Engineering the Colony: Cultivation, Territorial Ambitions and New Order in the Nineteenth-Century Kingdom of the Netherlands

Activity: Lecture / PresentationAcademic


Between 1818-1825, seven colonies, spread across the Netherlands and Belgium, were constructed in the period in what was then the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Tens of thousands of poor and needy people were deported from the cities and housed and put to work to transform rough heath land areas into (vruchtbare) agricultural landscapes. These colonies remain an early European example of large-scale residential re-education. In the recent Unesco nomination description the colonies are characterized as ‘a landscape of two centuries of social engineering’. The colonies are seen as a ‘large-scale, utopian experiment, inspired by the Enlightenment’, where, ‘on a national scale and through the collaboration of the State and citizens, endeavours were made to look after care-dependent citizens in social service facilities, and make them self-sufficient.’ This paper investigates the architectural part of this social engineering. How was architecture conceived and deployed to improve man and society in these new (‘total’) institutions, and what significance should be ascribed to the ‘colonial’ (in understanding its engineering)?
The turn inward to colony was not about domination and empire, but about segregation and agrarian labour, economic and ethical improvement. This aim sets it apart from the racialized domination overseas. In these domestic colonies people were disciplined and educated through working the wasteland, modern (agricultural) training and moral education. Spatial organization, regulations, time-keeping and experimental agriculture worked together and had strong consequences for the inmates. It will be argued that architecture – as civil and military engineering – was instrumental in spatially articulating specific economic, political, social and military ideas that gave form to these colonies.
Period3 Jun 2021
Event titleEuropean Architectural History Network: Sixth International Meeting
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational