Arjen Oosterman is Editor-in-Chief of Volume.
If there is a system change today, it is the way default solutions are being questioned and powers are forced to move. If not away, then at least in a direction they previously thought unthinkable.
Rem Koolhaas cross interviewed by Christophe van Gerrewey, Arjen Oosterman and Christophe Catsaros on Countryside, The Future, the pandemic and architecture. Rotterdam, June 26th, 2020.
For centuries, work was labor and for the larger part of society it was something you did to survive, not because you liked to. With the development of capitalism, the industrial society, and the exponential diversification in work and jobs, this gradually changed.
We’re hunter gatherers by nature (yes, women too). And hoarders. We cling onto stuff. We collect during the significant moments of life, only to let go when we move house or get within eye sight of our final destination. There is a fine line between ‘to possess’ and ‘to be possessed’, but either way, there are not many of us that take pride in owning nothing. Whoever had the opportunity to visit one of the main interior lifestyle fairs in Europe or elsewhere will recognize the feeling of despair in the face of the limitless amounts and varying multitudes of ‘stuff’. And yet, we don’t seem to want to do without (anytime soon).
Discover the full Volume 55 ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ editorial.
It’s shortly after the opening of UABB/SZ 2017 that I have an appointment with Liu Xiaodu, member of the curatorial team (together with his partner at Urbanus, Meng Yan, and famous art curator, Hou Hanru). We meet in the temporary library of the UABB, a space to sit and read about contributors and their contributions to this seventh iteration. His biennial is dedicated to the quality of diversity; Cities, Grow in Difference, it’s called. I explain that Volume is working on the theme of technology as a push factor in the spatial and social arrangements of our society and what role architectural design and the designer could have. As well as the divide between ‘coders’ and architects. It hits a sweet spot in Liu Xiaodu.
The measure of an architecture biennial’s success is how gloriously it failed. This holds a fortiori for the Venice one; too big to ‘swallow’ as visitor, too complex to manage as curator. The biennial as format and phenomenon was declared dead or obsolete time and again, it was discarded as commercial, promotional, touristic, capitalistic, wasteful, white supremacist and what not. In the end, that is not the issue. The issue is the tension between expectations and pretension, between agency and result. Any art or architecture exhibition can be just that: the presentation of good and interesting work. For an architecture biennial, that position is hardly available. Something more should be expected. The format may be malleable, it should add to our understanding of where we are at present, what is of prime importance, where we may be going or could want to go. Even if a biennial isn’t able to provide conclusive answers, the minimum should be to pose relevant questions.
While the feeding robot slowly passes by, cow 9273 bumps with her nose against a big round brush. It looks like the ones in the carwash that clean the rims of your car, but then bigger. Food is not what she’s after right now, her itching back is demanding all her attention. Cow 9273 has to push several times before the brush starts slowly spinning, but when it does, she treats herself to a firm back massage. Welcome to dairy farm ‘The Promised Land’ where 1.5 fte and nine robotized computer systems manage a herd of 280 cows plus 180 ‘youngsters’.
Recently I had to move my books. Unavoidably one starts reading. And, as the law of serendipity predicts, what the eye meets has a direct relation to one’s own preoccupations. In this case my eye was attracted by publications on public space and the role of design from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. And it made me aware that those discussions were pretty innocent.
Can I invite you to participate in a conversation on what’s not a concept or a clear idea, but a hunch at best? The subject is the relation between formal and informal and how this may be changing due to the introduction of new technologies and the way these are used. The bricolage of fragments this speculation is constructed of looks as follows
Souvenirs: New NewYork Icons, the second iteration of Storefront’s model show, commissions 59+ objects that redefine New York’s iconic imagery. Tuesday November 28, the show was the stage for lectures and debate. Next to contributors Joep van Lieshout, Marga Weimans and QSpace, Volume was invited to add some thoughts and participate in the conversation following presentations.
Last year, Felix Madrazo and Adrien Ravon led the ‘Ego City’ research studio at The Why Factory at
TU Delft. It was one of a series of studios that explored the themes of density and desires. Ego City
focused on the individual and ways to claim and create space. In doing so, it questioned traditional
methods of using design to create a better future for all and probed the viability of post-design
Since its early days, the humanoid we call Homo sapiens has always been obsessed with gaining control.
