Five Minutes with Niek Roozen, the landscape architect helping to create Floriade 2022
With a year to go before the gates to the international horticultural exhibition Floriade Expo 2022 open in Almere - Amsterdam, we talked to the landscape architect Niek Roozen about planting 2,500 trees, alphabetical perennials and his pioneering green city philosophy.
NR: I am responsible, along with some others, for the total green structure of Floriade. That means both the new green elements such as the arboretum with its 2,500 trees, and the existing nature. It is very important that we take advantage of the green that is already there. We are also involved with the some of the exhibitions, including one called ‘Green City Storytelling,’ which aims to help visitors understand what we mean when we say we are ‘building a green city’.
Mixed edge planting at Floriade 2022, image courtesy Niek Roozen
The site at Almere, image courtesy Niek Roozen
ECT: And what do you mean?
NR: The whole Expo has been designed as a new green urban district, rather than just an exhibition park, which is quite a unique concept. What that means is that after the six months of Floriade, the site will develop further as a new city district, where people will live and work. What I hope is that when Floriade opens, people will see a green part of a city at a certain moment and not only get a feeling of what it will be like to live here, but also of how important green is in an urban area. That is one of the most important things for me
ECT: You have been involved in the ‘green city’ philosophy for more than 20 years
NR: Yes, in 2002 I was the chief architect of Floriade in Haarlemmermeer and, during that expo, we designed the Green City Pavilion which included a design for a special area containing five houses and a garden. The idea, suggested by the manager of Land Publicity Holland, was to show what the perfect setting is if you are talking about a green city. We began working on it in 1998 and that was the moment when we first started thinking about how important plants and flowers and trees are in the city, not just because they are beautiful or smell good, but because they also have a role to play in climate and temperature and clean air and food and biodiversity. Now it’s almost 2022 and it is fantastic that the theme for this whole Expo is ‘Growing Green Cities’ and that what we started all those years ago has finally developed into the building of an entire green city district.
Ariel view of Floriade 2022 at Almere, image courtesy of Niek Roozen
ECT: Tell us about the arboretum you are creating
NR: The idea to make an arboretum was Winy Maas’, founding partner of MVRDV, but he is an urban planner and architect so we have come in to bring our experience as landscape architects. We have followed Maas’ idea of creating a collection of trees and plants, arranged alphabetically by botanical name, but we said that it would be a collection only of trees and plants that can grow on this specific location. We have not changed the soil you won’t be seeing any rhododendrons, but you will see 650 different varieties of trees from Acer to Zelkova, which grow there very well. We have also designed the arboretum so that it will be flowering beautifully during the Expo next year and also be exciting all year round because this a city where people will live after the Expo closes.
ECT: We are speaking a year before Floriade Expo 2022 opens. Where are you with the planting now?
NR: We will plant the last remaining 250 trees in the arboretum this month and by the end of April we should have 80% of the 180,000 perennials and ornamental grasses, which are also being planted in alphabetical zones, in the soil. We’ve been lucky, the pandemic hasn’t delayed things as most of our work is outside.
Planting at Floriade 2022, image courtesy Niek Roozen
ECT: This is the fifth Floriade you have been involved with. Why are these expos important?
NR: Every time there is a Floriade, there is an opportunity to inspire people because each one is a beautiful opportunity to show all the different ways that nature can be connected to the city. I am particularly excited by Floriade 2022 because Covid-19 has shown us how important green spaces are and what I really hope is that everyone who comes - members of the public, decision makers, architects, urban planners and governments – will see how green can help us survive in a modern urban environment.
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