Exploring the Estate of Louis Le Roy
Nieuwe Instituut is researching the legacy of garden and landscape architect Louis Le Roy (1924-2012), in response to the heirs’ request for advice on its preservation and management. The importance of Le Roy’s work and thinking is undeniable. Whether this also applies to the archive is now the question.
1 May 2023
Louis Le Roy became widely known, nationally and internationally, for his ecological vision of developing gardens, parks and cities. His projects include the Eco Cathedral in Mildam (1964-3000), the garden of his house in Oranjewoud (1962-2012), and the central reservation or median of the Kennedylaan in Heerenveen (1965-2105). His gardens are not so much designed, as allowed to gradually develop on a foundation of stacked building debris. Time and natural growth processes are given abundant space. With all the attention currently being paid to ecology, biodiversity and inclusive nature management, his work is once again receiving widespread attention.
Spontaneous and informal
Nieuwe Instituut is working with various partners to find ways to preserve important archives in the field of garden and landscape architecture. Currently, these are frequently inaccessible or even threatened with decay, because there is no one to take care of them. Le Roy’s legacy is an interesting and timely case study. The collection consists of photos and slides, correspondence, newspaper articles, books, some drawings, glass art, and possibly Le Roy’s workshop and garden in Oranjewoud. Because he believed that projects should arise spontaneously and informally, he made few design drawings. In designers’ archives, the design drawings are often an important element, but in the Le Roy archive, the slides are the main component. He kept numerous slides and photos that reveal the development of his projects over time. Also important is the material documenting the history of ideas and social discussion, such as newspaper articles and lectures.
Le Roy’s collection contains a large number of slides and photographs of the Eco-Cathedral and other projects, landscapes, architecture, art, cities, his glass collection, tiles and pottery, and other subjects. In addition, there are several boxes with smaller glass slides, negatives and photo prints. The heirs have temporarily deposited most of the photo collection with the Nieuwe Instituut. There are more than 25,000 slides and negatives, some of which have yet to be identified. Some have artistic value, others are mainly documentation. However, the value of the collection as a whole is small if the photos are not described. To do this requires further research.
As part of the Designing the Social exhibition, in which one of the ‘rooms’ is dedicated to the Eco Cathedraal in Mildam, about 1000 separate colour slides (6x6) and black-and-white negatives and 80 contact sheets have been digitised in the institute’s Digilab. In this article, you can see a small selection of them.
Most of the photos were taken by Le Roy himself. Many of the slides and negatives were still in the yellow envelopes used by photographic laboratories to return the developed material, but Le Roy also developed some of the photographic material himself: his house in Oranjewoud still contains equipment for developing and printing photos. He used a Hasselblad camera to take his pictures. We can tell this from the distinctive small notches in the centre left of each frame. These also allow us to see whether a photo has been digitised with the right side up, and not mirrored.
Nieuwe Instituut is in talks about the preservation of, and access to, Le Roy’s estate with the various participants involved. An inventory of the various sub-collections has now been completed. Parts of the archive, such as the photographic material and the glassware, could be housed at various specialised heritage institutions. But the archive as a whole is also valuable, so we are also looking for ways to preserve the cohesion between the sub-collections. This could be done, for example, by digitally recording both the archive and the house, and by collaborating in making the material accessible, for example using linked open data (LOD), so that the whole can always be reconstructed.
In addition, we are exploring the possibility of designating the house, now in a troubling condition, as a temporary research and knowledge centre for ecological and nature-inclusive thinking in architecture, design and art. The archive would then also form a case for further research into public and private heritage management. This set-up would also allow for more research from different disciplines into the subsets. The Nieuwe Instituut’s role could involve including parts of the estate in the National Collection, while also contributing to the programme surrounding the house and the collections.
Resources and further reading
Noël van Dooren en Marieke Francke. Geheugen van het ontworpen landschap. Het belang van archivering van tuin- en landschapsarchitectuur [Memory of the designed landscape. The importance of archiving garden and landscape architecture]. Recommendations to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW).
The Eco Cathedral in the exhibition Designing the Social.
Rob Hendriks and Piet Vollaard in collaboration with the heirs and Stichting Tijd. Projecten en bibliografie Louis G. Le Roy [Louis G. Le Roy: Projects and Bibliography].