Creating optimal conditions for its safety and comfort is the story of its life. The way Homo sapiens, aka ‘the
human’, confronted this self-imposed challenge was by design.
From its inception at the dawn of the millennium (2001), Archiprix International has proved to be an adventure with enormous ambition. To collect, once every two years, the very best graduation projects from architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design schools around the world is no small feat. To comprehensively exhibit this material is also a challenge, and to create a meaningful and productive event around the award session—giving center stage to the selected graduates and their projects—is a task akin to walking a tightrope. And yet, this is what they are achieving.
Once every two years architecture schools around the world are invited to submit their single, finest graduation project to the Archiprix International competition and exhibition. Since its inception in 2001 (born out of the Dutch Archiprix), an ever increasing number of schools choose to participate. This year, Archiprix International selected Ahmedabad, in India, to exhibit the results. Volume spoke to Archiprix Director and “Mister Archiprix” Henk van der Veen.
With Are We Human – the exhibition of the 2016 Istanbul Design Biennial – curators Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley are researching the very notion of ‘design’. Their historic, cultural and conceptual exploration attempts to unravel the various programs and ambitions behind a (mainly) market driven inventiveness, which is presented as progress. This is pushing the notion of design and the biennale as a format beyond their established definitions. Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley interviewed by Arjen Oosterman.
Irma Boom Interviewed by Arjen Oosterman for and published in the Chinese magazine Manifesto no. 21, published by Shanghai based The Design Republic.
Moving forward implies looking back. When we started this research engine called VOLUME in 2005, economic, political, and social conditions were very different to how they are today. The intention to rethink the agency of ‘beyond’ as driver for change inevitably means historicizing the trajectory of the VOLUME project so far. That said, we really didn’t want to turn VOLUME itself into the subject of reflection. So we’ll instead talk about the present and, in so doing, find history creeping its way in whether we like it or not.
Architectural practice requires a degree of intimacy and insight into complex sets of forces. While building is architecture’s bread and butter, it’s not always the best format to make a statement. It’s sometimes not even the most appropriate language to respond to a brief. Volume spoke with Reinier de Graaf of OMA/AMO about how research and media can become a vessel for political agendas.
It’s not the latest Hollywood production, the ultimate sound experience, or Apple’s next level consumer lock-in product line. And despite its ominous ring, it isn’t the enemy either, like how the NSA is framed as one. THE SYSTEM* indicates the complex interaction of the economy, professional practice and personal choice. The asterisk draws attention to the ambiguity of such a term while hinting at an intention to change ‘it’, whatever it is.
It’s still one of the world’s major concerns: shelter. Last year saw a sad record in the number of people seeking shelter: fleeing violence or hopeless poverty, looking for safety, stability and perspective. This year won’t be any better. And despite its complexities, public and political discussion reduced it to the all too simple question who will be sheltered, where, and who will provide for this.
In 2000, the so-called ‘Millennium Development Goals’ were adopted by the UN, one of which was primary education for all. This was in the wake of the post-historical years that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which a ‘Yes, we can!’ mentality was present (long before we had even heard of America’s first black president). Poverty, famine, malaria, and more – all problems that we can and should solve as global community; that was the spirit. In light of the program, this year’s results have been evaluated. Some goals prove to be tough, but education scores rather well. Not yet 100%, but if we can believe UN statistics, today 93% of all children between 6 and 12 receive primary school education.
One of the more recent phenomena in a city’s public space is the ‘wrap’. Passing through the city, all of a sudden a familiar face is hidden from view, covered by a mesh of steel tubes and fine-grained nets. This all has to do with scaffoldings’ safety regulations, erected for a building façade’s maintenance. The nets hung around the temporary structure hide the building from view, making one wonder what it’ll look like when the job is done.
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.
Last December, Volume’s editorial team spent three weeks in Shenzhen for the occasion of the Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture. The outcome of our stay in China will be a Shenzhen-themed issue that will be launched soon. To get you in the mood we’ve prepared this little photo report.
Design magazine Frame dedicates its November issue to student work from design schools all over the world. As introduction to this dossier Frame organized a discussion between Design Academy Eindhoven Director Thomas Widdershoven, Leiden University Professor Design and Theory Timo de Rijk and Volume’s editor-in-chief Arjen Oosterman. Frame also asked each for three private picks plus short comment.
‘Ivory towers’ and ‘paper architecture’ are common put-downs used to question the agency of critical and speculative thought. After the theoretical hangover of a Deleuze et al architectural education, many young critical thinkers turned to practice as a means to put their thoughts into action. We sat down with Markus Miessen, who has spent the past several years researching critical and spatial practice, to see what this means for the field of criticism.
Volume likes to think of itself as a critical magazine. Not in that it reviews and criticizes production, but in that it has a critical relation with architecture as practice and as notion. No problem up to now. Different worlds, different attitudes, the twain shall never meet, and they lived apart happily ever after…
It is rare that people spend a whole day discussing their own happiness, but in Houten they did. Houten? Yes, Houten, a town of 50,000 inhabitants in the center of the Netherlands – a suburb of the city of Utrecht really, but a very successful one. During the seventies this agricultural village was planned to receive a serious portion of the additional housing needed at the time in the Netherlands and during the nineties another national housing expansion program transformed it into the town it is today. The most remarkable thing about Houten is that we don’t hear about it. It never hits the news with riots, political scandals, alarming unemployment figures, vacant office buildings, or cultural clashes. It is a quiet town.
We’ve seen art works changing hard objects into soft ones (soft washing basin, Claes Oldenburg) or personal and vulnerable objects into suffocating environments (teddy bear, Mike Kelley), but this is the first time as far as we know that household technology is being applied to personalize and pimp a car…
The Dutch Rathenau Instituut started in 1986 as a technology assessment center to advise Dutch Parliament. It has since developed into a broader think tank studying the organization and development of science systems, while regularly publishing and stimulating debate about the social impact of new technologies. Volume talks to the Institute’s Rinie van Est and Virgil Rerimassie to hear about the main trends in synthetic biology and related disciplines. They paint a picture of the world where biology and technology have converged, and where our fundamental way of working through scientific problems has shifted.
In architecture a rat race is going on. Not another record-breaking tower – that wouldn’t be new(s). The race is about the application of a fairly new technology in the building industry. What at first seemed a cute and somewhat clumsy machine to produce architectural models and small objects, is now being tested to ‘go live’. I’m talking 3D printing of course and the ambition of at least two architecture offices, in Holland alone, to be the first to print a full-scale building. One is pursuing a pavilion, the other an Amsterdam canal house, complete with gabled roof.
It took awhile before Western design firms could believe that the building and design market in Asia was serious business, and also to come to grips with the ambition, scale and speed of development. By now they understand and are trying to pick some cherries from that trillion dollar tree; the more so now their home markets are slowing down or worse. ‘Going East Asia’ these days is not ´only´ about delivering housing quarters, railway stations, airports, fiber networks, waste water treatment plants and what not; it extends to the delivery of complete cities. It’s already been a long time that the West has been confronting the ‘building a new town’ theme, but today it is a business opportunity.
Receiving us in her office in a former school building one afternoon at the end of July, Petra Blaisse proposes to first show us around. Most of the Inside Outside team is on holiday or working on site, but we catch a glimpse of some of her collaborators and the work atmosphere of the office. The office is distributed over two sides of the corridor, with an Inside side (renowned for their large-scale curtains) and an Outside side (dealing with gardens, parks, and urban planning). We meet her to discuss her assignment to ‘do’ the Rietveld pavilion in Venice on the occasion of the 13th Architecture Biennale, but also to discuss her experiences as interior designer and how that relates to her outdoor work.
Less than sixty years ago, the battle for emancipation and class education was fought on private territory: inside the apartment. Today one’s house is supposed to be an expression of one’s individuality, but in those days the interior was subject to ideology and class struggle. During the first phase of the industrial city, newcomers in Western European cities had to be educated to behave like citizens: clean the house, manage waste, mind the children, in short conform to urban social rules. The right to live in a social rental apartment would be the reward for disciplined and confirmative behavior. After the Second World War, the focus of attention shifted to how to live a modern life: clean, healthy, and therefore happy, with simple, well-designed modern products in spartan, light, efficient spaces. One of Archis’ predecessors was dedicated to this very task. Inspired by social-democrat and modernist ideals, monthly magazine Goed Wonen [Good Living] showed what a good interior should look like as part of a program of education and emancipation.
‘Where is the center?’ must be the most commonly asked question when tourists enter a city. The center is where the action is supposed to be, where life is vibrant and interesting, where there’s lots to see, where you simply want to go. It is a matter of gravity and (functional) density that attracts visitors to ‘the center’. This tourist gaze is defining for our understanding of the city, any city.
‘Guilty landscape’ is a notion borrowed from the Dutch painter, sculptor, writer, and musician Armando, who wrote about such landscapes more than once. Living in Amersfoort before, during, and after the Second World War, close to a concentration camp situated in the woods, he was very aware that the innocent forest of his youth had witnessed the horrors of war and the Holocaust.
It’s only been seven years now, since Volume started its quest of how ‘to go beyond architecture’. In this time where optimism, nearing indifference, was still the rule, and record after record was being broken, it seemed inescapable to rethink architecture’s contribution to society. And to check anew what society would need of architecture.
In the 1970s and 1980s, disappointment in modernism’s results produced postmodernism. More specifically, postmodernism targeted modernism’s inability to transform its program of rigorous equality to more individualized ways of working (despite brave, but all too fragmented attempts to do so). Modernism was born from industrial society and – using its methods of production – promised a better world for all. Postmodernism was born from consumer society and promised a better product for those who could afford it; the assumption being that society had reached a level of affluence in which everyone was able to purchase at will.
This shift from program to product came about during a period where the dominance of the market as the sole economic principle was paramount. The American model of creating ever more to satisfy everyone’s needs, irrespective of the distribution of goods and services between members of society had won over the European model of keeping everyone ‘on board’ first and then moving to higher levels of quality and affluence in society.* Solidarity had to give way to maximizing profitability; the ‘every individual contributes to his or her capabilities’ principle was replaced with a Darwinist competition model.
Like it or not, we’re seeing the end of that development, though at present the picture is still a bit blurred.
During the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, ‘the market’ was the path to a golden future and privatization was the way to go. There were some examples showing that privatization didn’t necessarily lead to cheaper, better products and services; but this didn’t change the general appreciation of the principle. Over the last five years of consecutive financial crises, the assumed superiority of neoliberal ideology has been questioned and debated more fundamentally. But it hasn’t ended privatization; for now it is still called upon as strategy to save what we have. The immense debts that were incurred from the festive consumerism-for-all from previous years necessitated a recalibration of private and public spending, with budget cuts and privatization as default prescriptions to cure the disease. Earlier, privatization was sold to the public as liberty and free choice, as the better option; today it is presented as a potentially painful but inescapable reality.
Up to this point, privatization is understood as the transfer of public services to the private sector. Instead of a local, regional, or national authority, a private company provides or produces the service or product. Low-income housing (formerly known as social housing), public transport, health care, higher education, and all sorts of social arrangements are being left or transferred to the market. But today privatization has yet another dimension. Now larger institutional and public investment has practically come to a standstill – especially the building sector, which is confronted with a thirty to fifty percent reduction in investments in Europe – and private initiative has to come to the rescue. Small-scale and bottom-up initiatives have to compensate the loss. By themselves or in small groups or entities, people can build their own home and workspace, can supply their own energy and security, set up their own schools, etc. The limits that governments, developers, and investors are running up against, because they cannot get a hold of funds or cannot sell their products, can be compensated by an accumulation of individual small-scale investments. Crowd funding for cultural products is yet another expression of this trend.
