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Secret City Zootermeer
This gallery shows a selection of images from my latest Secret Cities project,  looking at the Dutch city of Zoetemeer,  as I compleate the shots I will upload them to this gallery,  so check back to see the latest images.

You can find out lots more about this project over at this Facebook Group.

This project was made in collaboration with curator and producer Andy Brydon from Curated Place.

And you can see other Secret City projects here.

Secret City  -  Zoetermeer

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"The company is NuMiCo now, but at heart we're still Nutricia."
                            Nutricia Employee, Zoetermeer, 2011

As the technologies of the industrial revolution swept across Europe during the latter half of the 19th Century, the young Martin van der Hagen realised that the new tools and techniques he found at his disposal presented remarkable opportunities for anyone willing to embrace the innovations of the post-steam age.

Though lacking any formal manufacturing qualifications the young entrepreneur invested in a series of innovative business ventures, seeing him plough his money into margarine, then a new invention that had travelled to the Netherlands from France, and shortly thereafter into the traditional dairy trade.  
Sadly the established competition in both arenas proved too strong and, with two factories under increasing financial strain, things did not look good for the young businessman.  However, thanks to his older brother Johannes, a medical doctor in the employ of the public health inspectorate, he was finally introduced to the key to his success - infant formula.  

On hearing of the Backhaus technique that allowed effective infant formula to be produced from cow's milk, Martin realised the potential for specialisation rather than fighting it out in the crowded traditional marketplace. Off-loading his Rotterdam factory and, amidst mysterious circumstances, seeing his Zwolle dairy burn to the ground, he moved his entire business operation to the edge of what was then Zegwaart in 1896.

Over the next century the company that became Nutricia grew from the Netherlands first ever commercial baby foods producer into a world-leader in medical dietary products.  Still embodying the idea of innovation and new technologies the Zoetermeer factory today houses automated production lines that are able to produce over one million bottles of dietetic food every day.

What set Nutricia apart from the other industries that passed through the city over generations was the investment the company made in the town - farms, livestock and housing were developed around the factory and remain to this day - but equally lasting was the company investment in the people.  Zoetermeer benefited from the increasing fortunes of the Van der Hagens seeing the fortunes of the company become so entwined with the city that the Nutricia sign overlooking the motorway became a marker for many of returning home.

However, now overshadowed by larger monuments of the 21st century and having become a wholly owned subsidiary of a multi-national food manufacturer, the position of Nutricia in the community is altering as it adapts to a new stage in its development - just as the city looks to forge new relationships as it too grows towards an unknown future.
City Hall
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From the top of the City Hall, looking down on Zoetermeer, a sense of order pervades.  The street layouts and the configurations of buildings all speak of their relationship to a plan, aching with a sensation of the designed, each district proudly announcing its roots in modernity.

From above, the growth of the town from fishing village, to farming polder, to imagineered 'new town' becomes apparent. Each architectural statement, each planned neighbourhood embodying the ambitions, optimism and anticipation of a generation dreaming of their future.  Not simply collections of homes but mechanisms within an ordered, complex living machine created to lead us, the citizens of the 20th century, into a utopian world

Those futures are now past dreams of days yet to come, but, as always, amidst the dreams reality insists on creeping in. Next to each vision of the future lies a quiet nod to the fact that our ability to create the utopias we long for, always seems out of reach.

Each shift in architectural style, each new manufactured neighbourhood, stands as a tacit admission that even amidst the careful planning and imposed order the happy endings our folk tales and childhood selves think of as essential to the life-well-lived remain frustratingly illusive.  

Yet, defiantly undeterred, Zoetermeer still strives for improvement, reaching out for this perfection as Oosterheem rises on the horizon
DE TIEN GEMEENTEN  -  The Watertower
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The flatness of the Dutch landscape could be considered a gift to architects.  Against a backdrop that only rarely presents natural geological features of any significant elevation the built environment has the chance to shine uninhibited.  

Amidst such a generous canvas, structures considered purely functional elsewhere have been afforded the opportunity to become iconic landmarks of the uncluttered horizon. A fact exploited to the fullest by the Dutch water companies who, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, constructed over 250 water towers throughout the country - structures that would become as much about ensuring the flow of fresh, clean water as they were about announcing each company's importance to the locale.

