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Had the 19th century Dutch favoured Jerome Wenmaekers’ big idea over that of Cornelis Lely, their country would now look rather differently – and be quite a bit bigger. But in 1876 they rejected the former’s megalomaniacal land reclamation scheme, and in 1892 they adopted the latter’s less ambitious drainage plan. Lelystad now is the capital of Flevoland, the province reclaimed from the sea following Lely’s plan. In an alternate reality, Wenmaekersstad would have been the capital of a much larger administrative area, as Plan A also would have drained off all the water between Flevoland and the Wadden islands – areas Lely chose not to reclaim.
The Zuiderzee (i.e. ‘South Sea’) was the smaller, more obnoxious twin of the North Sea. Both bodies of water were created at the close of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, by the rising waters that flooded the plain between Britain and the Continent. An inland system of lakes (called Flevo by the Romans) eventally coalesced into the Zuiderzee, which would have been more manageable were it not for its direct connection to the wily North Sea. As a result of this connection, the unstable Zuiderzee was prone to flooding the surrounding low-lying, densely populated areas. A system of dikes and drainage by windmills kept the growth of the Zuiderzee in check, but massive flooding was a recurrent fact of life. As far back as the 17th century, the damming of the entire Zuiderzee was proposed as the only durable solution.
Damming – with the possible bonus of land reclamation – only became technically feasible in the 19th century, when at least half a dozen plans were proposed. The scale of the proposed project was so daunting that even with the approval of the Lely Plan in 1892, it took the Watersnood (’Great Flood’) of 1916 to propel the reluctant Dutch government into concrete action. It took them over 50 years (1921-1975) to finish the massive project.
Lely’s plan was followed almost to the letter. The Afsluitdijk (Closing Dike) was built to his specifications; dikes further out to sea, even between the Wadden islands, were considered but rejected by Lely as impractical and too expensive. The areas Lely designated for land reclamation contained clay deposits, which were more interesting for agriculture than the sandy soils in the areas that were to remain submerged. The land reclaimed in the Waddenzee also would not be suitable for agriculture.
In 1932, the Afsluitdijk was completed, and the name of the rump of the Zuiderzee officially changed into IJsselmeer (after the river IJssel). In 1934, the Noordwestpolder (’North West Polder’) was the first of four projected new dry land areas to be released for cultivation. The Noordwestpolder was later incorporated into the pre-existing province of Noord-Holland. The main new land areas (East and South Flevoland) were reclaimed in 1942 and 1957 respectively.
All of which resulted in the now-familiar Dutch coastline, instantly recognisable on any satellite map. How different the Netherlands would have looked like if Wenmaekers had had his way. But he hasn’t, and consequently has slipped into obscurity. Very little is known about him, except that he was a Belgian engineer, residing in Brussels. I have managed to retrieve two intriguing biographical snippets:
- In 1875, he proposed a project to build a railway tunnel under the English Channel to connect England and France, “according to [his] system of underwater construction, patented in France and England”. The proposal, in French, makes an appeal for venture capitalists to step in. We must assume that Wenmaekers’ Avis aux capitalistes didn’t generate enough funds for his visionary plan to go ahead, as the Channel Tunnel would remain un-dug for over a century.
- In 1893, Wenmaekers patented another invention in Belgium, which he submitted to the US Patent Office in 1896 for “certain new and useful Improvements in Erecting Buildings (…) for various purposes, (…) strong and durable, entirely fireproof, and very cheap when compared with buildings erected in the usual manner.” This invention, essentially a primitive, cumbersome version of prefab, wasn’t the breakthrough he was waiting for either.
Somewhere in between, he found the time to propose this scheme for the expansion of the Netherlands – and have it rejected.Wenmaekers’ plan was a maximalist one, eschewing an Afsluitdijk to reclaim land all the way to the Wadden islands of Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling and Ameland. These would be incorporated, two by two, into two larger islands, separated from each other and the mainland by straight and narrow canals, all still connected directly to the North Sea.
In the Zuiderzee, four more islands (with similarly narrow canals between them and the mainland) would be constructed. All of these would be divided in two main parts by a broader canal, entering the new lands south of Texel and abutting northeast of the former island of Urk. A slightly narrower canal would branch of halfway to connect it to Amsterdam.
At first sight, Mr Wenmaekers seems to have been one of those unfortunate, lone visionaries, too far ahead of their time. But his abortive proposals were probably not isolated cases. The late 19th century was a time of grand engineering projects, and thus a fertile breeding ground for multitudes of ideas, patents and proposals, some for grand projects that eventually came to be, many for projects that never left the drawing board. In spite of the world’s most famous palindrome – A man, a plan, a canal, Panama! – even the Panama Canal was the work of many men, and the result of many plans, most of which are now obscure footnotes to history…
Do you, like us, live somewhere other than Southern California? Then now’s the time to take advantage of all those spooky-cheap cross-country airfares, because Los Angeles Art Weekend is back. After a wildly successful launch year, L.A. Art Weekend’s 2009 incarnation kicks off Thursday with an impressive line-up of special events, public programs, and exhibitions that allow you to experience the best of L.A. art, architecture, design, and film communities in one action-packed four-day weekend.