It is challenging to consider what frameworks are needed to make this work on a larger scale. Can the adding up of individual plots and houses produce more than a sea of differences, a monotonous diversity? Can mixed neighborhoods come into being without top-down planning and urban design? Or slightly more radical, can parts of the infrastructure (maintenance and maybe even construction) be left to bottom-up initiative? This produces the fascinating prospect of collective or communal interests being addressed by the stakeholders themselves; a bottom-up socialism, or at least local communality as a basis for action.
All of a sudden the unstoppable trend towards large-scale and global is complemented by small-scale and local. A new balance between local and global has to emerge from all of this with a new role for the government to guard communal and collective interests of the individual and the larger entities that together form the organism of our society. And it will come with a new role for design and the designer. Less focused on authorship, more on making things happen.
In this issue of Volume we’ve privatized parts of the magazine, taking a page from the rest of the publishing world. In black we present ‘Volume’ contributions (not necessarily produced by the editorial team), in red ‘private’ ones, presenting a personal take or position. The latter are often as much ideas as advertisements or advertorials for an activity, product, or firm. It’s to the reader to judge if the outcome is more than the sum of the individual parts.
* See the Timothy Mitchell interview in Volume #30.
Two decades ago, an architecture magazine would be swamped with invitations for previews, tours and photo opportunities for projects ‘just finished’. A decade ago more and more press releases on prize winning competition entries would be added as part of the info mix. A little later the special mentions would get circulation; even entering a competition was seen as a publicity opportunity. It seemed only a matter of time before press releases announcing “we’ve started in the office this morning at 8.30 am, another great day in front of us, full of promise and opportunity” would surface. Publicity equaled economy. Maybe it still does, but not in the form where profiling projects, clearly identifiable as ‘someone’s’ work will necessarily result in a direct connection to new assignment. We know it is not like that anymore, not in most western countries, not for a lot of offices. In the late 90s, shrinkage was discovered as an interesting urban phenomenon, a new challenge for the profession; today this theme has reached the profession in the most unexpected way: no clients what so ever.
July 13-14, 2011
During a two week field trip organized by the AA (Liam Young and Kate Davies) in London, a group of 42 students and experts visited locations where the impact of technology on nature has produced extreme landscapes. The expedition combined nuclear power and space travel by checking Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant in Ukraine, dried out lake Aral, the rocket launch site at Baikonur and the uranium mines of Astana, all in Kazakhstan. As Unknown Fields network partner Volume witnessed the nuclear part.
Into the War Zone
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rules of suspense’ prescribes that the audience has to be informed about a looming danger (the classic scene of a couple enjoying a drink and conversation with a ticking bomb under the table) in order to experience the intended emotion. Entering Chernobyl’s 30 kilometer ‘Exclusion Zone’ this lesson of the old master popped up in my head. Passing the barrier (all had to get out of the bus and individually pass the gate on foot with ample checks of passports and outfit – obligatory long sleeves, long pants and closed shoes – plus signing a form that denied any liability of the Ukraine government for the visitor’s health now and in the far future) made entering a serious thing, but the following 30 minutes ride through woods and fields was without any trace of disaster. It wasn’t exactly leading up to a dramatic confrontation. Unless you knew. The only slightly discomforting sign was the absence of any activity. No human beings, no agriculture, hardly any sounds. Just nature as a pleasant postcard image. A couple of farms along the road had obviously been deserted long ago. That was it. But the 42 of us in the bus were well aware that we had entered a highly polluted area, that we were nearing this immensely dangerous nuclear power plant, a sleeping giant that even 25 years after it had erupted like a volcano and had been tamed at great cost, was still invisibly spreading death and decay and will do so for millenniums to come.
When the credit crisis struck, the general response was one of sheer amazement. Fascinating to see billions and trillions of dollars evaporate at such speed. Despite experts´ warnings that things would never be the same, expectation in general was that normality would be restored soon. In our spectacle society we are used to the excitement of sudden change. We respond to these events like we’re watching a magician.
