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Polder motives & cultural resonance in landscaping by Bruno vd Elshout

Our new ´Talking Cityzen´ is Bruno van den Elshout. He travelled all 27 member states of the European Union to discover and describe the national mindset of each country. Bruno van den Elshout: Thinking of Holland, I see broad rivers, moving slowly through endless lowlands. These are the first lines from the famous poetic ode Remembrance of Holland, written by Hendrik Marsman in 1936. Add 2 500 kilometers of motorways to this poem and you'll get an impression of what The Netherlands look like, 75 years down the line.

Used by well over 4 million people per day, the motorway network is home to more inhabitants than any Dutch city. Observe the lay-out of a country's motorways the behaviour of its users, and you'll catch an incredibly accurate and condensed reflection of a country's mindset. This holds true for any country on earth, but even more so for the Netherlands and the pride it takes in its creatability ideal: the conviction that land - or anything - can be created into existence. Which the Dutch themselves have proved true by reclaiming up to an entire province (Flevoland) from the sea.


Crossing the Belgian border on the motorway is a small sensation to any righteous Dutch(wo)men, especially on the way back into The Netherlands. A small bump in the tarmac marks the difference between vaguely abroad and definitely at home. The abundance of well-groomed blue signposting along and above the road adds saturation to any other colour within view range. Grass looks greener. Farms seem to be made of bricks that just seem a little redder than their Belgian counterparts. Trees are planted at equal distances from one another, plots of land are clearly marked, raked and fenced.

Every piece of the Dutch landscape serves a distinct purpose in the scheme of things, and has been carefully prepared, labelled and fenced accordingly. Symptoms of strongly guided spontaneity; evidence of the perpetual attempt to manage the chaos of dense matter.


And just like views from motorways, the motorways themselves and all the attributes that are part of their ecosystems reveal the same preoccupation with conscientious resource planning: sound barriers, eco-, aqua- and viaducts, dikes, bridges, intersections, traffic signs, car types, road assistance devices, traffic signs and fonts, matrix displays, lines, reflectors, traffic barriers, rush hour carriageways, measuring systems, light posts, car types, petrol stations, safe havens, emergency strips, sewage systems, rest places, exits, advertisements. All largely standardised per country, and similar yet distinctly different between countries.

Like Marsman's wide rivers, Dutch motorways meander along, over, right through and underneath modern and traditional Dutch land- cloud- and cityscapes. Their routes are the visual evidence of fiercely fought compromises between inhabitants, authorities, politicians, companies, varieties of pressure and peer groups and restrictions imposed by unstable soil. Their elegance roots in a strong sense for functional design, combined with an innate drive to push the boundaries of technology, challenging natural circumstances of all varieties.

And that's what the Dutch dream is about: becoming masters of fate. Against all odds.

About the author

Foto Bruno

Dutch photographer and useful concept developer Bruno van den Elshout (1979, The Hague - NL) travelled all 27 member states of the European Union to discover and describe the national mindset of each country. Van den Elshout is currently assembling a Toolkit for an Interconnected Europe, which will contain multi-medial resources to promote cross-cultural curiosity. Ingredients: a book, photo exhibition, educational games - up until physical wall paper and complete event organisation.

Van den Elshout's photo exhibition Polder motives, about the integration of motorways in the Dutch landscape, are currently on display at Naamplaat Signposting BV in Zwijndrecht - NL. Parallel to this exhibition, Van den Elshout is co-initiating a crowd-sourced project to photographically map all of Europe's motorways. Should you want to get involved with this initiative, please send an e-mail.

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