Lely’s Column, Stadhuisplein, Lelystad
Lelystad: the modernist model of urban planner Cornelis van Eesteren (1897-1988) that lay the foundations of the new town on the new polder had already proven unrealistic by the 1960s. The utopian plan for a dynamic modern town that would rise out of nothing was defeated by cold pragmatism. Forty years later, a major urban renewal project was needed to rescue the town from socioeconomic disaster and give it a new future.
The ‘Master Plan for Lelystad Centre’ – the revitalisation plan developed by West 8 landscape architects and urban planners – proved, all things considered, to be the final blow for the failing modernist ideal. Lelystad would have to conform to the undeniable postmodernity of society. Lely’s Column marks that moment.
The intention was also to revitalise the statue of engineer Cornelis Lely (1854-1929), the brains behind the IJsselmeer Polders and the man for whom the town was named. The bronze statue of Lely that had stood elsewhere in Lelystad since 1984 was mounted on a 32-metre classical column – the modernist heritage deliberately overturned and reassembled.
Professor Piet Esser (1914-2004), who had made the statue of Lely, demanded that his work be removed from the column. More than 200 letters of protest from residents failed to change his mind. Anticipating this potential scenario, the rights had also been acquired for a second casting of the moment to Lely that Mari Andriessen (1897-1979) had made for the Afsluitdijk causeway in 1954. This Lely was installed on the column in 2004.
An iconoclastic union of elements of the urban fabric which in ideological terms are mutually exclusive now adorns the centre of Lelystad, as in a metropolis. Unlike its famous counterparts in Rome, London and Paris, Lely’s Column is constructed of lumps of basalt like those used in the dikes built to drain the polder and protect Lelystad from the sea. Johannes van Houwelingen (1914-1977) was one of the stonemasons who spent his entire working life helping to build Lely’s dikes, including the Afsluitdijk. The column that raises Lely to great heights is dedicated to his memory.
Hans van Houwelingen