This year’s Dutch pavilion at the Venice Biennale hosts ‘Vacant NL’, an inventory of empty buildings irrespective of their age or former function. Five thousand of these dormant shells, all government property, are shown as miniature models to indicate the millions of square meters vacant (floor) space in the Netherlands alone. Volume editors Rem Koolhaas, Mark Wigley, Jeffrey Inaba and myself gave a first reaction on the theme, and presented some ideas for further exploration during the opening weekend. In particular, Rem Koolhaas presented OMA’s experience with changing an old prison in the Netherlands in the early 1980s; Jeffrey Inaba connected VOLUME’s latest issue on counterculture as a mentality and socio-political experiment with respect to the task presented here; Mark Wigley stressed the normality and necessity of a certain percentage of empty building stock, pointing at the inspirational and stimulating aspects. My five remarks, presented while seated below the ‘low ceiling’ of the blue foam marquette in the Dutch pavilion, reappear below.
1. If AMO/OMA, in one of the rooms of this exhibition’s main pavilion, states that it ‘has been obsessed, from the beginning, with history’ (propagating an ‘almost doing nothing’ approach), I can also remark that VOLUME/Archis has been obsessed from its beginning with empty buildings. The reasons may in part have been banal – the need of cheap office space – but the engagement was and is sincere. Archis is currently housed in the former health service center of Shell in Amsterdam and is involved in the reuse of other buildings on this huge inner-city site. We are also addressing the issue of what to do with the larger part of the former Shell terrain that awaits redevelopment, after most of its abandoned laboratory buildings have been demolished although the projected residential buildings have been put on hold. The expected delay in redevelopment will be 5 to 10 years, leaving the site as a fenced-off, empty sand pit for years to come. So my first remark is: vacancy is not only about empty buildings, but also about empty land and vacant plots.
The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X–197X
The opening of the successful traveling exhibition Clip, Stamp, Fold in Maastricht marks a renewed interest in various forms of engagement in the field of architecture and urbanism. The exhibition, based on research by Beatriz Colomina and her Princeton students on so-called ‘little magazines’ in the 1960s and 70s, was initially staged at Storefront in New York, November 2006. (A part of this research was published in Volume 10). It has since traveled to several cities in the US and Europe, including the lesser-known architectural hubs of Oslo, Vancouver and Murcia. What is interesting about the exhibition is not only its content, but also that it is a growing archive; with every new installation, a local or regional addition is added to the core of the exhibition. In Maastricht, the extension (called ‘Staple’ so the full title becomes Clip/Stamp/Fold/Staple) is a series of Dutch magazines that fit the profile that were published from the 80s up to the present. Volume is represented in this section that was researched by Marina van Bergen.
A report from the African Perspectives conference in Pretoria, South Africa
Each year, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, organizes worldwide approximately eight Debates on Tour. Together with a local counterpart, Dutch architects fly to a specific city to discuss specific themes, problems and challenges with their local counterpart. On 28th of September the NAi teamed up with ArchiAfrica to host a debate in Pretoria, South Africa during the African Perspectives conference. Arjen Oosterman joined in to write the following report.
Opening by moderator Antoni Folkers.
A confrontation of experiences from different parts of the world, centered on roughly the same theme or problematics, is rewarding by default. The Debates on Tour-program of the NAi, is based on this format. These debates have more than one edge: it acts as an antenna to ‘receive’ new developments, ideas and positions; it connects Dutch and international networks; it presents the NAi in different contexts throughout the world; and it proposes new agendas for architecture in non-hierarchical order.
It is a well known saying that you see your habitat anew through the eyes of a stranger. It’s a cliché so it must be true. Take a guide of your own city. For once try to follow its instructions and become a tourist in your home town. Everything will be different. First of all, […]
Blockbuster A few years ago when the figures on Chinese urbanization first made it to the West little by little the general reaction was one of silent amazement. 20×20 sounded like a cultural program, but this code evidently stood for providing housing to the equivalent of perhaps twenty entire countries: cities for 400 million people […]
At the design meeting for Volume 19 we told our people, ‘this issue must express hope!’ ‘That’s a challenge,’ was the somewhat mocking response whereupon it was decided to publish the next issue entirely in black and white. No rainbows, no eye candy, no chaotic, everyday multicolors, no shock and awe with a surprise onslaught […]
From the moment sometime at the end of the seventies or the beginning of the eighties that progressive appeared to be conservative and vice versa for designers there appeared to be little more to do than base one’s work on individual taste. Tackling modernism as the dominant paradigm was old news, although some architects continued to indicate their infatuation with it. The rest is history.
