‘Vacant NL’ was the title of the exhibition for the Dutch pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010. The exhibition has conceptually summarized a research highlighting unused and empty public buildings all over The Netherlands, while proposing strategies for temporary reuse. After 5 years and two other Biennales, the theme of vacant space is still of utmost importance in The Netherlands. Perhaps, Rotterdam is the most afflicted city due to its post-industrial attitude. However, vacant industrial spaces are coupled by a whole array of empty office buildings, which spread throughout the city center.
In 2014, Rotterdam was crowned best city in Europe at the Urbanism Awards and a recent interesting online article describes Rotterdam’s post WWII renaissance (Dafne.com), while highlighting some major issues still affecting its urban environment.
During an afternoon of the last year, we crossed Rotterdam city center collecting a series of photos that clearly testifies how much vacant space is out there. Our focus has been mainly on office spaces to rent. read more…
On Wednesday 12 February 2014, a Dutch historian involved in urban planning was quoted in a public statement as saying the following: “By the strength of design, we can draft and draw the cities of the future. But with all stakeholders involved from day one, we have much greater public support”. At first reading, it may seem as a genuine attempt to get stakeholders involved in his projects. In order to make cities a better place, of course. After dissecting his words more carefully, however, it becomes all too clear what ulterior motives he has.
“By the strength of design, we can draft and draw the cities of the future”
This is rather straightforward, albeit a little old-fashioned: sure, designers have the ability to make visionary master plans as blueprints for a bright and shiny future. But haven’t we sort of passed that phase by now? There’s nothing wrong with rigid planning, as Le Corbusier underlined in his book Airplane: “To those who love life, I say prepare plans. MAKEYOURPLANS ! …”. We all wish we could make a plan that –on paper– fixes all of society’s problems and shows us the path to a better life. That’s ok. But to put that in a public press release 80 years later and consider it innovative seems a little ignorant.
“But with all stakeholders involved from day one, we have much greater public support”
Right. This is fun: let us involve stakeholders solely for raising public support. Of course, why bother with all those ideas –based on years of practical experience– that each of the stakeholders has of their own? Nuisance! They’ve already MADETHEIRPLANS! It’s the classic example of pseudo-collaborative planning: pretend like you care, but by all means don’t engage yourself with the true complexity of spatial planning.
Make your plan;
Find any way to get it done.
Follow the path of least resistance, especially if there’s little time and money to invest in an integrated strategy.
Fine, but if you take that route, do it right: force your opinion on others, while crediting the stakeholders for their input. Vanity withheld them from doing the latter. The whole purpose of collaborative planning is to use design as means to visualize different potentials (final states) in order to be able to reflect on alternative strategies (processes) together with all stakeholders involved. Planning and architecture are two distinctly different disciplines. In general, architects don’t make good planners. Those architects that do make good planners, are often not very interested in architecture to begin with. We’ll agree that a project drawing can be a visualization of a future state, but planning most certainly is not merely the process of getting there.
Wait a minute, what exactly is the role of a historian in all of this anyway?!
In the last two years I have been commuting, daily, 97.6 km to work. That’s the distance between Rotterdam and Antwerp. I first covered it by car even if it was impossible to get passed third gear, since in rush hours the freeway can get more crowded than a vernissage with open bar. Then I decided to turn to the famously efficient public transport, confident that a responsible citizen should make use of a collective mode of transport. And that’s when things went really nasty. Despite many years of European Union, the schedule of the trains between Holland and Belgium, two countries the size of a donut, is planned by people who seem to hate one another, and everyone else on those trains too. After the Fyra disaster, involving a big drawback for the italian engineering pride, there was only one ride every 2 hours to reach my destination. And most of the time these trains were cancelled, resulting in long and frustrating waits at the platform. You know your fellow commuters by the desperate look they have when confronted with the fact that NO, they won’t be able to kiss goodnight their kids, again. So, I was thinking, is there a solution to this congested mobility? If we can’t save the common man while he is at work, we can perhaps free him on his way there.
Many Dutch cities drastically changed and developed their centers from the 50s and 60s onward. In places such as Zoetermeer, Almere, Rotterdam and so on, the city centre developed around one main activity: shopping. So far nothing new, but the impressive aspect is the extravagance and monumentality reached by new shopping roads and malls within the city’s core. In contrast with the sobriety of Rotterdam’ Lijnbaan devised and realized right after WW2, Zoetermeer shows a new scale and image of the shopping. In Rotterdam, a similar attempt is represented by OMA’s Coolsingel project, the initial proposal was definitely daring due to its crazy structure and large scale. read more…
Every year I tell myself: This is the last time I go home for Christmas. And every year I punctually go. Why don’t I like going home for Christmas is because it’s a full time activity. Nobody rests in Christmas, if you are resting you are not helping! Buy a gift, See the aunt, make a call, tie a knot, rob a bank.. it’s endless. Christmas 2013, However, was unique because it marked the beginning of a new city trend: The lighting festival. read more…