Art Zaaijer, architect and urban development supervisor of De Uithof:
Architect Art Zaaijer has been engaged in the urban development of De Uithof for twenty years now. The wide polder (drained marshes) landscape to the east of the city of Utrecht was rather dismal in 1988. “It was really dreadful, a no-go area in which some concrete boxes from the 1960s had been arranged in a random pattern. People worked in isolation, in an atmosphere of emptiness.”
De Uithof presented quite a challenge to the young designer that Art Zaaijer was at that time. Together with Utrecht University he developed a master plan for this vast area, initially as project leader for Rem Koolhaas and since 1992 as director of his own architectural firm. “We wanted to avoid covering the entire Uithof with buildings. Instead, we wanted to create coherence, to bring people closer together and to leave the landscape intact as much as possible”.
Using these basic principles, the idea arose of concentrated building in three main clusters: the central area along the Heidelberglaan, the science cluster to the north-west and the biomedical cluster along the eastern edge of the area. Within these stringent boundaries, compact buildings were erected, some designed by world-famous architects.
Interaction and vivacity
After twenty years, Art Zaaijer can say that the development of De Uithof progresses successfully. Large institutes, such as Utrecht University, Hogeschool Utrecht and the University Medical Center Utrecht benefit from being located in the same area, as this produces interaction and liveliness. De Uithof experiences intense growth, students like living at De Uithof and slowly but surely the level of facilities is reaching an acceptable level. “It is starting to work.”
The decision to establish the new university library at De Uithof rather than in the city centre, was a genuine breakthrough. “I jumped for joy! The library is a fine architectural building, which has accelerated the development of the public space. Recently, I heard someone say: ‘How beautiful De Uithof has become.’ Who would have dared to think that twenty years ago?”
A tram line, ever?
Zaaijer knows that De Uithof will not be finished in another twenty years. “At the moment, we focus on rearranging the public space. The southern part is being returned to its rural condition and we are drawing up a plan for improving the area near the botanical gardens. The most important improvement however, will be the construction of a tram line, one day.”