Arjen Oosterman is Editor-in-Chief of Volume.
Once upon a time ‘left’ equaled ‘collective’ and ‘right’ ‘individual’. Those were the days. Today, it looks like ‘left’ adopted a rightwing agenda in its plea for individual freedom and the right to choose. In the Netherlands, social-democrat politician Adri Duivesteijn advocated a different approach in the nation’s housing program: instead of continuing with top-down provision of the housing product by commercial developers and housing associations alike, stimulate and propagate individual house building. It seemed like swearing in church when this became political in the late 90s, but upon a closer look the policy stems from a consistent analysis of the individual’s place in society. Volume sat with former alderman, currently MP, Adri Duivesteijn to learn about the difference between the right to decide and the position to do so.
Recently, I learned about a new research program at Utrecht University focused on cycling. It is not part of their health department, as one might expect, but of a department specialized in modeling data. The researchers want to investigate cycling in the city as a complex system and produce a model to describe its dynamics. My first response was: people take their bike and move from A to B. How complex can that be? But with a little more information I started to understand that the bicycle has a dynamic relation with its surroundings. We take it for granted that an airport is a logistically complex system and has become a city on its own. We know that the car and the highway produce new functions and organize the distribution of them. We see that gas stations turn into super markets, that football stadiums are built next to or even across motorways, and so on. But the bicycle seems to escape such interactive relations. It is a faster way of walking, not a producer of space and program. But it is. With the ongoing growth of inner-city bicycle use to the detriment of the car, a kindergarten or daycare can be located in a street without parking facilities and yet be commercially viable. A small supermarket or baker will locate itself next door, taking advantage of the flow of potential customers bringing their children. If we see the bike as the producer of such arrangements, and not just as the means to reach them, we start to understand that to promote bicycle use and eventually even to exchange cars for bicycles in the city has far-reaching implications. There is more to it than constructing bike lanes and bike sheds. It’s changing the city’s systems.
Once upon a time, not so long ago and also not that far from where we are now there lived an architect. He, because it was a he, had the ambition to build big, real big impressive projects. He had a vision, or actually he had several. But something was preventing him to execute his ideas. He couldn’t find an investor or a developer who would support his plans. It made him miserable. But he wasn’t the kind of guy that gives up easily. So on a sunny day, it must have been November, he said to his wife and children and to some neighbors that visited his house: “I have a dream, I have a dream that one day I will be able to create what I envision. That one day, I will be able to make this place a better world.” That’s what he said. And everyone in the room applauded and was impressed. Everyone? Not his eleven year old daughter. She walk over to him, pulled his sleeve and asked with her sweetest little voice: “But why don’t you do it yourself, daddy?” The little rascal. She obviously had hit a sweet spot, because he burst out in tears. “Because”, he stuttered between his sobs, “my fellow architects won’t let me”.
With Rem Koolhaas ‘couch surfing’ has acquired a new meaning. Anyone lucky enough to actually get an interview with Koolhaas will most likely end up on his couch. The back seat of his BMW that is. Some private conversation time, wherever the journey takes you, accompanied by the deep hum of the V12 sports engine. Volume became member of this back seat club to discuss some intentions behind Fundamentals and perspectives on architecture it produced.
This year’s Venice Architecture Biennale breaks with two mechanisms that defined its presence over the last fifteen to twenty years. First is the setting of a grand, though conveniently abstract theme that suggests a connection between current development and the state of architecture. The ethics of architecture (or of the architect?), the architect as seismograph, architecture is for people, that kind of stuff. These past themes suggested a critical position of the curator on duty, but hardly succeeded in influencing the debate, let alone affairs. At best they added flavor to the core element of the Biennale: a presentation of who matters in architecture. And that brings us to the second mechanism: no matter the main curatorial theme, every pavilion was totally at liberty to present their best architecture and architects. Some pavilions succeeded in selling an idea more than products and some (rarely) attempted to raise an issue, but the ‘who’s doing what’ element was dominant.
The busier this globe gets, the more impact disturbances have. Take the recently published UNHCR figures on refugees. An all time record – for as far as these statistics date back to (1986) – of over fifty million refugees worldwide. This is a massive stream of people on the run, mainly caused by violence. More than the entire population of South Korea, or South Africa, or Spain. It is a disturbing and sad figure of course, but why did we pay attention, why did it hit the news? Because the exceptional attracts attention, not a condition per se.
Belgium architectural historian Geert Bekaert has quite a few footholds in the Netherlands. To name a few: He was professor at the TU Eindhoven in the 80s and member of the editorial boards of TABK and Wonen-TABK in the 60s and 70s. In the 90s he became Editor-in-Chief of Archis (1990-1995). Architects who met him as students during their education often express being deeply stirred by his intellectual input. The Dutch world of architecture, however, has hardly been touched by his presence. That seems telling for the segregation between architecture and history in the Netherlands and indicative for Bekaert’s connectedness to present-day architecture. This relation is more complex in his own country: it is hard to overestimate his influence on Belgium’s academic intellectual climate. The same can be said about his influence on the position of architecture in Belgium, as far as this was open to influence at all.
The Netherlands has two new prizes, the Geert Bekaert Prize for Architecture Criticism and the Simon Mari Pruys Prize for Design Criticism. They’re promoting ‘a vibrant design culture’ by stimulating writing and reflection and awarding the prize to one critique, not to a critic. Initiated by Archined and Design Platform Rotterdam they were awarded for the first time in Amsterdam on March 20th 2014. For architecture the award went to Plain Weirdness: The Architecture of Neutelings Riedijk, a text in El Croquis by the former Director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, now Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Aaron Betsky. The Simon Mari Pruys Prize went to Sander Manse for his essay on the use of models in designing design.
It’s rare that a city’s birth certificate survives, but here it is: a map of Hong Kong full of marks and notes. It is an intriguing document, but our attention should go to the upper left corner, where in the ‘white space’ of mainland China the Shekou peninsula is encircled as the new harbor and industrial location of what was to become the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone; conveniently situated and easy to control. The map with personal marks and handwritten notes makes history tangible. It all started with an idea and a location.
Let’s talk about law and faith. The law requires a certain faith – faith that it will perform in our collective best interest. Last year in particular, it was easy to lose that faith. Several high-profile cases brought to light incongruities in our judicial systems that unduly exonerated some, while persecuting others. Take the case of Wall Street. Following the 2008 crash, the US government put together its best legal team to root out what went wrong and who were the culprits. In a case where rapacious greed and gross misconduct were clearly at play, the government failed to prosecute a single major banker. Or look to the cold-blooded murder of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman. Using Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, lawyers were able to justify the racially-charged murder of a defenseless boy. Then there’s Guantanamo Bay, a prison run by the ‘most democratic nation’ in the world, still holding people stripped of their rights. All of this is technically legal.