Hans Monderman: In Memoriam

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The following obituary was contributed by Ben Hamilton-Baillie, an urban designer based in Bristol, England. 

Hans Monderman, the pioneering Dutch traffic engineer, died on Monday 7th January near his home close to Drachten in Friesland, aged 63. As one of the most innovative and challenging of thinkers and practitioners in his field, he will be widely mourned by the many professionals, politicians, academics and ordinary people from across the world who admired his radical and challenging approach to bringing simplicity and humanity to the design of streets and public spaces.

Hans Monderman trained as a civil engineer, and as a driving instructor before studying traffic engineering and accident investigation. Combining an understanding of how roads were built as well as how they were understood by drivers prompted his interest in psychology and social behaviour. In the 1980s he was appointed as head of road safety for the Province of Friesland, a role that allowed him to question many long-standing assumptions. Always doubtful about the conventional traffic engineering vocabulary of signs, markings, barriers, bumps and chicanes, he began to explore the potential for improving safety and the quality of public life through encouraging simple human interaction and negotiation amongst road users. During his career with municipalities across northern Holland he initiated over a hundred schemes that established a new direction for reconciling the relationship between people, places and traffic.

Convinced that humans possessed skills in negotiating and interaction that were being suppressed by conventional rules and regulations, Monderman’s more recent work began to explore the potential for simplicity and integration between engineering and urban design. More complex schemes, such as the Laweiplein in Drachten and the remodelling of the High Street in Haren near Groningen  drew his work to the attention of a worldwide audience. He is most associated with the removal of signs, signals and road clutter, but it is the recognition of human intelligence and complexity, and the importance of place for which he will be best remembered.

In 2007 his work was recognized through the World Technology award and an honorary PhD in traffic planning. But it is as an inspirational speaker, a teacher, and a highly practical innovator that Hans Monderman will be best remembered by those keen to promote simple human values and civility in the public realm.

Johannes (Hans) Iebe Monderman, born November 19th in Leeuwarden, died in Drachten on January 7th. He is survived by his wife Tineke and two sons, Leonard and Johan.