A certain urge to go and truly see where you are is always a feeling that comes over me when I am in a place I do not know. Interestingly enough, I have known Delft for more than fifteen years, and for most of that time I was also a resident. So basically, for me, I didn’t really feel like there’s anything new to see—I know the city. But I also know that this is different for the participants of the CA2RE+ Conference.
Together with my colleagues Esther Gramsbergen and Olindo Caso—long-term Delft residents—we put together a route through Delft to get to know the city better.1 The walk focused on the characteristic hofjes, on how Delft as a 13th century settlement is anchored in the landscape, and its squares and monuments. Seen through that lens, I found out that I know Delft, but in a different way than I assumed: I know Delft as a resident.
We, CA2RE+ participants, all have an affection for the built environment, therefore, I also view the city from that perspective. But that is more of a passive experience that slumbers in the background during daily activities as a city’s resident. With both perspectives in mind, I took one of the two groups and showed them the city, accompanied by a folding booklet with historical city maps and architectural analysis drawings.
The result was a relaxed trip along the urban features and architectural amenities of Delft. We started the by visiting two hofjes: century-old unique urban and architectural typologies of a courtyard surrounded by houses with their front door to that courtyard. Wealthy private individuals founded these ‘courtyards of charity’—dating back to the 14th century—for poor elderly people. The hofjes are still inhabited today.
We continued walking. The first major expansion around 1350 in the east of the city center exactly follows the former drainage ditches in the peat landscape. These canals are perpendicular to the first canal dug in Delft around 1200: the Oude Delft (Old Delft). Delft therefore owes its city map and spatial structure to an artificial drainage system that existed long before Delft was a city.
We ended our walking tour at the Prinsenhof (The Court of the Prince), now a museum dedicated to national history. In the second half of the 16th century, this former Catholic Sint-Agathaklooster was taken into use as a court by Prins Willem van Oranje, while revolting against King Philip II of Spain and the Catholic clergy. In 1584 William of Orange was murdered in the Prinsenhof. As a leader of the Revolt, he is now seen as the founder of the new Dutch state and honored as vader des vaderlands (father of the fatherland). Among other locations in the city, this square and monument owes Delft its important role in our national history.
Along with sharing my own experiences as a former resident, not only did the group get a new perspective on the city, but so did I. And when we returned to the faculty, I was suddenly overcome by a certain feeling—this urge to take another good look at where I am.
Canon van Nederland, from https://www.canonvannederland.nl/
Rutte, Reinout (2010): »Een Unieke Hollandse Grachtenstad? De Ruimtelijke Ontwikkeling van Delft in Vogelvlucht.«, in: Jaarboek Delfia Batavorum, issue 20. Delft: Historische Vereniging Delfia Batavorum.
Wilms Floet, Willemijn (2021): Oases in de stad: het hofje als architectonisch idee. Rotterdam: nai010 uitgevers.