grondvorm: garden, design and landscape laboratory
Robert van der Pol
We are Erica Chladová and Robert van der Pol, and our studio LMNL office [for architecture and landscape] is located in The Netherlands. We met while completing our Masters at TU Delft. As Architects and Landscape Architects we work mainly on projects in which we can design both buildings and their environments. We prefer to first to test out ideas on ourselves, self-funding projects that touch on topics we wish to research. Our practice focuses on sustainability, material research, climate adaptation and technical feasibility. The work we produce encompasses several types of projects across several scales: the first being sustainable and healthy bespoke homes and gardens, the second being larger scale urban studies, and the third is being hands on in our experimental home base, where we are considering the future potentials of rural living and horticulture.
We believe in designs where the built form and living landscape benefit from and interact seamlessly with one other. Our goal is to design that interaction between architecture and its landscape to create more playful, powerful and liveable places with a look to the future. Our built work consists of several award-nominated homes, including both renovation and new build projects which bring sustainability and biobased materials to the forefront. We hope that our work inspires clients and other designers to use healthy materials in their projects so that they become more mainstream - materials like clay, earth, wood, hemp, lime and thatch from local sources. Winning and receiving an honorable mention in Europan 15 in our ex-hometown of Rotterdam keeps us interested in addressing challenges faced by our urban environments. As we no longer live in the city, our focus in the meantime has shifted to Dutch rural spaces and the multitude of pressures facing them. We work approximately 40% of our time on transforming a two hectare agricultural plot into a bio-diverse and climate proof cultural landscape.
Our initiative, called grondvorm, is to be a ten year project and ultimately our calling card and home. Buildings can take a few years from start to finish, but landscapes take decades to develop - especially with only four hands. It may be unconventional to submit an in-process project, but we feel it represents our practice the best at this moment in time and is well interwoven with our past work. In 2021, after six years of searching, we left the city and moved to a two hectare former agricultural plot bordering a nature reserve. The location itself is already inspiring, and it's changed the way we work. We are currently in the process of designing the house and garden renovations, while executing small experiments to see which processes and materials are best suited to the site. The house will be transformed from uninsulated, dark and banal, to bright, healthy and inviting, using only ecological materials. Each room with be directly connected to the garden, inside and outside will blend seamlessly. Outside we use the space as a testing ground for planting schemes, to grow our own food, and to provide food for our bees and other wildlife by converting a mono-cultural grazing field into a rich wildflower meadow. Over 300 new trees will be planted. Besides our own initiatives we also invite others to experiment. The most successful collaboration so far has been the building of a small greenhouse out of recycled/circular materials. A colleague of ours had materials and we had space and need, so it became a perfectly timed small project. We hope to continue these sorts of collaborations in the future, and invite others to contact us with ideas for experiments. The point of this project is to provide a critical response to the lacklustre building culture in rural areas that is still reliant on fossil fuels, and to answer, in our own way, what can be done with agricultural land in this country as farmers are forced to stop working due to the nitrogen emissions crisis.