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Soon I will be saying goodbye as director of the Geldrop Castle Estate Foundation after 18 years. I was once asked to supervise the complex restoration and new construction and then stayed on for many more years afterwards with a lot of pleasure. As such, it is an extremely interesting and multi-faceted volunteer job to guide this historic country estate in the heart of the town into a modern independent estate during the transformation.

A country estate must continually innovate or it simply will not survive. Ingrained old structures must be repeatedly replenished with new uses and programming. Here, as is always the case in built-up areas, ownership is a very important factor. Going from a form of ‘Noblemen’s rights ‘(Heerlijk recht’) to a ‘General Public Welfare Organization’ (Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling) makes quite a difference. Not so much in terms of responsibility, but in the way this is interpreted.

High-tech sugar industry

We have opened up what was for a long time private and inaccessible. So that everyone can stroll along the waterside in the mythical landscape garden. Brabant creeks are a gift from God. Also, anyone can now enjoy an outdoor movie on a summer evening on the centuries-old lawn flanked by the tallest tree in southern Holland planted there courtesy of the lavishly flowing profits from the colonial high-tech sugar industry. Yes, high-tech has always been a lucrative invention.

There was a children’s farm as well that now also functions as a social safety net. Along with a sensory garden and a food forest. We added culinary services to the gardens and the landscaped park. It soon became clear that tourism alone is not enough to support commercial activities. Which is why we rent and lease buildings and organize concerts and art exhibitions and host conferences.

We are sorting out new economic opportunities that involve energy generation from wetlands and growing mushrooms in our forests. Everything is as low key as possible and all for the benefit of the community. All made possible by a host of motivated volunteers. Sometimes, when recruiting them, I hear them tell me: ‘I’m not going to do that kind of voluntary work, because I am a professional. That’s not a problem, we are all professionals here’, is my answer.

Country estate as a campus

A country estate is also extremely suitable for the development of urban planning the is based on the landscape. And consequently to use the landscape as a spatial medium. In Geldrop, we are still in the middle of that process whereby we want to complement the character of the country estate with its combinations of functions and expand this further into the town center, thereby providing the town center area with a sense of cohesion and reinforcing its all-important identity as a whole.

If you want to create communities you also have to create an environment which they can identify themselves with. A country estate such as Brainport Campus – a green, educational, working and recreational oasis in the heart of your town – who wouldn’t want that?

An estate, as you can see, has integrality ingrained in it. It contains a fascinating combination of a wide variety of functions embedded in the economy, culture and landscape. It has existed for centuries in symbiosis with its environment and operates almost as a given in the long term. In ever-changing circumstances. An intelligent system of cohesion and integrated management which thinks in terms of stewardship that extends across generations. In which the focus on the characteristics and identity of an area are central. In such a way that everyone can easily identify with it. In fact, it is a role model for dealing with contemporary challenges such as inclusiveness, climate change and circularity.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla andColinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way to find solutions to the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good.  Here are all the previous articles.