Binckhorst: genuine ambition or hysterical impression?

impression park - oma and others

OMA, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, recently [ in 2008]  presented a vision for the regeneration of the Hague industrial area known as Binckhorst. A public debate, at which the municipal authorities – and OMA – were conspicuous by their absence, revealed that not everyone was equally enthusiastic.

Artist impressions dominated the debate. As columnist Julius Pasgeld put it in his trenchant article: ‘In the revamped Binckhorst the buildings are all a transparent grey, it’s always spring and the workers take a day-long lunch break.’ He thus went straight to the heart of the matter. There is no suggestion of a masterplan in the classic sense. What is actually waiting for approval by the Hague city council are a series of towering ambitions, artist impressions, a simple zoning model, a PPS development company and a colossal square-metre package still to be realized.

It is definitely a sound idea to seek to develop Binckhorst. The area is very close to the Hague’s historic city centre. Improving public transport access should be simple and the construction of the Trekvliet-trace – a tunnel facilitating the connection between the highway and this area – will ensure easy access by car. All this makes developing Binckhorst a much more logical choice than, for instance, focusing on Scheveningen.

Binckhorst has always been a repository for programmes that were not welcome elsewhere in the city. Currently Binckhorst is the domain for industry, car dealers, demolition contractors, dismantling firms, cement factories, refuse dumps and an asphalt plant. Binckhorst is also home to many other programmes such as offices – some of which have been empty for 15 years – a graveyard, a castle and many immigrant churches. And inhabitants? They hardly exist. The entire area only counts 120 subsidized rental dwellings, making this a unique district for The Hague. Indeed two years ago the art and architecture centre Stroom celebrated it in the event Binck!.

OMA is responsible for the masterplan and the artist impressions [ they later stated they were done by another firm]. Binckhorst is to be divided over 3 zones, each with its own identity. The northern part of Binckhorst will have a pronounced urban character and, given its easy accessibility, the thrust is large buildings, a number of ground levels, tall towers and a mix of offices and dwellings. In the images of this area reference is made to New York residential densities and unbuilt super skyscrapers. A brand new park is to be constructed running straight across Binckhorst from west to east. Not a park with the customary Hague – at least according to OMA – visual greenery, but an urban park with the potential for many intensive activities. The southern part of Binckhorst links up with the adjacent districts and is the most standard part of the plan. A semi-urban domain attracting slightly-above-average earners – the Amsterdam Borneo Sporenburg type for instance.

But the vision has nothing whatsoever to say about the existing identity as unique mishmash urban fringe, where everything is possible – and almost anything goes. Even less about the area’s unique buildings and how these are to be incorporated into the masterplan. It offers instead extremely global statements about the live-work concept. It is also oozing with the belief in the creative city. And as with all other plans for The Hague – indeed in the whole of the Netherlands – the creative sector is the magic word. So only social housing for artists and students in Binckhorst too. The inescapable question is: how plausible is that? And surely a highly urban environment benefits by a mix of higher and lower income brackets?

What the plans lack are programmes for substantiating the ambitions. OMA uses artist impressions – some of which border on the hysterical – to provide a number of opening moves that are entirely devoid of imagination. A large pop festival in the park? Ever heard of Parkpop in the Zuiderpark? A beach on the Trekvliet? Ever heard of the beach between Kijkduin and Scheveningen? There is a complete absence of concrete and realistic programmes to substantiate the creative city in Binckhorst. The only guideline in the documents are the square metres of remaining amenities that the city wants to add to the area. About which – as about sport and religion for that matter – there are no further specific pronouncements. The council will wait for market initiatives to fulfill these square meters.

There is a huge discrepancy between the local council’s cultural ambition and the actual driving force in the vision. Unfortunately there was no one from the council to elucidate the plans. The councillor had forbidden any form of involvement with the discussion evening. Large-scale investment is not only needed to buy-out the industry in Binckhorst. To create the lively urban neighbourhood that the council has in mind requires more than simply making available squat-free spaces for artists in the meantime. The setting up of the PPS development company should go hand-in-hand with the start of a 1% regulation or a Binckhorst Culture Fund that can subsidize new initiatives in the area. Then it might just be possible – as Julius Pasgeld put it when expressing the local council’s ambitions – that in 20 years time The Hague will be able to hold its own against such cities as Tokyo, New York, Sydney and Buenos Aires.

Post Scriptum:

In the meantime the Hague city council has approved the future vision for Binckhorst. The most ‘striking’ amendment to the vision is the Hague Stadspartij’s motion to realize a skateboard hall in Binckhorst. A motion supported by all parties.

published 23/6/2009