Architectural currents rarely pass away on a given day. For the success-story of Dutch Architecture over the previous years, however, such a momentum actually seems to exist.
Before this day, the Dutch architectural society held an absolute faith in the idea of “Super Dutch”. Generally spoken, there was simply no question about it. It was almost like a patriotic issue. And then there was this lecture Koolhaas’s at seminar in Delft. It was obvious that he would complain about this state of affairs, because the whole Superdutch movement was pointing athis own position, almost pinning him down. At first, he duscussed MVRDV’s Villa VPRO and then ended talking about the critical deficit of the “Super Dutch” movement. After this intervention, everyone suddenly agreed that the “Super Dutch” was no longer a good, as if they had been feeling that way for a long time, but did’t dare to speak up. It was exactly this general “coming-out” that started the After Party.
But as precise as this momentum was, as vague was its meaning. The shift it supposedly symbolised has been described in many words: a lack of commissions, a hollowed-out architectural debate, a frustration with the realised architectural Utopias of the 1990s, the crisi of a self-centred discipline… In search of a critical analysis of the current state of affairs, a debate took place in the Berlage Institute, the postgraduate laboratory that has been both at the centre and the margin of Dutch Architecture. Roemer Van Toorn, Head of the Projective Theory and Ph.D. Program, and Pier Vittorio Aureli, Unit Professor at the institute, confronted their views on past and current architectural developments in the Netherlands.
(After the) Party?
Nearly every voice seems to argue differently about the current crisis of Dutch architecture. Before starting a debate about the ‘After the Party’ condition: do you actually believe that there is a crisis in Dutch Architecture and what would this crisis then be about?
RVT : For me, the success of Dutch architecture over the last decades is based on something the Dutch have always been good at in history: the combination of extreme pragmatism and aesthetic novelty that is able to reflect a process of modernization. The last 30 years, the Dutch landscape has become increasingly artificial under the influence of the processes of individualization and globalization. The government, property developers, architects… all have been devising new experiences and imaginations in an attempt to map and react to this new reality. A vacuum had been created in which an unprecedented degree of innovation had a chance of success because nobody knew what the appropriate response to this hyper modernizing situation really was. The transformation of social democracy into a particular variant of free-market neo-liberalism – the Polder-model politics – generated a specific political situation, a landscape of consensus. This landscape of consensus celebrated the centre of Dutch middleclass society and had as effect that the Netherlands americanised thoroughly. But, just before the Dutch became aware that a perspective beyond the horizon of the free market was needed, the economic recession started. Public housing policies and other public and cultural agendas to support the collective were put on hold to promote the economy of sprawl. Public infrastructures were sold to private parties while a moralistic ideology of a we against them emerged after 9/11. Not only in politics but also spatially the social cohesion between different cultures and classes is falling apart. From tolerance the Netherlands transforms into a society of fear. Before, architecture and urban design saw a task in representing the common good, the public sphere. Today, architecture is no longer asked to refer to the collective. The discipline has become a spectacle celebrating its own autonomy; architecture and especially design have become a mass-mediatised religion. The result of this design religion is a landscape of beautiful - and at times sublime – incidents that exist devoid of the problems of society at large. Instead of questioning neo-liberalism, Dutch architecture has above all aesthetisiced and pacified the many contradictions and problems present in the urban landscape of the Netherlands.
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After the Party
A Future for Dutch Architectural Culture. An Interview with Pier Vittorio Aureli and Roemer van Toorn by Joahim Declerk and Dries Vande Velde