The city of Groningen is desperately in need of a public building that makes an architectonic and planning statement, states Gert de Roo, professor of Planning at the University of Groningen. In De Roo’s opinion, this is why it is so important that the plans for the Forum in the Groningen city centre go ahead.
‘Pulling the plug would be a disaster for urban quality.’
‘It is a law of spatial planning that a city must keep investing in itself’, says De Roo. According to the professor, a city must regularly launch and realise high profile ideas and projects that will impart allure. If a city council does not do so, the results will be painful, he thinks: ‘The city will slide into mediocrity, go grey and boring. That can have radical consequences in many different areas, because people stay away. The resulting economic drawbacks are huge. ’ It’s just like running a family, claims De Roo. Who would want to visit a family of nonentities?
De Roo draws a comparison with several cities in the south of the country, such as Maastricht, Breda and Den Bosch. ‘The local councils have used flamboyant projects to continually generate urban renewal and rejuvenation. And just look at The Hague. Thanks to fantastic architectural projects, that stuffy government city has been transformed into a city with international allure.’
De Roo emphasizes that a project like the Forum is more than just a building. Such plans impart ambience to a city and work like a magnet. Groningen should thus not behave reticently and owes it to itself to think big, is the professor’s opinion. ‘We are not London, Paris or Berlin, but what we can learn from those cities is that they are constantly renewing themselves via large-scale projects. London has The Eye and Berlin the building projects on the Potsdammer Platz. And in Paris just think of the constructions that the French presidents continually leave the city – the Centre Pompidou from Georges Pompidou, La Défense and the glass pyramid at the Louvre from François Mitterand and the Musée du Quai Branly from Chirac.’ Each time they gave the French capital a boost, according to De Roo. Without them we’d certainly find Paris less interesting.
De Roo points out that the idea of the Forum brings many other planning possibilities within reach. The location of the construction project would mean that the city centre would not only develop further in the line Main Station, Hereweg up to and including the Ebbingestraat, but also widthways, from the Westerhaven up to and including the parking garage behind the east side of the Grote Markt.
The Forum is inextricably linked to reconstruction of the east side of the Grote Markt. De Roo: ‘Although we can count ourselves fortunate that the north side has escaped the demolition hammer, it would be very disturbing if the east side could not be tackled in conjunction with the proposed Forum.’ The quality of the east side is nothing special – it is a hotch-potch of architecture from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, states De Roo. ‘Not to mention the extremely dismal situation hidden behind it. It is dreary, sinister and feels like decay. The municipality owes it to itself, the city and the region to tackle the situation.’
This is the complete opposite of the north side. De Roo: ‘The north side is a unique example of a wonderful 1950s façade. In another ten years everyone is going to be in raptures about it. I can even see it becoming an urban conservation area. It is basically human to think that what our parents built is ugly – which explains why we value architecture from the 1930s. That was built by our grandparents. In other words, you have to really watch out when sweeping away old qualities.’
‘The Forum could be an extraordinary showcase for the city’, concludes De Roo. ‘It would be a generator of varied, linked, mutually beneficial and thus interwoven functionalities. That is completely in line with the times, which recognizes that monofunctional developments are not going to succeed any more. The Forum can be so much more – not only an eye-catcher, but also a spatial dynamo.’
Gert de Roo
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