The Hague Open Canals by MVRDV

Open Canals

MVRDV, together with local neighbourhood organisations, has presented a plan to the city of The Hague which proposes to reopen the city’s 17th-century canals, which were filled-in during the 20th century. The vision, produced by MVRDV as a pro-bono project in collaboration with the various residents’ collectives, aims to improve the sustainability, economy, traffic, and water management of the area.

In contrast to other Dutch cities, trade relying on the city’s central canal network was never the main focus of The Hague, which was founded as a government centre. Consequently many of the canals were filled between 1910 and 1970 and, part of the neighbourhood was almost demolished to make way for a motorway. In 2018, a neighbourhood initiative demanded the closure of two red light district streets, which the city agreed upon and, boosted by this success, the inhabitants set the next goal: to reopen the lost canals and boost the area both ecologically and economically.

One of the driving forces behind the vision is local resident Shireen Poyck, who united the various neighbourhood initiatives and stakeholders in the ‘Grachten Open’ (Canals Open) initiative and, in 2018, called on her neighbour, MVRDV Partner Jan Knikker, to participate. Based on a study of the historical canals by local firm BAU architects, MVRDV envisions the restoration of the main canals, and has drawn up plans for the minor canals which are either dead-ends or lost due to underground works or buildings.

Each of these canal stubs needs to function as an urban activator, with proposals including swimming canals, koi carp canals, and even a surf canal which would actively support the ambition of The Hague as a sport city. MVRDV’s vision combines the canals with the ‘Spinoza Power 2.0’ vision, which was created by the local community and includes a gastronomy route, the removal and renovation of the red light district streets, and a new market hall which replaces an underperforming parking garage.

Special attention has been given to challenges such as tram lines and other infrastructure erected on the spaces which used to be canals. Like many other Dutch cities, The Hague already has some experience in bringing back its canals, restoring a small piece of canal and transforming parking space into a combination of parking, open water, and gastronomy. But overspending on this project caused by a complex underground car-park encouraged MVRDV and the local community to keep their plans simple and realistic.

The Open Canal vision was drafted by local inhabitants and local businesses, supported by the Oude Centrum and Rond het Plein neighbourhood communities, businesses, SOS Den Haag and two major real estate owners in the area. It was generously supported by Grachten Open and Wijkorganisatie Oude Centrum and was presented in the city hall to alderman Boudewijn Revis. The Open Canal Vision is the third project in which MVRDV has participated on a non-profit basis with local communities. Source by MVRDV.

  • Location: The Hague, Netherlands
  • Architect: MVRDV
  • Partner in charge: Winy Maas, Jan Knikker
  • Design Team: Lisa Ulbrich, Gustavo van Staveren, Emilie Koch, Fedor Bron, Elien Deceuninck
  • Strategy and Development: Amanda Rooseboom, Miruna Dunu
  • Partners Advisor: Shireen Poyck Neighbourhood Organisations: Grachten Open / Buurtplatform Oude Centrum eo (Bob Willem van Hooft, Chris Schram, Jan Elsinga, Shireen Poyck); Wijkorganisatie
  • Visualisations: Kirill Emelianov
  • Year: 2019
  • Images: Courtesy of MVRDV

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