Utrecht is bursting with eye-catching buildings, many of which you probably bike past but don’t know much about. The giant pergola in Máxima park in Leidsche Rijn is one of them.

By Martine Bakker

At first glance, this huge, smooth, white pergola looks out of place in Máxima park. But its elegant, slim profile, tall arches and subtle details soon win you over.

Photo by D.C. Goossen

Part of the 6-metre high pergola follows the line of a pond. Seats protrudes from some of the arches and the honeycomb structure provides a habitat for insects and birds. Owls, frogs, pike, newts or bats are carved into the end sections of the honeycomb walls. Up close, the pergola isn’t as smooth as it looks: the whitewashed concrete is rough on the inside, allowing plants to climb up it. Which is, of course, the whole idea of a pergola.

The pergola was designed by landscape architect Adriaan Geuze from West 8, when he designed Máxima park in 1997. He used it as the romantic outline of his so-called ‘inner courtyard’, a modern variation on a 19th-century English landscaped garden. The winding paths, water feature (the ‘Viking Rhine’), beech wood and the gentle undulations with banks of rhododendrons contrast visibly with the surrounding park. The park itself provides the more practical facilities expected of an urban park: sports pitches, a base for the scouts, vegetable patches and riding stables.

Another world
The pergola was originally intended to encircle the entire shady inner courtyard, but unfortunately the budget ran out. Although only 900 metres of the planned 3 kilometres were realised, it is still an impressive edifice. The pergola was one of five contenders for the 2015 Rietveld Prize and in 2014, a professional jury selected it for inclusion in the best landscape architecture yearbook. Despite its incompleteness, this section of pergola does exactly what was intended: it forms the entrance to another world.