‘A precondition for starting a significant architectural intervention is to define a project in consultation with those parties involved in its implementation (the government, the local municipality, private investors, developers, construction companies, planners, designers and architects).’ This preamble to a recent international conference on ‘architectural interventions and transformations’ is typical for an ‘all-inclusive’ way of thinking about processes these days. Plans and policies are no longer defined and implemented by a few specialists;they are developed with all stakeholders (another popular contemporary notion). All parties? The user/consumer/resident, usually the subject and victim of intervention, is conspicuously missing from this description.
Notabene, one of the top book and gift chain stores in Norway, will replace the metal shelves in its shops with Re-board board-based shelves to lower its climate change impact. Underpinning its commitment to a low-carbon future, Notabene will replace the fixtures and fittings in each of its 130 stores with 100% organic, recyclable materials. […]
A precondition for starting a significant architectural intervention is to define a project in consultation with those parties involved in its implementation (the government, the local municipality, private investors, developers, construction companies, planners, designers and architects).’ This preamble to a recent international conference on ‘architectural interventions and transformations’ is typical for an ‘all-inclusive’ way of […]
Unsolicited architecture is not a totally new practice. Recent years have seen a number of initiatives by architects and artists which could easily be gathered under the moniker of ‘unsolicited architecture’. Yet it does indeed need argumentation, explanation and active publicity.
Every self-respecting region and city with international ambitions has a biennial these days where a circus of artists, film makers and architects meet, but it should be noted that serious international student exchange programs are a recent creation. The European Erasmus program for higher education has been in place for exactly 20 years during which […]
Amsterdam, like so many other cities, does its utmost to enhance its cityscape harmoniously. This is especially true for the city centre, where aesthetic demands and supervision are stringent, and geared primarily to existing monumental values. Yet despite all the good intentions and supervision, the cityscape cannot be kept entirely in check. Impermanence, often […]
Almere was the accumulated deficit of the northern wing of the Dutch ring of cities: affordable, spacious single-family dwellings, space and greenery. These are still its trump cards. ‘Come to Almere, where there’s space in abundance’ is the slogan drawing new inhabitants and now companies as well to Almere. Anyone who loves statistics can indulge […]
IT WAS A INSPIRITING AND GLORIOUS EVENT The simple composition of volumes, the uncomplicated structure of planks – with here and there an opening by way of window – was at once basic and monumental. Monumental because of its presence, not because of any costly materials, references to ‘great architecture’ or decorative programme. Poetic because […]
The new patronage The plans for ‘De Poort van Noord’ highlighted one of the Achilles’ heels of public space: urban leftover spaces. Leftovers develop within the seams of chronologically layered infrastructures; they are places where, in the first instance, official and commercial interests lack a clear presence. This status means that leftover spaces behave like […]
While anything can be architecture these days, virtually no building task (with the exception perhaps of museums) insists on architecture. Realizing architecture under these conditions is a most individual undertaking. Two recent buildings radically different in both theme and brief – a rock temple and a funeral centre – show just how much leeway there […]
Dutch art historical research, at least as far as publications are concerned, is seen by outsiders as lacking a capacity for synthesis as well as guts.2 Hundreds of articles and collections of articles are published every year, many of good quality, but books, especially books that demonstrate a more comprehensive sweep or even present a […]
Architect Jan Hoogstad landed the commission after winning a limited entry competition. The contents of his samples case and his initial design sketch evidently proved the most convincing. For some time now he has been successfully touring the Netherlands presenting the ‘glazed buffer space’ model that he developed for the offices of the Ministry of […]
His imperative demand for craftsmanship and absolute belief in finished detail as conditions for architectural quality took on increased significance during our conversation as his desire to achieve a lucid yet layered architecture. His interpretation of the Vitruvian triumvirate of commodity, firmness and delight, emerged as a guiding principle. Van Heeswijk has no visionary or […]