Piet Oudolf and Peter Veenstra on ‘Sharawadgi’ in Garden Design

designboom (DB): this new exhibition is entitled “in search of the sharawadgi”. What does this term mean to you and how does it relate to your work?

peter veenstra (PV): the literal word sharawadgi is gibberish and means nothing. it was Sir William Temple’s best memory of an oriental term to describe the natural and wild qualities of a garden. he brought it to Europe and sparked the start of the English landscape style with it.

the word represents the desire to add a sense of wilderness to our living environment, and is a first attempt to help define and design it. much later, the word was adopted in music theory and has been described as “the sublime of the everyday”. I found this very inspiring for the practice of landscape architecture, as a goal – landscaping as a form of micro-dosing of the great sublime. much calmer and more everyday, always contributing to well-being not only physically, but also in a reflexive or spiritual way.

DB: this exhibition features your projects alongside those of Piet Oudolf. what influence has oudolf’s work had on you?

PV: when studying landscape architecture, “gardening” was a dirty word. it meant that someone had spent time on random details and shapes while losing sight of the big picture. When interest in public gardens and more sophisticated planting plans slowly resurfaced, Piet Oudolf was there to wow everyone with photos of his gardens, including us.

our interest in Piet’s work has mainly led to collaborations, in which we both have our territory of expertise. in these collaborations, Piet has inspired us: his absolute focus on the core of his work, his openness to collaboration and his positive view of the world.

rendering of the etzenrade castle project, designed by LOLA and Piet Oudolf

PV (continued): In landscape architecture, it can be difficult to find inspiring clients, as most of them are either civil servants who only do their job, or project developers who are more attached to architecture. as we build a reputation it gets better, but Piet is on another level. it attracts customers with a clear ambition for the landscape and a strong taste. it’s very stimulating to work with.

recently, we have been very interested in (re) afforestation as a climate solution. While many large-scale afforestation projects are rather monotonous, we asked ourselves: can we somehow bring some of the aesthetics that Piet Oudolf brings to his meadows, to the forests? we started to develop algorithms to generate tree patterns with more natural diversity and surprise.

Piet Oudolf and Peter Veenstra on 'Sharawadgi' in Garden Design and Landscape Architecture
‘after landscape’ is a project by the artist sanne vaassen in etzenrade | image by anne buscher

DB: the name LOLA comes from ‘LOst LAndscapes’. how important is it to ensure that good landscape architecture is accessible to as many people as possible?

PV: on a global scale, there is no shortage of beautiful nature. yet many people have a different daily experience, and we know how important it is to everyone’s well-being. one could say that it is a problem of distribution and accessibility of nature. the core business of a landscape architect is to regulate this accessibility and this diffusion. surely not all landscapes should be made accessible in the same way and become cobbled paradises like in joni mitchell’s song. the success of a landscape or a public space should not be measured by the number of visitors. it’s about finding the right balance between universal accessibility and universal inaccessibility – and everything in between.

Piet Oudolf and Peter Veenstra on 'Sharawadgi' in Garden Design and Landscape Architecture
‘after landscape’ is a project by the artist sanne vaassen in etzenrade | image by anne buscher

DB: How can good landscape architecture help solve problems like rapid urbanization, climate change and flooding?

PV: by imagining future-proof environments that also offer a new perspective on how we can live together. the debate on spatial planning is very problem-oriented and solution-oriented. but it is important to go beyond solving problems – no one wants to live in solving a problem. we need to create environments that inspire future generations.

It’s important to realize that most design research can fuel a discussion, but will never be done. therefore, it can help make controversial plans – the biggest impact we ever had with design research was a scenario for the Netherlands in 2200, where half the country is flooded. the radical nature of the proposal sparked a wide debate on the long-term future of the Netherlands.

Piet Oudolf and Peter Veenstra on 'Sharawadgi' in Garden Design and Landscape Architecture
park groot vijversburg is a public park in the north of the Netherlands designed by LOLA

DB: why do you think the Netherlands has such a tradition of renowned landscape architects? are the topography of the country or the climatic factors?

PV: in the Netherlands, all the necessary infrastructures are there to grow talent; open-minded schools, clients, architects to collaborate with, funds, magazines. worldwide, landscape architecture is still an emerging profession; there are still many countries which lack a good school of landscape architecture.

Piet Oudolf and Peter Veenstra on 'Sharawadgi' in Garden Design and Landscape Architecture
solana ulcinj’s proposed master plan for montenegro | image courtesy of LOLA

PV (continued): the Dutch landscape is a great playground for landscape architects. for the most part, the country is an artificial construction; everything has been designed, there is hardly any wilderness, and most of the historic landscapes have been rationalized into modern farmland. he is not a natural beauty, and he is in constant need of surgery to keep him looking good. this generates a lot of work, but also a culture of innovation.

but to put it in perspective: the fact that Dutch landscape architecture is well known, is not only because of the quality. because we live in a small country, we are eager to export. we have a tradition of commerce. everyone knows heineken, and that’s not necessarily because of its good taste.

book details:
Name: landscapes with piet oudolf and LOLA – looking for sharawadgi
ISBN 978-94-6208-630-2 | June 2021 | expected | fabian de kloe, peter veenstra, joep vossebeld | design: sam jacob & fraser muggeridge | english | 21x30cm | 192 pages | illustrated (200 in color) | in collaboration with: SCHUNCK museum, IBA parkstad

exhibition details:
Name: landscapes with piet oudolf and LOLA – looking for sharawadgi
site: SCHUNCK Museum, Heerlen, The Netherlands
Appointment: June 9 – October 17, 2021

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