In a bid to restore a lost part of nature to The Hague, MVRDV has unveiled a proposal to reopen the city’s 17th-century canals that were filled in between 1910 and 1970. Created in partnership with the local community, the “Grachten Open” (Canals Open) initiative would restore access to the waterways and would revitalize a run-down part of the historic center by introducing new programming from swimming canals to a gastronomy route with a new market hall. The urban revitalization project would also bring ecological benefits by bringing natural habitat back into the city center.

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As the seat of government for the Netherlands, The Hague has placed less emphasis on its canal system compared to other Dutch cities historically more reliant on trade. While many of the canals have been drained and filled in, a local grassroots movement to preserve the canal area in the historic city center began to take root in the late 20th century. In recent years, the movement has seen greater community action for revitalizing the area and reopening the lost canals. One of the most notable contributors to the cause is local resident Shireen Poyck, who co-founded the ‘Grachten Open’ and, in 2018, invited her neighbor, MVRDV partner Jan Knikker, to participate.

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rendering of people walking on each side of a canal
rendering of train running beside a canal

Working together with local neighborhood organizations, MVRDV recently presented a plan to reopen the canals to the city of The Hague. The design proposes restoring the main canals and creating plans for the minor canals, which can be remade into “urban activators” and used as swimming canals, koi carp canals or even surf canals. The main canals would be defined by themed “routes,” that include a green route, creative route, shopping route, culinary route and sport route.

rendering of tourist boat on a canal
rendering of bikes parked on a bridge over a canal

“All over the world, neighborhoods like the old center of The Hague form the backbone of tourism and provide an identity to a city, but in The Hague, somehow this ancient and incredibly charming area was forgotten,” said Winy Maas, architect and co-founder of MVRDV. “The area offers the unique chance for an urban regeneration that will improve the local economy and make a leap forward in the city’s energy transition.”


Images via MVRDV