Dirk Sijmons: Urban by Nature


We are living in the Anthropocene, whether we like it or not. We can only go forward, and we have to find the best ways of making progress.

We might be living in a new geological era defined by man-made ecological crisis, but Dirk Sijmons remains an optimist. In fact, the Dutch landscape architect sees solutions in what is commonly perceived as the very source of our planet’s woes: cities.

“If we are to resolve the world’s ecological problems we first need to resolve the problems facing our cities” he proposed in 2013. To Sijmons, the city is inseparable from nature. “Perhaps we humans are ‘by nature’ inclined to live together in expanding settlements – perhaps we are urban by nature.”

2050 - An Energetic Odyssey (Source)

Keynote Dirk Sijmons brings a decidedly Dutch perspective to the World Design Summit in Montreal. After studying architecture and environmental planning at the Technical University of Delft he worked at several government ministries before heading the Landscape Architecture Department of the Netherlands State Forestry Service. He was appointed as the first State Landscape Architect of the Netherlands from 2004 to 2008 and received the prestigious Edgar Doncker award for his contribution to Dutch culture.

Indeed, his contributions to the landscape, including water locks and dikes, define the Netherlands as much as windmills of decades past. In addition to serving on several boards, Sijmons currently acts as Senior Advisor to H+N+S Landscape Architects, of which he is a founder. His most recent book, Landscape and Energy (2014) explores the design challenges brought by the necessary shift to renewable energy.

National Military Museum by H+N+S Landscape Architects (Source)

In the Anthropocene we realize that city and nature overlap spatially and impact each other functionally. For spatial designers, this is a uniquely challenging situation. What opportunities do these new hybrid forms present for organizing the urban landscape in an appealing and livable way? What new terminology can we use to discuss the city in the Anthropocene? What are the prospects for action for planners, nature conservationists, landscape architects, and urban designers?

Sijmons pursued these questions as curator of the 2014 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam with the theme “Urban by Nature.” The festival partnered with the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and the City of Rotterdam to showcase not just the latest architectural achievements but also present research for long-term solutions. Though grounded in Dutch design, “Urban by Nature” incited global discussion in landscape architecture.

Opening of the 2014 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (Source)

A landscape architect is trained not to look at an area as natural or artificial, but as both at the same time, as two images that slide on top of one another and together tell a more complete story.

Sijmon’s achievements impart this perspective on all design disciplines as well as policy. The World Design Summit is honored to host him at the Congress this October in Montreal.