The Island of Silence
Tessa Schouten Master in Landscape Architecture (Academy of Architecture) graduated with: The Island of Silence – Making Alderney’s history speak again.
At the start of the Second World War, it soon became clear that the Channel Island of Alderney – belonging to the British crown, but located only ten miles off the French coast – would fall into German hands. This led to the evacuation of almost all of its islanders, who would spend the war years in the United Kingdom. At the end of the war, only a few hundred ever returned.
By 1941, the Germans had begun building fortifications on the island. Alderney was therefore transformed into an impregnable fortress. To keep construction going, foreign forced labourers from German-occupied territories were shipped to the island. A life marked by exhaustion, malnutrition, disease and abuse awaited them on 'Insel Adolf'. Many of them lost their lives here.
The return of the islanders after the war, turned out to be a painful experience for many. There was little left of their once lovely island. It caused trauma that is still present in part of the population today. And although there are few visual remnants of the Borkum, Helgoland, Norderney and Sylt camps (named after German islands), I believe it could be healing to make history visible again. Not through a reconstruction of the camps, but through landscape interventions, which are carried out by the islanders themselves.
From denial to commemoration
In my graduation project, I propose a number of schemes in which two processes run parallel – physical and emotional. Islanders implement step-by-step interventions which make the camps recognizable once more, while these same interventions help them process their trauma. The acceptance of a difficult past will grow alongside the increasingly robust interventions in the landscape
Three new commemorative landscapes
The sea is a constant in all three proposals.
At Sylt , I propose to distinguish the camp from the surrounding landscape by giving it a densely planted border with trees and shrubs. Inside, the camp remains are again visible and one experiences the feeling of being confined, with the sea being the only way out.
Helgoland has been built over with a residential area and only its former entrance remains visible during heavy rainfall when rainwater is collected at ground level and a single route and line of sight is formed which connects the camp entrance with the sea.
At Norderney, the harsh living conditions adjacent to the sea, are ‘relived’ when the sea invades the land through a dune breach. This event sets in motion a slumbering transition in which the eroding sea makes the currently hidden camp remnants visible again.
Through the planting of forest, the retention of rainwater and the intake of the eroding sea, forgotten stories and testimonies about the camps are told in a subtle way. This creates memorials that are not necessarily guilty, but also – unlike the usual monumental memorials – can be considered impartial.
From trauma to pride
These three commemorative landscapes signify a new transformation of the island, restoring the relationship between the past and the present. The landscape tells the story of history but is embedded in the present time. Alderney dares to let its history speak and can once again be proud of the island, its history and the future.
Jana Crepon, landscape architect and Tessa’s mentor: 'Tessa has delivered a beautiful and important graduate project, exceptional in terms of location and narrative research, and good in terms of the minimalist elaboration of the understated designs. The tone of her story is extremely respectful, her interventions restrained and possibly realistic too. It is precisely by working so modestly that it becomes plausible that people can actually do something with it.
The three sites of former labour camps subsequently become not only places for remembrance, but add spatial variation, dynamism and mystery to the island. They can become places for interaction and bringing together the local community, but can also illustrate (forgotten or erased) historical aspects. Tessa has designed places to reflect on the immense inhumanity of wars and remind us that no place on earth is ‘innocent’; that there is always a war going on somewhere. Although the island is divided on how to deal with its fraught past, it is so important to pay attention to it with words and images, especially now that Europe is at war.
Her graduation project sets an example for the professional world by showing how to create landscaped places of remembrance in an understated way, designed entirely from the charge of the place – the genius loci. At the same time, it can serve as inspiration for communities that are struggling to deal with a complex or tragic history.'
Hanneke Kijne, former head of Landscape Architecture, Academy of Architecture (until 1 August 2022): 'With her graduation project, Tessa Schouten has attempted to strike a balance between revealing the history of the landscape and the large section of Alderney's society that has actually turned away from its own history. Tessa has created wonderful spatial design proposals for this sensitive situation, allowing for a nuanced experience of that landscape and its history, and therefore a slow and almost physical acceptance of it by the residents themselves. Tessa conducted thorough research into the landscape and its history, and based on that, created spatial proposals on large and detailed scales that are in keeping with the issues and the landscape, while at the same time responding to the urgent climate adaptation issues of today. Tessa has made a beautiful document of her graduation project in which she explains and presents her research and design in detail. Her historical (spatial) research alone is of great value to the island of Alderney and its residents. Her almost austere graphic style suits her project very well, ensuring that the subtleties and nuances essential in this project are brought to the fore. At the same time, the atmosphere of the images creates a very appropriate contemplative fascination in the reader’s mind.
With this unique graduation project, Tessa has shown the value that landscape design can have in processing communal trauma within society. As a result of this, she is making a great contribution to our discipline by investigating this theme, on the basis the landscape, in a comprehensive and complete way, and demonstrating that with her method and integral design, a sustainable landscape of high quality can be created.'