Archives: Homage to Hans Monderman

Unexpected interview in Groningen (On the street and straight to the point)


1 min 20 sec – May 30, 2006

Description: What? You know all about transport in cities and you have never heard of Groningen? Well, check out this an unexpected street interview in Groningen, a slice of life as lived by our old friend and transport innovating colleague (and now World Eyes on the Street correspondent from Portugal) Robert Stussi.

He has titled it: A Homage to Hans Monderman. Hear, hear!

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About the life and work of Hans Monderman:

From an obituary by Ben Hamilton-Baillie which appeared in The Guardian on 2 February 2008

The Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who has died from cancer aged 62, inspired and developed a fundamental change in thinking about the relationship between people, places and traffic. Working in the towns and villages of his native Friesland in the north of the Netherlands, in a traditionally conservative and cautious profession, he succeeded in challenging many long-established assumptions about safety and the relationship between pedestrians and traffic. In so doing, he initiated a new approach to the creation of civilised streets and public spaces.With the impact of traffic on communities and public life now a major concern, Monderman pioneered an approach that respected the driver’s common sense and intelligence instead of reliance on signs, road markings, traffic signals and physical barriers. He recognised that increasing control and regulation by the state reduced individual and collective responsibility, and he initiated a fresh understanding of the relationship between streets, traffic and civility.

He was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland, the son of a headteacher, and retained a passionate enthusiasm for knowledge and teaching throughout his life. From an early age he was renowned for his practical skills and love of technology, but it was the seemingly limitless breadth of his knowledge and enthusiasms that surprised his contemporaries. His work seemed to expand beyond professional boundaries. His early career as a civil engineer building roads was followed by work as an accident investigator.

He trained as an advanced driving instructor and helped establish driving schools. His knowledge of how roads are designed and constructed, and his understanding of how people respond to them, prompted his interest in psychology and urban design.

In 1982, Monderman was appointed to head the road safety team for Friesland following growing national concern about road deaths and injuries. Always doubtful about the conventional armoury of signs, speed bumps and chicanes, he began to explore the potential for influencing driver behaviour through stripping out highway paraphernalia, using instead simple design measures that emphasised the distinctiveness of each and every place. An early scheme in the village of Oudehaske succeeded in reducing speeds well below those achieved by conventional traffic-calming measures. Monderman went on to develop the ideas in more than 100 towns and villages, using landscape, lighting, public art and local materials to redefine the language of urban streets and spaces.

Throughout most of the 20th century, engineers and planners had assumed that efficient traffic flows and road safety could be achieved only by separating vehicles from civic spaces. Monderman demonstrated that vehicles could be integrated into the social fabric of communities by treating drivers as intelligent citizens. This raised important questions about the role of the state and regulation, and its effect on social behaviour and collective responsibility. Not surprisingly, his work caused discomfort among governments, but the ideas gained credence among local communities, which benefited from fewer accidents and traffic delays as well as much greater quality of space.

By the turn of the century, organisations in Britain such as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe) and the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, and the Congress for New Urbanism in the US, were reflecting an increasing recognition of the social and economic value of streetscapes. Monderman’s work suddenly became the focus of attention for professionals, politicians, researchers and journalists from around the world. Particular interest centred on his redesign of a series of complex intersections in the town of Drachten, as well as the remodelling of the high street at Haren, a suburb of Groningen. The EU launched a research programme on “shared space” to build on his expertise.

Such public attention did not always suit such a quiet, self-effacing character, but Monderman received visitors with patience and generosity. Television journalists were encouraged to carry out interviews in the middle of busy intersections while he stood confidently amid passing cars and lorries. He would often test his own schemes by walking backwards into dense traffic, confident that he had created the right circumstances for drivers to adapt to unusual events.

His influence in the UK can be seen in schemes such as Kensington High Street in London, New Road in Brighton and many other urban regeneration projects. He was an imaginative and articulate public speaker, and his last lecture, at City Hall in London last November, drew a packed audience of engineers, urban designers, planners and politicians. At the time of his death he was working to establish a research institute to resolve the technical, organisational and political obstacles to a more inclusive and civilised public realm

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About the videographer: Robert Stussi

Robert is a senior consultant, researcher and activist in Transport and Urban Mobility. He received his B.Sc. in Civil Engineering, Major in Transportation Planning, in 1968 from the Swiss National Institute of Technology and his M.Sc. in Planning from University of British Columbia. Pro-active for soft modes, European Mobility Week, mobility management, carsharing, alternative vehicle technologies. Networking and EU project and expert activities. Working and teaching experience in several countries, and an active proponent of bike and carsharing for some years.

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About the editor:

gravatar_profile who=”worldstreets”]

2 thoughts on “Archives: Homage to Hans Monderman

  1. In the UK there is a campaign against shared space because of the danger to people with restricted vision. If Monderman’s theories are correct and being properly applied then this shouldn’t happen. Have there been any studies into what might have been done wrong ? Is it a matter of different attitudes by motorists in the UK and the Netherlands, and if so what might be done to rectify the former ?

    Reply
  2. UNEXPECTED INTERVIEW IN GRONINGEN (HOMAGE TO HANS MONDERMAN)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQASVz4xun8

    The dialogue goes like this:

    “Hello, welcome to Groningen”, says the previously unknown architect holding his bicycle and looking at the videographer, Robert Stussi, as he films on the streets of Groningen back in 2006 as part of a Homage to internationally recognized traffic engineer Hans Monderman.
    The architect continues: “The best town of the whole world”.

    “Because we are so far away from everything that we can be very creative and nobody cares about our creativity — Because they don’t know about our creativity

    “We are the inventors of a new world my sir”

    And statistically you can prove it

    See it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQASVz4xun8

    Reply

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