WDE Spotlight: Charlotte van der Woude

In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to several designers from the Embassies. This time, we speak to Charlotte van der Woude, part of the Embassy of Food during Dutch Design Week 2023. What is her background? What inspires her? What does she hope to achieve with her work? You can read about it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 14 September 2023
Part of Embassy of Food
WDE Spotlight: Charlotte van der Woude
Part of Embassy of Food

Can you tell a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?

I am Charlotte van der Woude and graduated as a landscape architect in 2019. I work half the week for the municipality of Utrecht and the other half under the name of cosmos landscape on my own projects with a focus on how soil and water structures can be better integrated into our cities and landscapes. I enjoy doing this together with the people who live and work in these cities and landscapes. Outside my work in the field, I am also a guest lecturer at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam.

What kind of project would you like to realise in the future and why?

I am currently working with biodynamic agricultural school Warmonderhof on a future vision for their farmyards, plots and surrounding landscape. It would be great if the ideas could eventually become reality, so that Warmonderhof’s important position as a biodynamic farm and its role as a training institute become even stronger and more visible to a wider audience.

At WDE, we believe that design thinking is fundamental to finding new solutions to complex social issues. How do you see that as a designer/landscape architect?

I think the landscape architect has an important role to play in understanding a task integrally. A spatial question in public space or our landscape always involves different interests that often conflict with each other at first. Listening carefully and representing these different perspectives creates space for dialogue and makes ideas more concrete. Only then, in my opinion, can you arrive at a shared vision of the future that everyone agrees with.

How do you think/hope your work impacts the food sector?

I hope that through my work, I can make a small contribution to the conversation that needs to be had about the future of the countryside. What our landscape looks like is largely determined by how our food is produced; the farmer is the most important landscape manager in addition to his/her business. I hope to provide insight into the fact that a different landscape will be created by choosing different farming practices. In this, I strongly believe that soil and water should be at the basis of all spatial issues.

Your project Bodemgoud is part of the Embassy of Food during Dutch Design Week 2023. What can you tell us about the project and its phase?

Bodemgoud (soil of gold) was a research project from the Young Innovator Programme 2022 with the National Property Company (rijksvastgoedbedrijf) as the client. They own and steward many hectares of land in the IJsselmeerpolders, and came up with the question of what the future image could be for the farmland of the Northeast Polder. A spatial question, admittedly, but also one that you can only answer together with farmers.

During my research, I found out that the state of the soil is under great pressure. The soil of the Northeast Polder is now more than 70 years old and is increasingly sinking, there is less frost due to climate change (which is exactly what the soil benefits from) and intensive farming operations all have their impact. And all this while the land was reclaimed as the ultimate agricultural and production polder; as part of the IJsselmeerpolders, it was once the biggest national project the Netherlands has ever known. So all in all, this special soil deserves our care and attention. We can do little about climate and subsidence, but how farmers use the soil is in our hands. If we want to preserve the identity of the Northeast Polder as a vegetable chamber for the future, something will have to change.

Within the project, I used a timeline as a tool to show how landscape, agriculture and policy are intertwined. The timeline starts with ancient pre-polder landscapes and shows through construction and development which policy choices have directly influenced the change in farming. All these factors ultimately also influence the state of the soil. By not just looking at the now but understanding where we are coming from, it is easier to make choices for the future (instead of short-term choices that have huge impacts on the state of the soil and water system). In addition, I wanted to capture not only the large scale of the whole polder, but also the small scale of the farm. After all, beneath the tightly parcelled landscape of the Northeast Polder are many different types of soil; a diversity that is currently difficult to see reflected in the above-ground landscape. By selecting 5 different farmers who conduct their business on 5 different soil types, I also visualised their timelines. These reveal how they themselves deal with their own soil, how their business has developed over the years and then how they envisage the future. The outcome of these 5 timelines are 5 different future images for the polder from the farmer’s perspective. Hierin staan de bodem en het watersysteem aan de basis en ze tonen dat er nooit maar één toekomstbeeld is van de polder, maar juist een divers palet aan mogelijkheden.

What are the next steps for project Bodemgoud?

We recently presented the various timelines and outcomes of the research in a final meeting at one of the farms, intending to start a joint dialogue between practice and policy. While Bodemgoud is a completed project with final images, this is where the conversation should only begin. If we want to move towards a system in which soil and water are the basis, we will have to take care of our landscape jointly, and the farmer cannot do this alone. One of the next questions, therefore, is to explore ways in which the landscape could become ours again so that we all feel some responsibility for the health and design of our surrounding landscape.

Why did you choose to participate in the Embassy?

I can fully identify with the Embassy’s missions, especially to make the complexity hidden behind our food system more visible. In this, I find it valuable to see that they focus on many different aspects of this topic. After all, it is so complex that there is no single right answer, and it is therefore valuable and necessary to make nuances visible.

Suppose you get to choose one person for the ultimate collaboration (a scientist, artist, philosopher, biologist, designer, politician, whoever). Who would you choose and why?

I can’t name a specific person just now but I would love to enter into a collaboration with one or more soil scientists to gain even more depth in this subject. It would also be interesting to work with an archaeologist one day. What I find so fascinating about the underground landscape is that it tells us stories about a place’s historical development and identity. We can find soil layers from thousands of years ago that still show us how people lived then or what the landscape looked like. Or we can read how healthy the soil is by analysing the soil life. I am very aware that the interventions we do now within our landscapes actually only make up a small fraction of the history of a place. Therefore, I always feel the urge to look for these hidden stories and keep interventions and ideas simple.

Later, when you look back on your career as a designer. What do you hope to have achieved then?

As a landscape architect, you are never alone in the projects you do, because they deal with our spatial environment that should belong to everyone. There are residents, entrepreneurs, recreationists, farmers, landowners, municipalities, the state and I could go on and on. I therefore hope that when I do indeed retire, I will look back on great collaborations with many different disciplines. And in addition, I hope to have had a contribution to making the importance of a healthy soil and water system transparent.

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