Scrapwood Cities: Groningen and Rotterdam

Mid-March, in the week that the corona panic began to take hold, my growing apprehension was somewhat tempered by a nice little job for the municipality of Groningen. They had seen my digital scrapwood map of the Netherlands and wondered if there were more maps like that. And more specifically if there was one of the city of Groningen. That would be a perfect gift for a departing alderman.

Map of the city of Groningen, framed on the wall in an old wooden house
A perfect gift…


That map did not exist yet, but could of course be made. The question was: do I make each neighborhood out of a separate piece of virtual scrapwood, as I had done with the provinces on the map of the Netherlands? Or do I use a different type of wood for each city block? I had the feeling that the latter was the best way to show the structure of the city. And so it happened.


Except for the city blocks, the map of Groningen has another striking feature: the city is intersected by canals. The names evoke memories of geography lessons from days long gone: Reitdiep, Winschoterdiep, Eemskanaal, Van Starkenborghkanaal. These waterways therefore had to get a place on the map.

A map of the city of Groningen, the Netherlands, with city blocks and canals rendered as digital scrapwood and plywood
The scrapwood map of Groningen

For the sake of readability, I used for the channels a slightly lighter, plywood-like material. When we zoom in on the city center, we can recognize all kinds of details. Martini Church, the new Forum building, the Museum. But also urban spaces such as the Grote Markt, the Vismarkt and the Noorderplantsoen. And of course the stadium of the local Football Club.


In total, seventy different types of wood were used. These are distributed completely randomly across the blocks using a script. The different colors therefore mean nothing at all. Or well, of course they represent the diversity and multicoloredness of the city.

Detail of a map of the city of Groningen, The Netherlands, made of blocks of (digital) scrapwood
Groningen downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods


By the end of March, the map was completed and reportedly it was accepted in gratitude by the alderman. And I had gotten in the flow, so I immediately moved on to the next project: a scrapwood map of my hometown Rotterdam. Since our prime minister Mark Rutte had urgently requested everyone to stay inside as much as possible, I had plenty of time for that.


But Rotterdam is very different from Groningen. It’s a lot bigger, to begin with. And it’s not surrounded by open green countryside but by suburbs like Capelle, Schiedam and Lansingerland. If I’d want to visualize the entire municipality, including remote districts like Nesselande, Hoogvliet, Rozenburg and Hoek of Holland, the construction in city blocks was not realistic.

So I drew a rectangle measuring nine by nine kilometers, covering the city center and the surrounding neighbourhoods. This rectangle also includes recognizable areas such as Waalhaven harbour, the Zuiderpark, the Kralingse and Bergsche Plassen (lakes) and even the airfield Zestienhoven, or Rotterdam The Hague Airport, as it’s called these days.

A map of the inner city of Rotterdam, The Netherlands and surrounding neighbourhoods, made of digital scrapwood, plywood and chipboard
The scrapwood map of Rotterdam


On the Groningen map, I had left the parks open, just like the surrounding countryside, but that didn’t look good on the map of Rotterdam. So I also made the green areas out of wood, however I used other pieces and also made them somewhat lower than the city blocks. The effect is subtle but I like it. Furthermore, in order to make the harbours stand out properly, I have placed the blocks on sheets of plywood with chipboard underneath.

Detial of a map of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, made of digital scrapwood, plywood and chipboard, with roughly the area between 's-Gravendijkwal and Mariniersweg
Downtown Rotterdam in scrapwood

If there is anyone who, despite the explicit use of the words digital and virtual, assumes that I have really been sawing and hammering: no, I consider that a compliment, but I am not so handy with a hammer and fret-saw. And besides: my quarantine quarters are quite spacious, but there’s no space for a complete carpenters workshop. So I hereby warrant that these scrapwood maps are 100% computer generated!

The Scrapwood Map of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, as wallpaper in a modern, wood-oriented interior
The Scrapwood Map in a wooden interior

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