A fresh look at a new Oosterpoort – GRAS

Robin van Rootselaar

In early 2022, it was announced that the construction of De Nieuwe Poort, at the proposed location south of the main railway station, will be a lot more expensive than first assumed. So far, the building is not there yet. The city council of Groningen must ultimately make the decision, but until then there is still room for alternative ideas. And there is.

Robin van Rootselaar is an architect, he works for VdP Architecten. In 2021 he graduated from the Academy of Architecture in Groningen. His exam theme? The renovation of De Oosterpoort. Van Rootselaar argues for dividing the music center into different buildings, spread across the city center.

To begin with, I go with this idea against the trend of placing theaters in large boxes on the outskirts of the city. And I give culture a place again in the heart of Groningen. But I also want to make the city’s users aware of the rich cultural history that is still visible everywhere. ‘

The young architect’s graduation research began, as he himself describes it, with a realistic study of the inner city. How do you make room for a cultural function there? Van Rootselaar investigated how this would work in urban planning, but also made an architectural plan for one of the sites he intended. He also designed a multifunctional hall in perhaps the most sacred building in Groningen: the Martinikerken.

A cultural route takes people through various places in the eastern part of inner city

The city center as a foyer

Van Rootselaar analyzed the requirements program for a new Oosterpoort. “Then I went looking in the city for places where a little is happening now and where buildings are soon empty or, in my opinion, not being used properly. What if you put a cultural program there? ‘

Van Rootselaar chose four places for his idea, all in the eastern part of the city center: the police station on Rademarkt, the location on Kattendiep, where Holland Casino until recently was located, Harmonie Square on Kreupelstraat and – as a bouncer – the Martiniker.

‘With a route between different buildings, I force people to go into the city, instead of staying for hours in an all-inclusive cultural building’

Both the locations themselves and the spaces in between are interesting, says Van Rootselaar. In his plan, he made a series of cultural routes, in which he included medieval alleys and courtyards. Visitors can thus reach the DOT in Ebbingekwartier from the location of the current Oosterpoort and the adjacent conservatory via Rademarkt, Kattendiep, Grote Markt, Kreupelstaat and the new Kunstwerf on Bloemstraat.

The city center from above, with four new cultural buildings in gold // Model: Cityscale

They will find a different cultural program each place. You can get something to drink or eat at the countless cafes and restaurants that are already here – it is not necessary in a cultural building itself, says Van Rootselaar. ‘With that, I, like people, force people to go into the city and visit more buildings, instead of staying for hours in an all-encompassing cultural building.’

With a simple intervention such as laying recognizable pavement, passers-by are pointed to special places, or they are directed in a certain direction. They then discover for themselves the historical network of alleys and corridors that Groningen is rich in. ‘In fact, the city center itself becomes the foyer for the various cultural buildings. The journey from one place to another is part of a play along different places that represent the time layers of the city. ‘

A concert hall in Martinikerk

For the design part of his graduation assignment, Van Rootselaar zoomed in on Martinikerk. For him, it is potentially the most beautiful hall in the city. »The necessary interventions for this are in theory not complicated. It is about logistical delivery and relocation, both of goods and visitors, and the creation of seating. That’s all.’

The Martinikerken is currently already being used as a multifunctional hall, so the idea was not new. But the building does not have space for wardrobe, toilets, changing rooms and storage. Van Rootselaar added these features in a new section that he placed between the existing north wall of the Grote Markt and the church. The design is a series of gates that, in continuation of the Martinique Church, subtly lead visitors and passers-by from place to place and to the church itself.

In Van Rootselaar’s design, a new urban situation is created around Martinikerk

Model with a view of the ‘gates’, which Van Rootselaar added between the North Wall on the Grote Markt and the Martinitoren, seen from Kreupelstraat

The addition is not only convenient, but also makes the central city square a nicer place. Van Rootselaar looked at the pre-war situation, where the Grote Markt functioned better as a space due to the almost closed north wall. “Due to the lack of closure, the market is now virtually empty. If you add a new piece between Martinikerken and the north wall, you also make the space better ».

On the other hand, the new building will provide a forecourt, oriented towards the Prefectenhof. The architect makes the war memorial that stands there part of the decor, by simply turning it a quarter turn. “I have tried to make the best use of what the city already has to offer. For in my view, this is how one should treat a city: preserve where possible, renew where necessary. ‘

Old places with a new meaning

‘The more I researched, the more I found out how beautiful Groningen is,’ says Van Rootselaar. ‘And what cultural stratification the city has, and how it can be found everywhere.’ The Martinique church, for example, went from a small church to a cruciform basilica and eventually to its present form. You can see these layers underground.

‘I crawled even under the floor. It turned out that you could get there pretty easily. I wanted to reflect the history of the church in my design. So I chose to place the hall in the church itself, but to have the route partially underground. That way, visitors can see the existing layers of time with their own eyes. ‘

“If you really did this, I would not know how to do it without the tower toppling”

Van Rootselaar klukker. “If you were actually doing this, I would not know how to do it without the tower toppling over. I was not very aware of the constructive effect that the interventions in my proposal would have. I was primarily looking at the experience of Space, I wanted to make that potential visible. ‘

Impression: to make the history of the church visible, van Rootselaar let the route to the hall run partly underground

Impression: The underground entrance to Martinikerk, with the connection to the north wall of the Grote Markt on the right

The architect himself is the first to admit that his idea does not involve the most obvious or feasible interventions. Spreading De Oosterpoort over several locations as well as renovating Martinikerk: just get started. But that is also not why he chose this theme for his graduation thesis.

‘By choosing this assignment, in addition to the relevance and topicality of the problem, I mainly show how I view the subject. And how I would like us to interact with the city. With the continued development of a city, places take on a new meaning. If you make a cultural-historical context in a new project, you get a design that corresponds to the history and the contemporary context. ‘

Whether Van Rootselaar’s plan is realistic or not: it is still advisable to keep various options open to De Oosterpoort. Choosing the seemingly easiest route is not a sustainable solution: the city does not necessarily benefit from it.

The new coalition agreement is due to be completed this month. The future of De Oosterpoort and its possible successor will also have a place in it. The ball is then on the court’s court. Instead of trying to shoot him spectacularly from the center line into the crossbar, a little wide might make more sense.

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