PLEIN06: The City's Dream Maker
ANTOINETTE STAS | PHOTOGRAPHY:
Urban designer and landscape architecture studio, plein06, is situated on the first floor of the Groot Handelsgebouw. A perfect spot, according to founders Robbert Jan van der Veen and Koen de Boo, since they have the best view of Stationsplein. In their view, a square is the place where everything comes together.
During his studies at TU Delft, Van der Veen already knew that he wanted to go the entrepreneurial path: “Because of the drive to discover and figure everything out for myself. Koen and I were convinced that urban designing could be done better and wanted to change the way it was done. We didn’t want to limit it to just the two of us. Our studio would operate as a network or a collective business, with greater access to specialization, talent, knowledge and skills than your average urban designer. That’s also the reason we didn’t name our agency ‘De Boo & Van der Veen’, for example. plein06 is now twenty people strong.”
“The name captures our way of working and the year we began,” explains De Boo. “The square is a place of activity and interaction; where people engage and connection begins.” Van der Veen: “There should be room for differences. Interaction and collaboration between businesses leads to inspiration and innovation.”
plein06 operates at the cutting edge of urban design, landscaping, architecture and planning. “We have an open way of working and make use of studios to facilitate this,” De Boo tells us. “For each project, we put together a team that includes the client to investigate all possible perspectives.”
Working for the city
“We began plein06 by researching projects for the university,” says Van der Veen. “We went on to make designs and formulate visions that we wanted to see take shape. Our team now focuses on complex inner-city developments and outdoor spaces throughout the Netherlands, especially in the metropolitan area. With an integrated approach, we deliver smart and feasible solutions.”
De Boo adds: “We turn dreams into designs – getting people involved by portraying separate ideas under a clear vision. We have various clients, but we like to think that we work for the city as a whole. We aspire to create sustainable, inspiring places that bring together multiple functions, buildings and target groups; layers upon layers that blend together.”
The Next Steps
“With the layered approach, you consider landscape, buildings, infrastructure and connections,” explains Van der Veen. “That results in a location-specific vision in which we illustrate the potential for an area 30 years from now.” De Boo elaborates: “We show our vision for the city and the steps necessary to get there. Take Rotterdam Central District: the decision to completely rebuild Central Station and its surroundings was made in the mid-nineties. The new station and its square have turned out beautifully. Now it’s time for the next steps.”
They couldn’t agree more on this. It’s time for a new dream with contemporary themes: making gray city surfaces greener and taking measures to counter the increasingly extreme climate. But it’s not only about creating dreams: plein06 is part of the Climate Team, researching how best to achieve a climate-adaptive Rotterdam Central District.
“Projects like these are great opportunities,” tells Van der Veen. “Adding greenery to rooftops enhances the ecology within the city and buffers rainwater in a natural way. A great example of finding the silver lining in every cloud.”
De Boo emphasizes the importance of the rooftop level: “It can become a pleasant living space: a collective rooftop accessible to the public with, for example, a rooftop café or a park for children to play. Improved quality of life in an increasingly busy city is in everyone’s interest. Connecting green rooftops is a big step in the right direction. That’s our vision for the Wijnhaven area in Rotterdam. There is little greenery at the ground level. By turning to the rooftop landscape, public spaces similar to courtyards become possible, allowing different groups of people to meet and interact. Then the question arises: ‘And where do you put the solar panels?’ In this context, you have to think big and relocate solar panels to – for example – the Maasvlakte. To find new solutions, you often have to go above and beyond.”
A great time
Van der Veen smiles: “This is a great time for urban designers because there are plenty of challenges. Actually, we’re loving it! In every development, you have to consider social dimensions such as climate adaptation, the energy transition and social inclusion. How can you ensure continued interaction between different communities in the city? After all, a city’s people give it color. To meet the demand for housing, you need to build homes both for buying and renting. The question is where. There used to be sufficient space, but now the focus lies on densifying the city center. So, you have to consider building in the port, industrial areas and even along the railway.”
The plein06 approach is driven by expertise. The LDE Cities Hub university program plays an important role. Leiden University, TU Delft and Erasmus University Rotterdam put together this program to research spatial and social aspects of neighborhoods built in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “The insights generated form the foundation of our visions for the city,” according to Van der Veen. “You can’t change the system without insight into the complexity of doing so,” proclaims De Boo.
Both urban designers describe a wide range of projects in which plein06 is involved, like redesigning the Esplanade grounds for events in Almere. “We contributed to the plans for a pleasant space with greenery, interaction and water collection rather than a cold, desolate, concrete area. In the spatial exploration of the Central Innovation District in The Hague, plein06 is outlining the contours for future projects to achieve a new area connecting the train stations The Hague Central, Holland Spoor and Laan van NOI. In the Katendrecht Design District, we worked for the Rotterdam Municipality and project developers, connecting creativity with design and allowing social aspects and craftsmanship to come together. And we’re not only active in the Netherlands, but also abroad in places such as the Baltic countries.”
plein06 likes to supervise projects to guarantee a high standard of quality. “We’d like to continue directing projects in order to realize our vision and do justice to the entire area,” shares Van der Veen. For the future, these gentlemen have a three-year plan. “Our heads are turned to the horizon. We focus on high-profile projects in the Netherlands and are always looking across the border to see where else we can make great dreams come true.”