Michel de Klerk - Spaarndammerplantsoen

While I always felt archi­tec­ture should sur­pass the purely func­tional and aes­thetic, this idea became stronger over the years. At this moment in time, I can’t even imag­ine myself work­ing in a ‘tra­di­tional’ (con­tem­po­rary) archi­tec­ture office where a lot of the work focuses on the looks of the build­ing. The socio-political com­po­nent that in my view is an essen­tial part of the set of tasks soci­ety could expect archi­tects and urban plan­ners to work on, seems lack­ing, if not com­pletely absent. Debates within the field are about para­met­ric design, big data, sus­tain­abil­ity and self-building, but nobody seems to ask the real ques­tions. The fun­da­men­tals are not dis­cussed. And if these are dis­cussed, the fun­da­men­tals are under­stood as the actual fun­da­men­tal phys­i­cal com­po­nents that we work with: floor, door, wall, ceil­ing et cetera.

On the one hand, this is a clear End of His­tory atti­tude and as such not lim­ited to archi­tec­ture. On the other, it’s just sad. But instead of allow­ing our­selves to become all cyn­i­cal, I pro­pose to view the cur­rent state of the pro­fes­sion as an oppor­tu­nity. Because, if things are not going the way you want them to go, there is poten­tial for change. Read­ing an essay by Peer Ill­ner in Real Estates: Life With­out Debt pro­vided me with both a back­ground and argu­ments to what so far has only been a feel­ing. The essay starts from an brief analy­sis of both the hous­ing cri­sis in the 1980s and the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of cri­sis, con­clud­ing that archi­tects have seen their social sta­tus dimin­ished to that of the pro­le­tar­ian. “Both eras reveal a story of the increas­ing inte­gra­tion of the archi­tect into the hordes of pre­car­i­ous ser­vice works — a ‘pro­le­ta­tian­ista­tion’ of the archi­tect that cre­ates the con­di­tions for a polit­i­cal recon­sid­er­a­tion of archi­tec­tural prac­tice (build­ing) as essen­tially con­nected to dwelling.” (p.52). So while the peo­ple you talk to at a birth­day party, pub­lic event, or at your local bak­ery still think you’re that mas­ter archi­tect with the per­fect job and above aver­age wage, the real­ity is we’re just ordi­nary peo­ple with under­paid jobs that are forced to work way more than is healthy. “It is now the archi­tect her­self who, under con­stant threat of pau­peri­sa­tion, will most likely qual­ify for social hous­ing at some point in her career.” (p.53). Funny and sad at the same time.

The impor­tant thought here is that this sit­u­a­tion of cri­sis is to be viewed as an oppor­tu­nity. Because we, the peo­ple think­ing about build­ings and cities, become part of the under­priv­iliged, it allows us to change our per­spec­tive and focus our atten­tion to the things that actu­ally mat­ter. Yes, we want build­ings to be beau­ti­ful. And yes, we want to use the lat­est tech­nol­ogy in our designs. And indeed, some of us still hope to be famous one day. But all of this should be sec­ondary to the real pur­pose of spa­tial think­ing: how to shape our phys­i­cal world to allow for a dig­ni­fied life. “Today’s archi­tec­tural labour cri­sis might sow the seeds for such a col­lec­tive eman­ci­pa­tion pre­cisely where build­ing is taught and takes place, in the pro­fes­sion of archi­tec­ture itself.” (p.55).

While some work­ing within the field are chang­ing their per­spec­tive, in the edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions this shift has not hap­pened (yet). For instance, the newly oppointed dean of the Fac­ulty of Archi­tec­ture at the TUD has a back­ground in the tech­ni­cal num­bers based approach to spa­tial design that I tried to debunk above. “Peter Rus­sell is cur­rently Pro­fes­sor of Com­puter Sup­ported Plan­ning in Archi­tec­ture (CAAD) at the RWTH Aachen Uni­ver­sity. […] His research encom­passes Build­ing Infor­ma­tion Mod­el­ling, Intel­li­gent Build­ings and Ambi­ent Assisted Liv­ing.” This doesn’t promise much good for the next gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents grad­u­at­ing in Delft.

The image fea­tured with this post is an his­tor­i­cal exam­ple (Het Schip by Michel de Klerk, 1914 – 1921, Ams­ter­dam) of a project focused on improv­ing liv­ing con­di­tions for the impov­er­ished work­ing class of the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury. For those who want to read up on exam­ples of a dif­fer­ent approach to city-making, this arti­cle in Jacobin mag­a­zine might be worth a read.

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on 12+ h. a day, 6/7 days a week

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on Survey

2015-04-01 13:27:31

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Conrad Newel

on 12+ h. a day, 6/7 days a week

2015-03-23 18:10:56

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Colt Sievers

on 12+ h. a day, 6/7 days a week

2015-03-23 16:58:10

@Conrad having worked in one of those offices that you mention, I have found your post as much provocative as naive and simplistic. I should make an entire post to explain why... will leave that for later. Thanks, anyway, to keep the discussion alive

Conrad Newel

on 12+ h. a day, 6/7 days a week

2015-03-23 16:45:07

Besides my terrible diction or lack thereof this raises another issue. Should we really feel outrage or sympathy for these interns? After all the ones who can afford to take these kind of jobs are the sons and daughters of the wealthy. What this letter is, is infact symbolic capital and social significance for sale. The rich kid can buy this piece of significance for among other reasons to go to a party and say to his less affluent counterpart, "hey I work for SANAA, or DS+R or whoever. Where do you work again?" Its a status symbol, just like a porsche, or a private jet. Affordable to a selected few that can afford it.