Rokkeveen Water Tower was no exception to this rule. Built by the Stichting Drinkwaterleiding De Tien Gemeenten on the fringes of Zoetermeer between 1927-28 the tower stood not only an important monument for the utility company, but declared the region ready to embrace the efficiencies of modernism and with it supply its residents with all of the luxuries promised by the maturation of the industrial age.

Sadly today it suffers the fate of so many of our rigidly purposed industrial relics. Retired as an integral part of essential infrastructure, there is a reluctance to spend stretched city resources on a grand monument that could be viewed as little more than an ornament.
Nevertheless, it stands as an anchor, a footprint of old Zoetermeer south of the A12, cementing the people of Rokkeveen to a shared history, memory and identity as Zoetermeerders, while local wildfowl make their roost atop the tower as we pontificate how to maintain the structures we no longer know what to do with, but somehow still need.
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"We've got a lot of bored youth out there looking for something to do.

We need more spaces where exploration, experimentation and even failure can be embraced.

Even when it kicks against some ideas of old Zoetermeer."

TRES1, Zoetermeer Graffiti Artist, 2011

Viewing Zoetermeer from afar it can appear as though the underground cultures that give so many cities their vitality are absent.

Throughout the city it is common to hear young people that have grown out of the geometrically planned parks yet not into a financial position to exploit the leisure spaces, talk of little other than their route out of the city. Believing Zoetermeer to hold no more surprises for them, many see the future exploration of their identities and their boundaries happening elsewhere. But as the 2030 city plan recognises - without the youth there is no future.

Scratch the surface though and of course there is a vibrant youth- culture operating in the city. Look hard enough and even under the watchful eye of a city that prides itself on its ability to regulate, creativity finds a way. Even in Zoetermeer there exists a 70m long graffiti wall, one sanctioned by the authorities to boot, yet it remains conspicuously out of sight.

Though often pilloried for being more of a destructive act of vandalism than a legitimate form of expression the history of Graffiti is a tale that documents the emergence of an art form during the same period of history as the architectural trends that shaped modern Zoetermeer. To the uninitiated it is widely assumed that the trajectory of graffiti trod a path diametrically opposed to the concepts and theories that saw Zoetermeer emerge as a city in its own right.

However, both began as highly experimental and radical activities that embraced new ideas freed from the strictures of orthodox thought, seeing both offer up the blank canvas of the urban environment as a place of endless possibility. As both grew in concept and in form, both became subject to a gamut of assumed practices and inherited rules - regulated fiercely from within by an increasingly conservative community.

Graffiti found itself being embraced by the established art-world at that moment when it found the maturity and confidence to break its self-imposed rules allowing it to explore new ground. Similarly today, Zoetermeer finds itself in a position where having established itself as a city it must now address the changing needs of the community in ways that may not fit the desires of all of its residents. Only through making those hard decisions can it continue to thrive in the future.
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"When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for our use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will look upon with praise and thanksgiving in their hearts."
                                    John Ruskin (1819-1900)

Nestled in the hills of the Buytenpark, far from the mountains and snow it simulates, the grandiose structure of SnowWorld stands proud at the fringes of Zoetermeer.  The concept of the self-contained experience - part ski village, part gym, part conference centre - successfully brought the mountain to the marsh, a little slice of the Alps transported to the lowlands in purpose, ambiance and even climate.

The first ever development of its type in Europe, and one positioned to reclaim its title as the largest, the remarkable 200 metre indoor snow slope stands as a monolithic statement declaring that when in Zoetermeer, anything is possible.
Nevertheless, though successful in putting at least a part of Zoetermeer on the map, SnowWorld, along with its sister leisure developments that make up the 'Big Five', have provoked their fair share of critics. Lambasted for being costly, unsustainable and insensitive to the surrounding environment they have become the focal point of an ongoing debate around the city - at its centre: where does Zoetermeer end and nature begin?  

Beneath the slopes of SnowWorld it seems, on first glance, that the sharp line between nature and man is unquestionably laid out. The greenery of the Buytenpark abruptly halts at the boundary of the man-made mountain. Yet, amidst this dramatic intrusion of our mechanised world,  nature has seemingly managed to reclaim a little of her space, as two horses make their home in a makeshift stable created by the elevated warehouse that ensures pristine piste year-round.

