Muur van Mussert

Social innovation creates new role for Muur van Mussert

Young people were invited to submit designs for a place of reflection at the Muur van Mussert, an old rally ground where the National Socialist leader of the Netherlands addressed his followers. As a result of the competition this controversial site has become a national monument. An example of social innovation.

In Lunteren, a village near the town of Ede, there stands a high wall, where Anton Mussert addressed the members of the National Socialist Movement (NSB) before the Second World War broke out. The spot marks a black page in the history of the Netherlands, but the wall was crumbling. The first call to designate the Muur van Mussert a scheduled monument came in 2004 and since then various heritage organisations, including the local Erfgoed Ede, have campaigned for this. Despite all the attention generated, including a book written by a historian, the attempts were not successful. Then, early in 2017, Erfgoed Ede asked the Science Shop at Wageningen University & Research to come up with new ideas for the location.

The Science Shop decided to hold a competition, inviting all Dutch students to design a new function for the location. Many of the entries suggested it should be designated not only a site of historic importance but also a place of reflection. The winner, architecture student Rick Abelen, designed a ‘reflection centre’ with an underground museum, an auditorium and space for lectures and debates.

Social innovation

The Science Shop project is an example of social innovation, says Roel During. ‘We worked on creating social value, in this case how we as a society should deal with our past. This is of importance to society as a whole, it wasn’t just about what the client wanted.’ The client’s vision, which focused on the site’s historic value, was not just implemented automatically, says During. Instead, education and the new generation were given a more prominent role. During: ‘We chose to engage with young people and look for new meanings for the wall, making it a bottom-up initiative. Their informality and creativity turned out to be more of a decisive factor than all the formal bureaucracies involved in this complex undertaking.’

The competition drew much media attention and this increased the public’s involvement: 80 high-profile people wrote a letter to the minister asking for the wall to be made a national monument, and questions were asked in parliament. In spring 2018 the minister declared the wall a national monument.

Fresh

‘All players had a joint role in changing the meaning of the Muur van Mussert,’ says Pierre Lommen, a historian at the Ede town council. ‘The WUR project certainly contributed to it becoming a national monument.’ The students’ designs were creative and fresh, even if they were not all feasible in terms of execution, says Lommen. He believes that the attention the project generated was more important than the actual results of the design competition, as this led to it being given national monument status. ‘The designs provided a clear picture of what could be done with the location and gave people time to get used to the new plan. The widespread media attention and the large number of visitors on open monument day were an eye-opener for the site owner.’

A not-for-profit foundation has been set up to look for funds to build Rick Abelen’s educational centre.