The Flevoland Observatorium

Robert Morris
Lelystad, Flevoland, Nederland
52°32′58″N 5°33′57″E

Robert Morris is an American sculptor considered one of the founders of minimalism. He is also an early practitioner of land art and has made several installations in the world. In 1971, he made an installation in Velsen. Located in the province of North Holland, a peninsula near the North Sea. Therefore, more than half of the province’s territory is reclaimed from the waters via the polders and is below sea level. This installation called Observatorium zoals was created for the Sonsbeek contemporary art festival in Arnhem. It consists of an observatory of sand and dunes, interacting with polder water. However, it was destroyed, as it resided on a space intended for housing construction. (See here a video of the installation at the Sonsbeek buiten de perken exhibition)

Robert Morris Velsen Observatorium
Robert Morris Velsen Observatorium - Excerpt from “Sonsbeek Buiten de Perken” (1971) by Jef Cornelis


A few years later, in 1973, the organiser of Sonsbeek exhibition commissioned a replica of his observatorium in one of the polders of Flevoland. This province, which was definitely established in 1986, was formed by the merging of two polders. Almost the whole of its territory is therefore below sea level. This made it difficult to set up the installation, in fact its construction will only begin in 1976. Robert Morris commissioned the architect Coen de Groot, (already in charge of the first installation) to build his observatory. Two criteria had to be respected: the observatory had to be easily accessible for visualization, and the lines of sight had to be free and remain free in the future. The observatory was finally opened in April 1977.

flevoland observatorium aerial view
Flevoland Observatorium, aerial view
A Land art project

The plan of the Flevoland Observatorium follows the concentric plan of the Velsen Observatory and the circular inspiration of Stonehenge. However, the Flevoland Observatorium is larger. The idea of this installation is to stage the seasonal and daily rhythms. The visitor consciously feels the change when it is put into perspective with the surrounding polder territory.

To achieve this, Robert Morris has drawn two concentric circles. Firstly, the exterior one, made of earth with an access from the west. This entrance is in the form of a triangle in the wall, and allows one to enter the inner circle. Similarly, the inner ring is made of earth, but its interior is lined with tropical wood. As a result, this creates a powerful acoustic effect. The inner ring is pierced by 3 visors on the east side. The 3 openings are marked with granite visor stones. There is one facing east, one at 37 degrees north of the west-east axis and one at 37 degrees south. This orientation is determined by the point where the sun rises and sets on the solstices. Consequently the sun is visible exactly in the middle of the solstices during the fall and spring solstices and at the equinox. The Flevoland Observatorium therefore stages a megalithic representation of the passage of time.

Flevoland Observatorium Observatory Robert Morris Landart
Plan of the Observatorium
Oservatorium land art flevoland Robert Morris
robert morris landart
Drone view by Jan Frans de Hartog
Observatorium Robert Morris
Observatorium (1977), Robert Morris. Photo: Gert Schutte
Source: Thomas Dreher

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