IFLA 2017 SGJA AWARDEE
The Award Jury composed of a Landscape Architect from each of the five IFLA regions, and the Secretary General of ISOCARP (International Society of City and Regional Planners) who served as a guest member of the Jury, agreed with the nomination statement, that “Dirk has made, and makes, remarkable contributions to the profession, and the main quality of these contributions is that they redefine the profession, its borders, its strategy and its position”.
Coming from an Architectural background, and then working as a spatial planner, Dirk Sijmons is well placed to see Landscape as a mirror of society and as a living coproduction between nature and man; this relationship has been his lifelong fascination. His early years working as a spatial planner in the Dutch Ministry of Culture led him to question what societal processes, ranging from food production to urbanization, can be enticed to act as positive formative forces in the landscape. On the other hand, he questioned what natural processes, ranging from erosion and sedimentation to succession, can be turned into nature-based solutions for human needs. His work revolves around how these processes might be guided by landscape architecture to give them a meaningful spatial expression.
Dirk Sijmons came to realise that in the age of the Anthropocene, now that the once thought sealed boundary between nature and society is crumbling, landscape architecture can play, even more so, a vital mediating role between the two.
Dirk Sijmons, studied architecture from 1967 to 1977 at the Technical University-Delft. His strong track record in environmental and spatial planning led to his recognition as a Landscape Architect in 1986 by the National Architects Register.
Among a long list of professional contributions, his nominating letters mention in particular the following noteworthy areas of his career:
- his role in the famous 1985 Plan Ooievaar (‘Stork Plan’); a revolutionary plan concerning the making of new nature as part of a large scale landscape restructuring;
- the work of the office H+N+S he founded with Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuijze and Dick Hamhuis; an office that since its foundation always tackled projects that are innovative, expanding the scope of landscape architecture and emancipating the profession;
- his supervision of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, the first landscape architect chosen in this role, for which he advanced the provocative theme Urban by Nature, again throwing an entire new light of what landscape architecture is capable of;
- his state advisorship on landscape, being the first in this role, and in fact also engaged in creating the role;
- the recent expansion of the work of H+N+S abroad, and the contribution he gave by accompanying the work with English spoken publications, for example on ‘energy landscapes’.
To these can be added Dirk Sijmon’s important contribution in the Academic field which is no less impressive. He has taught landscape architecture in such prestigious institutions as the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the University of Pennsylvania, the Edinburgh School of Design, UT-Delft and many others, both at home and overseas.
He excels at providing surprising new insight, using a broad range of literature to support his point of view. Being himself superb in arguing, he has always been a very inspiring coach for others, and has been able to surround himself with people that supported these arguments in drawings, texts and Excel tables. Sijmons feels strongly the importance of relating practice and academia and that it is vital that landscape architects know about operational issues, facts and trends.
If landscape urbanism has become a significant frame to speak about landscape architecture, Sijmons must be seen as a landscape urbanist avant la lettre. His entire discourse speaks about processes, operation, engineering solutions; he never ceased to argue that such words must be understood as cultural acts, and are therefore part of the design domain. In doing so, he strongly contributed to an emancipation of landscape architecture in the Netherlands and abroad, claiming that the profession of Landscape Architecture not so much arrives after the architects and urbanists have dome their work, but proudly takes the lead, putting forward an understanding of the big scale, of processes over time and of the interdisciplinary nature of urban processes.