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rickrolled & oudolfed

As a jury member of the BNA Best Building of the Year, I took a three-day bus tour along a variety of submissions last week. After all, you cannot judge a building by photos alone; there is a good chance then that the prize will not go to the best building, but to the building best photographed.

When you visit about twenty buildings in a short time, trends stand out. It is striking for example that many basic residential edifices are furnished with distinct, often expensive and carefully designed interiors; from Japanese minimalist to true stylistic retail jungles. The interior as a mirror of our personality and ambitions?

But the greatest common denominator was the ‘wild’ garden inspired by landscape starchitect Piet Oudolf. Reluctantly, Oudolf became known to the general public with the High Line in New York, a kilometer-long city park on an elevated former train line along the water of the Hudson. A careful mix of sturdy, loosely placed vegetation with different structures, colors and bloom forms gives the image of a wild garden. But in the meantime, the entirety has been carefully staged. We found such a garden accompanying almost all buildings visited. In the form of beds in front of the door, as spacious round borders on the forecourt or on inner-city roof gardens. Sometimes also in a harmonious interplay between a small building and a generous garden around it.

The effect of an Oudolf incarnation over and over again was almost comical. It reminded me of the Rickrolled Internet meme from a while back. While clicking, unsuspecting web visitors were frequently caught by surprise by the eighties song Never gonna give you up by the English one-hit wonder Rick Astley. Often accompanied by the statement ‘You've been Rickrolled!’

Rickrolling was an ode to bad taste. Being Oudolfed seems to want to show good taste. Or is it mainly a portrait of our time, in which a neat interior inside is combined with the wild nature outside? Above all, an Oudolf-like garden is very Dutch, with the idea of wild, yet carefully planned, composed and cultivated.

Ronald Schleurholts, architect partner cepezed

Cobouw, September 9th, 2020

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