In its earliest phase, at the start of the 1970s, construction activity in ‘new town’ Nieuwegein concentrated on its residential areas. Around when the city centre was about to have its turn, the economic climate offered little space for financing. The result was an introverted, cheap-looking shopping mall.
Like many other ‘new towns’, Nieuwegein now faces the task of transforming the old shopping mall into a new vibrant heart. The structure inherited from the 1970s is to be subjected to a comprehensive revision. The municipality’s development vision is elaborated in detail by Ben van Berkel (un Studio), Michael van Gessel and Bureau B+B: a unique task, whose aim and scope are comparable to the urban core designed by OMA in the same years for Almere.
The process of financing this urban renewal project, whose plan provides for a wide-ranging programme, including homes, offices, a town hall, an urban theatre, a cinema, a music centre, a library and a doubling of the present shop floor space, results in the programme being placed under considerable pressure. These significant additions are only attainable by means of an intensive, manifold use of the available space.
The design proposes a dynamic whole, comprised of transparent storeys, in which continuous activity is possible from morning to night. The city centre becomes outwardly open in a representative manner and makes contact with the water of the Doorslag Canal.
The public space is distributed over different levels, unified by means of a folded ground level that leads the visitor in a self-explanatory manner to all components of the programme. The elaboration of the design for the public space has as its concept ‘the blooming city’.
This translates into a striking pavement pattern employing natural stone in two different mixtures. The pattern breaks free of both plan and architecture by means of an abstract representation of such natural elements as branches and flowers.
The greenery is concentrated on the plazas. Tree islands and raised tree-squares with integrated seating elements give each plaza its own unique character.
Blossoming trees, such as magnolias and prunuses, alternating with trees that feature lovely autumn colours, give the new urban heart an attractive appearance throughout the year. One of the plazas owes its identity in part to its unusual fencing. Here, the floral pattern attains independence in the third dimension.