An Urban Escape for Grown Ups


Strootman Landscape Architects, a Dutch firm, transformed a set of courtyards in a conventional office building in Arnhem into an escape for grown ups. There, playful, textural design elements are abstractions of iconic Dutch rural scenes. “Giant pebbles refer to a river beach, pines refer to the Veluwe, a green hillside refers to undulating landscapes, ferns to the forest, ladybirds to sunny fields, and a ‘white-picket- fence’ to horse ranches.” In Landezine, Strootman writes that these scenic references offer visitors an opportunity to distance themselves from their day-to-day routine. 

The “voorhof” or forecourt functions as an “urban lobby.” Visitors enter here and can take a seat before heading inside for appointments. Within the forecourt, the paving is made up of dark-grey concrete filled with stone chippings. “The colour of the stone chippings is grey-green and has the same shade as the natural stone slabs on the façades of the surrounding building.” 


A large red outdoor circular seating element acts like a tree basin (see image at top). Made of polystyrene, the seat-sculpture enables visitors to either sit upright or lounge about. Pines planted within the seat will eventually fill the forecourt. Around the trees, pine cones are arranged as a textural element. 


In contrast, the “binnenhof” or inner courtyard is designed for employees and has a “softer and greener” feel than the forecourt. An “ornamental garden,” the courtyard features a large green hill made of light-weight polystyrene blocks covered in a thin layer of soil. Strootman adds that they used plastic blocks because trucking in all that soil would have been too costly.


The hill, which is ringed by a white picket fence, also includes “parking spaces” for 20 moveable “cart-seats,” which are “panelled-stone wheelbarrows.” The landscape architects designed the seating to encourage visitors to grab their own car-seat and drive to their favorite location. “After use, the cart-seats are placed in their storage racks again.”


One of our favourite elements of this urban playscape: “Cheerful mowing robots that look like ladybirds” move about silently trimming the lawn, doing their own ballet for visitors. 

In other news, FASLANYC announced their second annual Waits awards, named in honor of singer and actor Tom Waits. To win a Waits, a project must be “highly tactical and lo-fi, simple and sophisticated, ultimately working to demystify the act of intervening in the landscape.” Read through the winners, which are each matched with a song.

Image credits: Strootman Landscape Architects

4 thoughts on “An Urban Escape for Grown Ups

  1. Matt 09/01/2011 / 4:59 pm

    If the goal was to create an “urban playscape” and an “escape for grownups”, they missed the mark.

  2. msophelia 09/07/2011 / 2:29 pm

    how industrial looking – doesn’t seem appealing, to my eye. and a garden over polystyrene blocks? how would that hold up to actual use?

  3. Mark McDowall 09/07/2011 / 5:46 pm

    What a fantastic piece of work. Love the wheel barrow seat idea and how it is part of the fence. Very clever. Lots of texture, colour and exciting use of materials and feels a bit “Alice in wonderland”

  4. Cal 09/07/2011 / 5:50 pm

    A fun fantasy landscape! Clearly created without the parameters of
    material and enviromental realities. I wonder about the aesthetic
    durability as well. Does this have longevity or is this one of those ‘hip’ ideas which are delighted in like a well done store window display, but not something anyone really wants to live in? I think this might have been more of a playful escape for the designers than the client/public. But all creative ideas start somewhere, so I do think it’s important for designers to ‘play’ without the constraints of budgets and material reality. So good for them!

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