Where to begin? On Thursday evening, artist Kehinde Wiley will be speaking at the Getty Center, perhaps providing insight into why the world can’t resist his Old Masters-meets-hoodie sweatshirts approach. Alternatively, as if you needed another reason to visit the local Taschen emporium, fashion designer and documentary subject Valentino will be on hand to sign copies of his new book Valentino: A Grand Italian Epic (should you need to make small talk, focus on pugs rather than our friend Alessandra Facchinetti, recently deposed designer at the house of V). The fun continues well into the night with an L.A. Art Weekend kickoff bash at the Hollywood Standard (watch out for chlorine clouds!) featuring a Mike Mills book signing and a post-Punk soundtrack by DJ Michael Stock of Part Time Punks fame. And that’s just Thursday. Click here for the full schedule. And remember, whoever consumes the most culture wins.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media
Our favorite flight tracking application just went pro and integrated with our favorite travel management service—a harmonious union that keeps us organized and saves us time. FlightTrack Pro syncs up with Tripit itineraries, keeping users in the know about gate changes, delays, cancellations and current weather conditions with its elegantly designed interface that displays details and maps. In addition, an offline mode affords viewing up-to-date information at 30,000 feet, keeping passengers informed even when already en route.
FlightTrack Pro is available through iTunes for $10.
YouTube is taking a Hulu approach to its imminent redesign. Uttering that sentence a mere five years ago would have earned you some strange looks and possibly a tight-fitting strappy jacket (YouTube? Hulu? Is it time for your medication?), but now it all makes perfect sense, even the part about Hulu being run by aliens who feast on tender human brains. Look for YouTube to soon scrap its current navigation scheme—divided into sections for videos, channels, and community—in favor of a layout that highlights YouTube’s premium content as distinct from the user-generated videos that made the site a household name and a Google acquisition target.
The new design will offer four tabs: Movies, Music, Shows, and Videos. The first three tabs will display premium shows, clips, and movies from Google’s network and studio partners, all of which will be monetized with in-stream advertising. Meanwhile the Videos channel will house amateur and semi-pro content of the sort major brand advertisers have shied away from.
The Hulu-ness comes in with the redesigned YouTube video player interface, which will display designate scheduled ads with visual markers and allow users to reduce the brightness of their screens outside of the video frame. “It’s totally a Hulu approach, but that’s best practices right now,” an exec familiar with Google’s YouTube plans told ClickZ.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media
by Paolo Ferrarini of Future Concept Lab
The Triennale Design Museum in Milan is a dynamic museum, conceived to be renewed with different themes and offering visitors unusual views, standpoints and trails. After answering the question “what is Italian design?” with the exhibit “The Seven Obsessions Of Italian Design,” the museum’s new show, “Serie e Fuori Serie,” presents a new look at Italian design that focuses on the cycles of design.
Directed by Silvana Annicchiarico and under the scientific direction of Andrea Branzi, this year’s interpretation illustrates the contemporary scene of Italian design, looking at experimental research to get to mass markets, using handicraft materials as well as sophisticated technology and how start-up companies get to the big global corporations. The name, Serie e Fuori Serie, stands for the extremes of the loop in which the most advanced, independent experimentation and research fuels industrial production and vice-versa. The latter cycle includes the custom-built prototype or the one-off piece.
Divided into broad theme areas, large mass productions, small mass productions and experimental and research design (eco-design, research prototypes, technological research, expressive research, superior craftsmanship, special pieces and custom-built pieces), the installation makes the concept clear with every detail perfectly underlined, thanks to the work of Antonio Citterio and Partners and the graphics by Studio FM. (Pictured above right “16 animali” from Enzo Mari and on the left “Tre Bok” from Gabriele De Vecchi)
The result is an impressive collection of big and small pieces, from the Alessi nutcracker to a very rare Ferrari prototype (pictured right).
From the award-winning restaurant design team Avroko comes an equally adept collection of “uniforms” for the playful womenswear label Mona & Holly. Muddling the lines between service and fashion, Avroko’s recent endeavor was inspired by the modest nurse attire from the 1900s and the glamorous steward outfits of the ’50s, resulting in a collection of beautifully detailed, elegant apparel.
The limited edition line will be worn by the hostesses at Avroko’s NYC restaurants Double Crown and Public, and will also be available for mainstream purchase at select boutiques in New York, Chicago and Dallas beginning next month. Already addressing architectural projects from top to bottom, the design studio’s transition into fashion only further expands their creative scope.
Mona & Holly provide a great balance to the concept with their natural affinity for retro-inspired designs full of whimsy and femininity.