Van Gessel’s handwriting can be found in his design process. In van Gessel’s case, this doesn’t take place in the bustling and creative hubbub of a large office, but in silence, solitude and contemplation. An environment that, in terms of design, has no distractions and is dominated by large wall expanses, light from outside, off-white, grey tints and black office furniture.
Two photographs by Bas Princen (1975) and Elgar Esser (1967) of monumental open landscapes bring space into the studio like literal signs on the wall, while at the same time functioning as symbolic images representing their importance as a constructive and aesthetic design principle. The silence of van Gessel’s studio is not disturbed by computers or screens. Van Gessel works like an artisan, by hand. Rolls of transparent drawing paper, black markers, rulers, topographical maps and a collection of ornaments are his tools. In a process of abstract selection, the elements traced from the topographical maps will later form the backbone of the design: landscape elements, infrastructure, and boundaries, all according to the landscape analysis he learned at university. These, together with observations made on site, will result in inventories, spatial analysis, or master plans.
The design process itself is selective and interpretive because annoying elements in the topographic map that van Gessel chooses to “clear away” are not incorporated in the outlines of the design’s intended image. The prints of ornaments will be placed under the transparent paper at a later stage. They form the counterpart to the straightforward outlines and represent elements of abundance within the simplified, clearly defined spatial whole. These ornaments often relate to flowerbeds in garden and park designs, and to detailed specifications for bridge parapets, garden pavilions, entrance gates and fences; they are a means to bestow spatial allure to details in the space. (…)
This handwriting metaphorically represents the effect of his intuitive imagination as well as his analytical design approach. They embody preferences, ideas and strategies that consciously or unconsciously, calculatedly or intuitively influence his work. Van Gessel says that he is not a theoretician. We cannot pluck his design views from handy pamphlets or published works he himself has written; we have to extrapolate them from his drawn designs, the accompanying commentaries, and finished projects and from articles and interviews. They consist of a number of recurrent basic principles and are elucidated by looking at the variety of typologies in his work.
Christian Bertram, Erik de Jong, Analysis and Intuition Designing Landscapes (2008)
Michael Van Gessel, Twickel Estate (2011)