OKRA Wins European Prize for Urban Public Space 2022

The Winner of the European Prize for Urban Public Space 2022 is Catharijnesingel in Utrecht, designed by longtime friends of Landezine, OKRA.

From a motorway back to a water canal, the Catharijnesingel project introduces a model for canal restoration. The Landezine team congratulates OKRA for winning this esteemed public space prize!

OKRA: Since 2020, the inner city of Utrecht is once again surrounded by water and greenery. The restoration of the canal structure around the old city of Utrecht is an important part of the Master Plan Station Area. To this end, the original, historical water structure was restored by re-excavating the canal where it was filled in for the construction of a ten-lane motorway.

The project area now has a green and sloping character in which ecology, (water) recreation and traffic have been carefully integrated. Thanks to the nature-friendly foreshores, there is more space for flora and fauna and a lot of greenery has been brought back into the city.

Design Principles

For the layout of Catharijnesingel and the extension of the Zocherpark that runs alongside it, OKRA has made well-considered choices concerning the type of traffic flow. Pedestrians have priority, but only where it is desirable and not above all else. The extensive walking route along the canal invites recreational and sporting use. One walks past grasslands, conversation pieces (art objects that encourage interaction about, for example, climate adaptation or the history of the place), numerous seating areas, diverse types of greenery, each with its own type of vegetation, and a different view of the surrounding city.

A variety of species were used in the planting plan, from evergreens to richly flowering species that create a year-round experience. In combination with the openness of the water and the rough grasslands, the planting groups provide beautiful vistas and sightlines .

In the style of the Dutch landscape architect Zocher, the water line is a cultivated line, in which the reflection of the park is mirrored. The return of the water makes the entire canal a place you want to be again. You can sail around the city centre and see the old remains of Vredenburg Castle under Hoog Catharijne.

A varied assortment of trees, including poplars, plane trees, prunus and elms, connects this new park with the existing Zocherpark. In the choice of trees, OKRA has paid close attention to biodiversity. For example, single flowering trees have been chosen that attract bees and bumblebees.

The use of materials – baked clinkers (the old Rhine bricks) and gravel – creates a visual connection with the historical inner city of Utrecht. A wooden deck has been placed next to the existing jetty, which can be used as a seating element, a stand or a stage. A lower section is added to the existing wooden deck so that canoeists and paddlers can use it in addition to recreational boats.

A showcase project

The appreciation of good and attractive public spaces for daily use is increasing as a result of the measures taken around the current pandemic. Small-scale outdoor activities and daily walks are encouraged, while crowds should be avoided. This requires attractive and safe outdoor space in which it is possible to be in contact with nature, the city and oneself.

The design of Catharijnesingel accommodates this by providing a walking route, a sailing route and sufficient public space for outdoor recreation. The emphasis on different micro-biotopes in the green areas also has an educational and positive contribution to the outdoor activities, where one sees nature changing and growing while walking (or sailing) around Catharijnesingel. This too makes the design for the redesign of Catharijnesingel an example project in which walkability, nature inclusiveness, climate adaptation and cultural heritage come together.

Engineering: Witteveen+Bos
Contractor: D. van der Steen BV

Project location: Catharijnesingel, Utrecht (South to Mall Hoog Catharijne)

Design year: 2017

Year Built: 2019-2020

Published on November 17, 2022

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