Terp fan de Takomst

  • commissioning and public space

This series is about commissioning and public space. A situation is always sketched from the perspective of the narrator. This can be an artist and/or a client. We want to sketch a picture of the practice of artists: what goes well, what does an artist encounter when working in public space and how does a commissioner work? Our hope is that everyone can benefit from the information and at the same time get to know and understand the perspective of 'the other' better. This time Esther will take you to Friesland where the artist collective Observatorium will soon be producing land art.

This time I will take you to a very Dutch piece of history, those of the Frisian Wadden landscape and the handling of high water levels. First - perhaps unnecessarily - a few terms explained in more detail. A terp is an artificial residential mound that was built to provide a dry place for both people and livestock during high tide. The first terp dates from the sixth century B.C., after inhabitants had settled in the Frisian-Groningen salt marsh region. A salt marsh area is an overgrown outer dike land accretion that no longer floods at average high water but does at very high water levels. This provided fertile soil and an excellent place to live until the sea level rose, when people made mounds along the entire wadden coast. Friesland currently has 955 terps. Sometimes they are still always found old mounds that have overflowed over time. There have been no new mounds for centuries made, because through the construction of dikes, man has now become the water the boss, until now. 

The Terp fan da takomst, Observatory, 2022. Photography: Binne-Louw Katsma


Artist group Observatorium from Rotterdam will deliver a Terp fan de Takomst ON. I spoke with Ruud Reutelingsperger, one of the four driving  forces behind Observatory. He tells a special story: one resident of the Frisian village of Blije (population approx. 840) wanted the relationship with the original landscape back. To him, the sea dike felt too much like a boundary and took away the feeling of the seasons and living with the water levels. The village association supported this plan and stated in its village vision "we want to live and work facing the Wadden Sea again". Central element in that vision is the The idea of creating a new mound outside the dike near Blije, a new place to experience, to attract people to the village and the tidal flats coastline, to tell old stories and new making stories. 

we want to live and work facing the Wadden Sea again

The village association came into contact with the organization Sense of Place of the late Joop Mulder (founder of Oerol). Sense of Place wants to showcase the beauty of the Wadden Sea region, proclaimed as UNESCO World Heritage, and make its almost forgotten history visible. The initiative of Blije fits in well with this. Sense of Place was happy to help the village on its way to making their ambitious plan to come to fruition. Mulder then thought freely quickly to Observatory to give shape to the mound. It clicked immediately between the Frisian residents and the Rotterdammers and together they went to work. A project team was assembled from the village, they rolled up their sleeves and grew into their role of client, guided from the sidelines by Sense of Place. 

The tasks were well divided. Observatory was responsible for the imagination and made the ambition of the village visual and therefore imaginable. With the sketch design under their belts, the project team then went to work; permits and above all arrange funding. Among others, the BPD Culture Fund pledged, as did the Mondriaan Fund and the Wadden Fund. The dream could become reality. 

The Terp fan da takomst, Observatory, 2022. Photography: Binne-Louw Katsma


The Terp fan de Takomst is emphatically not a back-in-the-times pitch. To get there, you have to cross the sea dike in the village of Blije to the salt marsh with its uninterrupted panoramic views of the mud flats and the Wadden Islands. The mound lies in the distance and the path from the sea dyke entices the visitor to enter the salt marsh. Coming closer, the mound changes scale and appearance. The verticals become more visible and the shape of the clay body turns out to be a circular rise. You enter the mound through a gate. It looks like an avenue with trees on either side. The higher you get, the lower the rows of columns; the height of the poles changes from six to seven meters to one meter at the top. The ring placed on the poles is a balustrade to lean on and enjoy the 360-degree panorama. 

The mound lies in the distance and the path from the sea dike entices the visitor to enter the salt marsh

The mound and the walkway are completely circular: by excavating salt marsh areas near the mound, matured clay is extracted. This creates a rejuvenated piece of salt marsh. The walkway consists of reused mooring posts. Observatorium wants to use the Terp fan de Takomst anticipate a future way of building, especially in a vulnerable area like the salt marshes of the Wadden Sea. 

Mostly Observatory works in transformation areas, on the border of city and country, and in industrial areas. According to Reutelingsperger, however, this area is the most magical place they have ever worked. "It is the most spectacular landscape that we have in the Netherlands." Observatory therefore saw this assignment as a huge opportunity. The view later, when the mound is finished, will be magnificent. In addition to being an opportunity, it was also a challenge; the artwork they made had to be sea proof, because it will be completely surrounded by the sea at times.

During the first edition of the triennial Arcadia in 2022 (May-August), the mound of Observatory officially inaugurated.  

More Articles