Ecologically Emergent Leisure Landscapes

One of the remarkable characteristics of The Netherlands, especially from the foreigner’s point of view, is the amount of carefully protected open green space surrounding densely populated urban centers. The Dutch are extremely keen on verdant fields with placidly grazing cows and sheep always being within a bike ride away from the city, and this is true in most cases. However, as space becomes an ever more precious commodity, the preserved status of these green zones is being called into question. In many cases these peri-urban areas are carefully managed by several partners in order to preserve their rural appearance, yet they no longer function as viable agricultural spaces for a variety reasons. In some areas soil has been too contaminated by dioxins, pcb’s, and other pollutants to allow food production. In other areas it is no longer economically viable. An enormous amount of energy and coordination is necessary for the maintenance of these spaces which appear to be agricultural but are in fact a kind of park landscape reminding inhabitants of their farming origins. As urban populations increase and diversify what future role will these once vital farmlands play?

The Krabbeplas initiative set out to investigate if these green zones could be “put back to work.” The task of the designers was to investigate meaningful re-purposing of place. The EELLs project point of departure was the desire to immerse visitors in the sensory pleasures nature has to offer by creating new outdoor leisure space, a lounge-in-a-field that creates opportunities to be in touch with sights, sounds, and smells of nature at close range as well as offering a window onto ecological cycles. The project was driven by the use of agricultural processes to create a flexible form of ecological architecture. Hay and straw from the site were stuffed into biodegradable plastic tubing and then arranged into different configurations to create temporay shelters and organic lounging spaces.

Perfect for events in the fields, the EELLs have another purpose. Once their use as outdoor furniture is complete, they can be left on site to begin another process. The straw filled tubes are soaked in water and innoculated with mushroom spores. Over the course of several weeks, the mushroom spores spread throught the straw while the bioplastics break down, bringing the growing fungi into contact with the earth. The fungi are then able to colonize the soil of the site. Studies have shown that the enzymes present in fungal mycelial networks break down complex molecules such as dioxin and pcb, metabolizing them into harmless substances. This form of bioremediation is called mycoremediation. The mycelial net, which can grow to the size of an entire forest in some species, does the work of purifying the polluted ground. The fruiting bodies it then creates that we call mushrooms remain safe to eat.

The EELLs project attempts to address new ways to enjoy agricultural green space, actively connecting users to ecological cycles and introducing the concept of bioremediation. From hay harvest to lounging and through to mushroom production and soil purification, pleasure and utility are combined in a new leisure landscape.