However, the horses themselves are seen by some as an invasive presence of man on nature - the wrong kind of horses, a domesticated, non-native species threatening the welfare of the natural Buytenpark where they have illicitly made their home.  The complexity of the situation only increases when one realises that the park is itself, in a sense, a simulation - a little piece of nature created for the people of Zoetermeer.

The question then would seem to be not one concerning the boundaries of nature and culture, but one that considers what kind of simulation is better for a city 'always on the grow'?  
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"The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand"
Italo Calvino
Known as one of the most charismatic monuments of old Zoetermeer De Hoop mill stands just off the Dorpstraat as a reminder of times past.
Though built in 1897 The Hope occupies a spot long associated with milling in the city - the current stone structure being built to replace an earlier wind and steam corn mill that stood in the same place from as early as 1631. The original wooden mill dramatically burnt to the ground in the early morning of January 16, 1897. It is said that the conflagration was so great that the flames could be seen from Lieden, where it was thought that the Zoetermeerders were having a celebration - the flour dust appearing to the distant onlookers like fireworks as it exploded in the twilight sky.
Although now a loved monument of the city The Hope hasn't always been respected as an elder statesman of the town. By 1936 the wind powered flour mills had been surpassed by industrialised wheat processing and, having suffered neglect for a number of years, it was necessary to remove the increasingly delapidated milling mechanisms from the building.
This left the building as little more than a faceless silo at the centre of the town. Yet, even when seemingly stripped of its identity somehow the mill survived. By embodying something of the identity of Zoetermeer it retained enough worth to the people to be preserved even amidst the dramatic changes that swept over Zoetermeer once it was decided to grow into a city.
It seems that every so often we find a relic of a previous age, a marker of our history that reminds us where we have come from. How we treat these relics, more often than not, gives some indication about where we are going. These buildings, the survivors, acquire the rips and darned patches that betray our inability to counter the forces of time, however, in doing so they take on a little of the personality, ambition and optimism of the circumstances they encounter. It is through these scars and imperfections that our buildings come to tell us complex stories that inform both a little about the character of those that have been there before us and record a little about our own.
Today the mill's pristine state is thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers who, having organised into a trust in the early 1980s, were able to raise the funds and develop the expertise to bring one of the true landmarks of Zoetermeer back to life. However, the mill is again under threat having fallen victim to the scythe of economic cuts sweeping across the Netherlands. Requiring over fourty thousand Euros to maintain and repair the delicate wooden mechanisms, but having lost its government subsidy, it seems The Hope is about to start another chapter in its recording of the history of Zoetermeer.
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"A city without cranes is like a tree with no leaves."

                                                                  Construction Worker, Zoetermeer, 2011

As a new town the growth of the population in Zoetermeer has always been a subject close to people's hearts.  The figures surrounding whom moved in, where and when always being both a tool for the city's development and a topic of conversation on everyone's lips.  Closely measured and monitored - plotted on graphs, charts and maps, the data behind the growth of the town plays an important role that both tells the story of the past and dictates the unfolding of the future.

In many ways these plans seek to achieve a top down view, taking it all in with a single glance to ensure that everything is balanced and running to order.  Yet, somehow the figures alone erase the emotional resonance of a place, leaving only numbers rather than stories that allow the city to grow into a character in its own right.

However, there does exist an ever-present culture within the modern city - hidden away yet always in plain sight - that in some way achieves this privileged view hidden in the peripheral vision of our lives-as-lived. In their tiny cabs, high above the city, the tower crane operators occupy a remarkable position in the landscape they help create.

Though always engaged in the complex ballet of constructing the new city they exist just out of people's minds, able to watch the drama of the every-day played out below without impacting upon it.  Getting to their level it becomes easy to spot the habits, routines and unconsciously enacted patterns that people fall into, thanks to the spaces they occupy.

