now transformed for picnickers. Image by Rob ‘t Hart via Rietveld Landscape.

Fort Werk aan’t Spoel was already a national monument long before it was repurposed by design firms Rietveld Landscape and Atelier de Lyon. Since 1794, the earthworks have been remnants of the New Dutch Waterline, an 18th century military defense mechanism consisting of locks, dikes and trenches that could be inundated to halt advancing armies. After becoming obsolete well before World War II, most of the system was dismantled, but some sites, such as this fort along the Lek River dike, are being preserved as recreation areas.

Site plan of Fort "Werk aan 't Spoel," showing flooded channels. Image by Rob 't Hart via Rietveld Landscape.

Site plan of Fort “Werk aan ‘t Spoel,” showing flooded channels. Image via Rietveld Landscape.

Today, the dominant feature is the grassy, terraced amphitheater created in between the concrete-reinforced bunkers. Some of the bomb-proof structures emerge from the soil in their original state, but most of the grounds are coated in a thick carpet of green. Tourists are served at a newly built wooden fort house, which includes a café.

Some of the original buildings and bunkers at Fort "Werk aan 't Spoel" are preserved in the new recreation area. Image by Rob 't Hart via Rietveld Landscape.

Some of the original buildings and bunkers at Fort “Werk aan ‘t Spoel” are preserved in the new recreation area. Image by Rob ‘t Hart via Rietveld Landscape.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.