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‘’In Search of Sharawadgi’’ landscape works from New York to Parkstad

On 12 June Dutch minister of Education, Science and Culture Ingrid van Engelshoven opened  in Heerlen in SCHUNCK  cultural center ‘’In Search of Sharawadgi’’ exposition which shows the ideas and dreams of Piet Oudolf -Dutch most famous garden designer, and LOLA Landscape Architects from Rotterdam. Some of Oudolf’s projects include: Oudolf Garden Detroit, Belle Isle, MI; The High Line, New York, NY; Serpentine Gallery, London, and the Venice Biennale, Italy. Oudolf is also (co-)author of numerous books.

The exhibition presents the transformation of public gardens and landscapes around the world, from the High Line in New York to the Leisure Lane in Parkstad. ( region in the southern part of the Netherlands). It is logically structured in 5 themes and clearly explained in both Dutch and English. It is definitely worth visiting with whole families as it reflects on the spaces around us.

Exposition for various age groups ©

During the opening Ingrid van Engelshoven said: ‘’With their work Piet Oudolf and LOLA also show that we cannot do without art and culture in solving the challenges of our time. As Peter Veenstra, co-founder of LOLA recently said in an interview: “No one wants to live only in the solution of a problem. We need environments that inspire.’ Right words, as proved last year, when we went into the landscape en masse, looking for nature, beauty and inspiration. So this exhibition comes as it is called. From now on we can continue our search from SCHUNCK.”

Special perspective of landscape design

Sharawadgi’s concept stems from a historical conception of Japanese landscape design. In the context of landscape architecture, the term sharawadgi is synonymous with a style of landscape design or architecture that avoids clean lines and symmetry in order to make the landscape appear organic and naturalistic. Sharawadgi is the guiding principle for Oudolf and LOLA in their search for landscapes.

They are joined in this narrative by artists Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), Anne Geene, Geert Mul, Sanne Vaassen, Giuseppe Licari, Darcy Neven, Vijai Patchineelam, Adrijana Gvozdenović from Montenegro and Kie Ellens. With new and existing works, they offer a special perspective on landscape design and on larger issues such as global warming and the effect of nature on our physical and mental health.

In their designs they always look for the human perspective. Successful landscape design at the level of individual experience is crucial. At the same time, their designs strive to provide solutions to problems and challenges associated with large-scale industry, mass tourism and traffic, urbanization and the consequences of these issues for the climate and nature. Think of declining biodiversity, drought, but also the advance of invasive plant and animal species.



The exposition is logically structured in 5 themes.

Theme 1, ‘Nature Composition’, focuses on composition as a guideline for new landscapes in the work of Piet Oudolf.

Theme 2, ‘Nouveaux terroirs’, is about our bond with the subsoil and the cultural history of the soil. This is reflected in the reinterpretation and activation of landscapes that have been written off.

Theme 3, ‘Everyone is a gardener’, focuses on the role and activation of the community in Oudolf and LOLA’s designs.

In theme 4, ‘Lifelines’, the focus is on the movement of the user, but also on the reuse of forgotten connections and networks in an urban environment.

Theme 5, ‘Dreamy Realism’, focuses on the global climate problem and how landscape design can actively provide solutions.


Thanks to the State Mines, the Eastern Mining District in Dutch South Limburg region was one of the most prosperous regions in the Netherlands. After the last pit was closed in 1974, the factories and railway lines were gradually removed from the landscape. The industrial locations gave way to greenery. To underline this transformation, the region was renamed Parkstad (‘Park City’). Falling employment opportunities turned the area into a shrinking region, with social challenges such as unemployment, an ageing population, and young people moving away. To give the region a boost, an Internationale Bauausstellung (International Building Exhibition, IBA) was organized for the 2013—2022 period: fifty spatial projects, all contributing in their own way to the future of the region. LOLA and Piet Oudolf designed a 26-kilometre cycle and walking route through Parkstad: the Leisure Lane. It is one of IBA’s key projects, intended to stimulate tourism and sustainable commuting. The route connects the most beautiful landscapes and the urban centres of the region with one continuous line.

Leisure Lane in Parkstad ©

Montenegro and Salt fields in Ulcinj

Chapter 2, ‘Nouveaux Terroirs’, is about our connection with the soil and its cultural history. This is reflected in the activation and reinterpretation of landscapes that have been written off, such as the former salt flats of Ulcinj in Montenegro, for which LOLA developed a long-term strategy. Vijai Maia Patchineelam and Adrijana Gvozdenović made a visual report of this monumental landscape, linking the current state of its nature to the (political) developments in the region.

Ulcinj ©

Ulcinj’s salt fields were invaluable for many bird species on their trek across the Adriatic Sea. The nutrient- rich, shallow water of the artificial salt fields ensured the presence of numerous shrimps, an important food source for birds, including pink flamingos. The area was an important hub as a stopover for migratory birds. Ulcinj has been called the Heathrow Airport for birds. The presence of the many birds attracted birdwatchers and tourists from all over the world and gave a boost to the local economy. Since 2012, the development of the area has largely been halted. Salt production has stopped and most of the factory has been dismantled. Pollution, shady land deals, and corruption seem to be the biggest threats to the Solana ecosystem at the moment. With the pumps shut down and the salt water draining away, the ‘salina pyramid’ is in danger of collapsing like a house of cards, and the nature reserve is in danger of degradation. At the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, LOLA presented a proposal to revitalize the Ulcinj ecosystem. In order to preserve biodiversity and thus to reactivate the food pyramid again, it is crucial to resume pumping up salt water.

Ulcinj ©

In addition to recovery, LOLA’s plan also explores further opportunities offered by salt water. Depending on the water depth and salinity, a salt pan can be a breeding ground for diverse animal and plant species.

In LOLA’s proposal, the people of Ulcinj are invited to contribute to the realisation of this new and vital landscape. For instance, a hotel owner could make a panorama point for birdwatchers in one of the basins. The ultimate goal is a hyper-diverse saline ecology of animals, plants, and people.

The exposition is open till 17 October 2021

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Text and photos: ©