At the top of these giant machines it is perhaps fitting that the enormous movement of the structures creates a constant sensation of being at sea.  Somehow the operators are travelling with the city into unknown waters, yet physically detached from the spaces below.  As a result they forge relationships over radio with other operators throughout the country, some visible on the horizon, who understand their peculiar heavenly viewpoint - being at once integral to the creation of the places they work, intimately attached to the communities they oversee, and yet powerless to intervene.
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"We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."
                                Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

At the meeting point of Zoetermeer and Zegwaart the Old Church has held a central position in the community for generations. With evidence of a religious building on the same site dating as far back as 1295, the Old Church can be seen as the place that physically and socially joined the twin villages of Zegwaart and Zoetermeer long before the official merging of the towns in 1935.

Initially built as a Catholic place of worship, uniting the Sweet Lake fisherman from the twin villages into a single parish, the church was claimed as protestant in 1574 following the liberation of Leiden and the subsequent reformation of the Dutch church.  

Following serious damage during a storm the top half of the tower was completely renovated in 1642, however, the remainder of the church building was allowed to fall into a state of significant disrepair - only being rebuilt in the Protestant style, separate from the tower, in 1787 (finally being joined in the 1960s).

For the Queridos, a Jewish family from Amsterdam, this unusual architectural quirk in Zoetermeer became their saving grace.  

Having fled Amsterdam in 1943, following a remarkable escape from Nazi internment, the young Jewish family found temporary solace in Bleiswijk.  After a second dramatic escape, seeing Mother Querido rescued from the fascists by the local resistance, the family fled to Zoetermeer to be taken in by the custodians of the church, Pieter Wieriks and his wife Sjaan.

While baby Umpie was simply taken into the family as their newest arrival, her parents were forced to be more inventive.  For her father, Joseph, it was decided that the best option was for him to take up the persona of a gravedigger, allowing him to hide in plain sight.   However, the idea of having a woman digging graves in the village would almost certainly have attracted unwanted attention, leaving Umpie's mother in the position of having to find a more secure hiding place.  

Though accessed from the tower the rafters behind the domed stucco church ceiling provided her with the ideal sanctuary.  There she saw out the war safely, hidden out of sight, never being discovered thanks to the separation of church and tower. Her survival is all the more remarkable as the German forces were literally on her doorstep throughout - utilising the Church tower as a strategic lookout throughout the war.
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"I regard the city as a semi-extinct form... I think the suburbs are more interesting than people will let on. In the suburbs you find uncentred lives... so that people have more freedom to explore their own imaginations, their own obsessions." 
 J. G. Ballard (1930-2009)
It is a peculiar fact of Zoetermeer that many residents of a certain age, even those that have lived in the city for decades, still qualify their status as Zoetermeerders by telling you where they moved from to settle in the city. In most cases the hometown mentioned is Den Haag.
Of course, to anyone that knows the history of Zoetermeer the connection isn't one that would surprise. Designated as an area of urban growth in 1962 the village saw expansion thrust upon it by the national government as it tackled the problems of the post-war inner cities. In Den Haag this meant wholesale demolition of enormous areas of outdated housing - the rubble from which became the underlying landfill that is today the Buytenpark providing Zoetermeer with a large piece of Den Haag in its foundations both physically as well as socially.
In Zoetermeer targets of growth were strictly planned around the new-town philosophy, seeing a city of 100,000 citizens envisioned, not simply as a dormitory suburb but as an independent, self-sustaining community. It was always planned that the city would develop its own infrastructure, community and identity separate from its larger neighbor, however, over the years it has become clear that the time it takes to build that identity is a lot longer than initially envisaged.
Although the 100,000 mark was reached in 1991 Zoetermeer was then still very much a city in the making and, as a result, many people who made the move to the town still worked, socialised and identified more strongly with its older neighbour. However, today twenty years on from its graduation to a true urban centre, those connections are slowly beginning to erode seeing the passage of time soften the hard edges of a constructed history to be replaced with a notion of place that lies more in the lived and local present than with an authority at the horizon of the past.
In many ways the hills that make up the Buytenpark tell the story of this connection and embody the changing relationship between Den Haag and Zoetermeer. Beneath these hills lies the rubble of the old inner-city, a little piece of the parent still visible at the edge lands of an adolescent town growing into its own character. Though still present with each passing year the nature around Zoetermeer takes a few small steps to erase the outlines of the ruins of Den Haag - allowing the landscape to take on a character all of its own - one that is unique, local, and wholly Zoetermeer.
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"Progress is nothing other than the breaking through a field where chance holds sway by creating new conditions more favourable to our purposes."
Guy Debord (1931-1994)

