Just one mile outside of Utrecht, NL’s historic (and highly adorable) city center, housing Utrecht University’s science and medical campu, de Uithof contains maybe the highest density of contemporary (st)architecture that I have ever observed. OMA, Weil Arets, and Mecanoo, just to name a few. And while I expected to be blown away by the campus when I biked there from my sublet in Utrecht city center, my feelings were more ambivalent upon my arrival. Yes, the area was chock-ful lof architectural gems, but they just sat there, oversized and lifeless, on more or less the flat grassy sheep fields that had been there for centuries. So while I was thrilled to experience the Educatorium and the Minneart building first hand, my overall experience in de Uithof was a sense of scalar isolation and removal from a sense of time (in spite of being the site of a historic fortification). This feeling was amplified by the sharp contrast provided by Utrecht’s medieval city center, all cobbled roads, brick row houses, and vibrant street life.
All this is to say that when asked in our Intro to Urban Design class to explore the history and effectiveness of an urban masterplan, I jumped at the chance to figure out what was really going on in de Uithof. And here is where the story gets even more interesting: although, like all campuses, it has had many plans throughout history, the most influential was created in 1986 by OMA, and a former OMA designer has remained in charge of the de Uithof plan ever since. I had had this feeling that the place felt like the version of NYC at the end of Delirious New York, and this more than explained that alignment. As a real-life manifestation on Rem’s ideas about the city, it serves as a testing ground for 90’s concepts of architecture and masterplanning. And while I wouldn’t call it a total failure, it certainly exposes the weakness of privileging the architectural icon over the human body.