< 29 / 63 >
Buy Print and Info Hide

De Leeuwenbrink, Zoetermeer, Holland /

Progress is nothing other than the breaking through a field where chance holds sway by creating new conditions more favourable to our purposes.
                                Guy Debord (1931-1994)

The south-eastern edge of Zoetermeer represents the business end of town.  Physically separated by the Oostweg highway from the cultural, historical and residential areas of the city, the area is dominated by the high-efficiency, low-cost, rapidly-constructed faceless boxes that dominate the modern business landscape.  On first impression it would be reasonable to assume there would be little of interest to uncover in such a sterile, ordered environment.   But, even amongst the highly functional architecture it is still possible to find traces of the history that gives Zoetermeer its unique identity and continues to inform its perspective on the future - if only one is prepared to look.

Before promoting itself as a Leisure City Zoetermeer was famous for one thing - Butter.  Surrounded by rich pasture and renowned for producing the finest milk, more than 50 producers of butter are known to have worked in and around the towns of Zoetermeer and Zegwaart well into the 20th century.  As a result the area became known to many as Boterdorp.

However, a transformation began in 1878 when young Bernardus Brinkers started selling margarine in and around the town. Though Brinker\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s choice of business may sound innocuous today, for his contemporaries his trade was one that both upset and threatened the established economy of Zoetermeer.  Margarine was an entirely new product produced by chemical means - viewed suspiciously by the traditional manufacturers of butter and one fiercely rejected by the community.  Nevertheless, through a dedicated belief in innovation, Brinkers was able to build his distribution company at such a rate that by 1888 he was able to purchase part, then all, of Huis te Palensteyn - the dilapidated Palace farmhouse on the Dorpsstraat - to act as Brinkers first warehouse and with it radically changed the centre of Zoetermeer forever.

Growing to become one of the biggest manufacturers and distributors in margarine, patissery and confectionary in Europe the company remained in family hands with operations handled from the centre of Zoetermeer for decades - only moving from the Dorpsstraat after 75 years into the purpose built factory on the Bleiswijkseweg.  Now known as the Leeuwenbrink the building retains a little of its history by name but has been repurposed for the 21st century as an incubator for ICT companies.

Though much of the building currently remains empty its ambition retains a spirit of entrepreneurship and as such sits it firmly in the wake of innovators like Bernardus Brinkers. Unlike the presence of Brinkers that helped shape the centre of old Zoetermeer the building is now lost amidst the featureless units of the business park - occupying a location in a space where history and identity are purposefully erased in the name of efficiency.  Nevertheless, in still standing at all it offers up a space where new, powerful identities have the chance to arise and continue a narrative of Zoetermeer rather than simply a narrative of the economy.

This image is not featured in my shop. Please contact me through this page for details about buying this as a print. 

Made in collaboration with producer Andy Brydon from Curated Place, for the Stadsmuseum Zoetermeer.

< Back to  Secret Cities

Click image to enlarge  >