Lunchtimes with Architects: Hans Oerlemans

“I’m from the Netherlands. I grew up in a small village of 500 people, but went to school in the next village, which was 2000 people, and only 2km away. One village can see the other one. So it’s very close. And then I went to high school in the next city, which was only 12km away, cycling that everyday.”

Professionally, Landscape Architect with partly urban design in my studies and then through work did a lot of urban design.” Explained Hans. “If you talk about landscape architecture in the Netherlands you’re talking about something completely different than here. Here landscape architects are the people who are designing public spaces, and filling in the green along the highway. And in Holland that is not that anymore. That was maybe 30 years ago, but now landscape architects are quite often leading the way in how urban development is going, before planners.”

“In the Netherlands, there’s a lot of attention for all the space outside of the city. For instance, sprawl, on a scale like it happens here, and that even sprawl can pop up anywhere in farmland, is unthinkable in Holland! That is absolutely not possible! There’s a huge value of the landscape!” Exclaimed Hans. “Those landscapes are recreationally used. So they’re farmlands first of all, but people from the city centre, villages, and the towns, they cycle through those landscapes, they drive through those landscapes, they walk through those landscapes, as in a way a huge national park…they’re valued because of that. People feel a cultural connection with those landscapes. And they’re valued in such a way that when cities expand with greenfield developments, that straight away leads to huge protests by the community that they don’t want the landscape to be consumed by these new greenfield developments.”

It was interesting to listen to Hans talk about the spaces outside of the city to be used so regularly. Those landscapes outside of the city could also be considered to be public space, and this intense value of those landscapes was one of the major factors that allowed city centres to flourish with urban vitality.

“People feel a cultural connection with those landscapes…they don’t want the landscape to be consumed by these new greenfield developments.”

“Until the 70s, concentrated greenfield development was national policy in Holland. But in the early 80s, the national government said, ‘no, that’s not working, it gives too many disadvantages. We need to go back to compact cities, revaluing the cities’. That was already a mentality going on in the public, like squatters and artists moving in to city quarters, immigrants were still living in those areas because they were the cheapest housing. All those kinds of things. So it wasn’t just a governmental decision. It was part of an influence going on. And that was then in a way, supported by that resistance against building into the country, building into the landscape. So its kind of a natural progression of how that went.” 

“Revaluing the cities included upgrading its public space. That was in a way a natural development in that too, because the city centres were still used as the shopping centres. People always went to the city to do their shopping, go to the market and experienced urban liveliness on the streets and squares. Outdoor markets are a big thing in Holland. In every city you have a market at least once a week.”

City centres in Holland are the centres of urban life. They are places to socialise and have different experiences. “So your mentality is, on a Saturday, ‘I’m going into town’, which means you’re going mostly to the town where you are close by, that’s in your catchment area, your favourite. But sometimes you go to other ones, because you like different atmospheres. You go to the town to have a good time, to socialise, to see people, to go to the markets, to do some shopping, to sit on the terrace, have some drinks, and watch people. And have talks about other people, ‘oh look at that, oh yeah that’s a funny person’. So there’s this whole socialising thing happening around going to town.”

“I think that’s also more important to have in the town centres than in the suburbs, because in essence, in the town centres, is where people of all different types of gender, background, habits, micro-cultures, should be feeling free to express themselves, to be there. If those spaces are accessible and lively and attractive for everybody, people will come there and are confronted, are seeing, can interact, with people who are different. Different from them. That is the base for tolerance. That is the base for democratic behaviour. Namely that you take people who have a different opinion, and valuing them as much as you value your own opinion. That is the core for an open, democratic, innovative, society.”


Lunchtimes with Architects is a series of blog posts that aims to enlighten readers about public spaces from around the world. Each blog post will feature a member of the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) and will focus on their unique story and showcase how powerful urban public places can really be. This week features Hans Oerlemans who is a trained Landscape Architect and has an extensive background in Urban Design and teaches design in the Master of Urban Design Programme (UWA). Having grown up in the Netherlands and worked in Europe, San Fransisco, and Australia, Hans gives an insight to the importance of landscapes and its relationship with cities. 

Oerlemans, H., interviewed by Melissa Soh, 2017, Perth CBD, Perth.

Feature Image
Luca Casartelli, Biking and boating in Kinderdijk, Molenwaard, South Holland, the Netherlands, 2004, accessed April 3, 2017,

Remaining photographs were taken by Hans Oerlemans and used with permission.


Melissa is in her final year of a Master of Architecture degree at UWA who takes an interest in a multi-disciplinary approach in the way she looks at urban design and architecture. She is continually inspired by learning from different cultures and places, particularly through travelling and her time as a Research Assistant at the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC).

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