The south-eastern edge of Zoetermeer represents the business end of town. Physically separated by the Oostweg highway from the cultural, historical and residential areas of the city, the area is dominated by the high-efficiency, low-cost, rapidly-constructed faceless boxes that dominate the modern business landscape. On first impression it would be reasonable to assume there would be little of interest to uncover in such a sterile, ordered environment. But, even amongst the highly functional architecture it is still possible to find traces of the history that gives Zoetermeer its unique identity and continues to inform its perspective on the future - if only one is prepared to look.

Before promoting itself as a Leisure City Zoetermeer was famous for one thing - Butter. Surrounded by rich pasture and renowned for producing the finest milk, more than 50 producers of butter are known to have worked in and around the towns of Zoetermeer and Zegwaart well into the 20th century. As a result the area became known to many as Boterdorp.

However, a transformation began in 1878 when young Bernardus Brinkers started selling margarine in and around the town. Though Brinker's choice of business may sound innocuous today, for his contemporaries his trade was one that both upset and threatened the established economy of Zoetermeer. Margarine was an entirely new product produced by chemical means - viewed suspiciously by the traditional manufacturers of butter and one fiercely rejected by the community. Nevertheless, through a dedicated belief in innovation, Brinkers was able to build his distribution company at such a rate that by 1888 he was able to purchase part, then all, of 't Huis te Palensteyn - the dilapidated Palace farmhouse on the Dorpsstraat - to act as Brinkers' first warehouse and with it radically changed the centre of Zoetermeer forever.

Growing to become one of the biggest manufacturers and distributors in margarine, patissery and confectionary in Europe the company remained in family hands with operations handled from the centre of Zoetermeer for decades - only moving from the Dorpsstraat after 75 years into the purpose built factory on the Bleiswijkseweg. Now known as the Leeuwenbrink the building retains a little of its history by name but has been repurposed for the 21st century as an incubator for ICT companies.

Though much of the building currently remains empty its ambition retains a spirit of entrepreneurship and as such sits it firmly in the wake of innovators like Bernardus Brinkers. Unlike the presence of Brinkers that helped shape the centre of old Zoetermeer the building is now lost amidst the featureless units of the business park - occupying a location in a space where history and identity are purposefully erased in the name of efficiency. Nevertheless, in still standing at all it offers up a space where new, powerful identities have the chance to arise and continue a narrative of Zoetermeer rather than simply a narrative of the economy.
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"The city is a poem … but not a classical poem, not a poem centered on a subject. It is a poem which deploys the signifier, and it is this deployment which the semiology of the city must ultimately attempt to grasp and to make sing."
Roland Barthes (1915-1980)

A lone workman looks out over the final additions to Zoetermeer high up in the shell of a new tower block that, within a matter of mere months, will transform into someone's home. As the last piece of the puzzle slowly takes shape, Zoetermeer looks forward to welcoming its 'final' residents and forward to the city, at least in one sense, being complete.
For the old cities population milestones are often overlooked as just another addition in a future of unlimited growth, a mere detail in a much more sprawling and uncontained story. But in Zoetermeer the figure of 130,000 citizens stands like a self-imposed marker of maturity that, once passed, can allow the messy business of life to truly begin. The figure represents both an achievement of the ambition laid out almost half a century ago - to transform the village into a new urban centre for a brave new world - and the moment when Zoetermeer may offload the label of 'new-town' to simply being 'the city'.
Far from being an end, the completion of Oosterheem marks a very real beginning for Zoetermeer, the start of its adult life. A time when the city has the opportunity to turn its attention away from the business of expansion and back in upon itself to concentrate on something much more subtle - expression.
Secret City Zootermeer

Secret City Zootermeer

Secret City project, commissioned by the Stadsmuseum Zoetermeer, looking at the hidden places in the city.
Attribution, No DerivativesAttribution, No Derivatives