Category Archives: Debate

Braudels Donkey – Historians and the Mediterranean as a Political Project

Design as Politics’ professor Wouter Vanstiphout has recently contributed to Harvard’s New Geographies magazine about The Mediterranean. The article is now turned into one of our own publications. Available here, especially for you!

The Mediterranean region, at the intersection of three continents, is one of the most important areas on earth–culturally, politically, and ecologically. In the article, Wouter looks through the eyes of the French historian Fernand Braudel towards recent political and financial developments, and wonders: what unites the Mediterranean? What can Braudel teach u about the region? And what about our ‘own’ European cities?

Hoog Catharijne’s Concrete Rigidity

Catharijne RigidityWestern-entrance-830x629

Last month Design as Politics, together with Failed Architecture and the University of Amsterdam, organized a workshop and debate on the redevelopment of Utrecht’s central station area, and the adjacent Hoog Catharijne business and shopping centre. The workshop and debate focused on the financing models behind large-scale real estate projects and the historical roles and responsibilities of architects and planners in designing these. Our aim was to discuss Hoog Catharijne’s original and current redevelopment plans with experts, students and local stakeholders as part of the Design as Politics graduation studio ‘Follow the Money’.

Jan Loerakker and Tim Verlaan of Failed Architecture wrote a nice piece about the events. Read more…

Debatavond: Track Changes

Track Changesimage001

Track Changes in Sao Paulo

The upcoming public event in The New Institute will bring the debate program ‘Track Changes’ – which took place during the Sao Paulo architectural biennale – back home to the Netherlands.

Last November, an international group of architects, urbanists, economists, developers, politicians and architectural historians talked in Brazil about the fierce changes which society undergoes in periods of economic, political or social crisis, and about the role which architects and urbanists can play in this. The themes ‘What’s Your Crisis?’, ‘Bottom-up Is Not Enough’ and ‘We the People’ were the guidelines for these debates.

‘Bottom up is not enough’ led to the most severe debate in São Paulo. While the biggest part of the attendees agreed with this statement, the opinions were sharply divergent on how this should be put into practice.

Michelle Provoost (Crimson Architectural Historians) will introduce this theme at the New Institute on the seventh of March, followed by a debate moderated by René Boer and Mark Minkjan of Failed Architecture. Hedwig Heinsman (DUS architects), Rients Dijkstra (Maxwan architects + urbanists / Governmental advisor on infrastructure and the city), Indira van ’t Klooster (editor in chief of A10 new European architecture) and Design as Politics’ Wouter Vanstiphout will discuss the outcomes of Track Changes and it’s significance for Dutch Architecture and Urbanism.

Track Changes is part of the international program of The New Institute, which is focused on dialogue, the mobility of international knowledge and agendas in the field of design. The debate takes place on Friday 7 March from 19:30 – 21:30 in the auditorium of The New Institute. Entrance fee is € 7,50, but students and ‘friends of the new institute get in for  only € 3,75. You can buy your tickets here.

ATTENTION: the event is Dutch spoken.

Debate – The Concrete Obduracy of Hoog Catharijne


With Failed Architecture, we’re organizing a workshop on Hoog Catharijne, the iconic late 1960s business and shopping center in Utrecht, focusing on the financial models behind large real estate projects. You’re cordially invited to join the wrap-up, with student presentations and a debate about the role/responsibility of the architect. Panelists: Nanne de Ru, Wouter Vanstiphout and Tim Verlaan.

The construction history of the privately initiated redevelopment scheme Hoog Catharijne, located in Utrecht’s inner city, is a classic example of how public and private actors attempted to work together in the field of urban planning during the post-war era. Ever since construction started in the late-1960s, the business and shopping centre was contested for its allegedly grim appearance and destructive influence on the local shopping climate. However, in terms of retail revenues (for shop keepers inside as well as outside Hoog Catharijne), the redevelopment scheme has proven to be extremely successful, additionally freeing Utrecht from its image as a provincial backwater.

Now, forty years after Hoog Catharijne’s grand opening, public and private actors are working on a thorough refurbishment of the shopping and business centre. Commissioned by a whole range of real estate parties, architects and planners are making Hoog Catharijne even bigger and better, despite the insecure future for real estate and retail markets. Hoog Catharijne seems to be turning into a city on its own.

During a two-day workshop, organized in collaboration with Failed Architecture, students of the Design as Politics graduation studio ‘Follow the Money’ will explore financing models of real estate projects such as Hoog Catharijne, and the historical roles and responsibilities of architects and planners in designing these.

On Tuesday 28 January, the students will present the outcome of the workshop followed by a debate/panel discussion on the role and responsibility of the architect in this type of large real-estate projects

17:00 – 17:45 Presentation By Design as Politics Students
17:45 – 19:00 Podium Debate with:

Location: Tu Delft, Faculty of Architecture, Room K
Time: 17:00 – 19:00

Wouter Vanstiphout to comment on (De) Rotterdam

how Rotterdam lost its architectural soulDe Rotterdam_Ossip van DuivenbodeDe Rotterdam by OMA. Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode

Architectural Historian and Design as politics professor Wouter Vanstiphout was invited by Blueprint Magazine to comment on (De) Rotterdam — the city and the building — currently gracing the cover of their current issue (number 331). Wouter’s eloquent lament for a city that once vibrated with an untamed, gritty energy, is published here in full.

In 1991 I moved to Rotterdam. At that time it still felt like an ideological choice to voluntarily attach yourself to this scar of a city, rather than self-deporting to the reservation for tourists and students that was Amsterdam.

The city I arrived in was infamous for its emptiness: its bombed-out urban voids and robotic harbour installations on artificial land stretching deep into the North Sea. Sea dykes, train lines and overdimensioned motorways ran straight through the innercity, discouraging the rare tourist to even cross the street to the museum or park, let alone negotiating this way to the Meuse river to contemplate the container-ships chugging upstream. Rotterdam was also loud and dark, producing new-wave dirges from its bands downtown; meanwhile the council flats reverberated with a particularly angry form of local hip hop and a brutish, prolish techno, known as ‘Gabber’ House (Gabber, ironically, being ‘dam slang for buddy or pal).

Rotterdam was also the city where a new architecture came from – not a new style or generation of architects, but really: a New Architecture. My first and very visceral confrontation with this was when we sneaked onto the site of the nearly-finished Kunsthal by OMA. Seeing the building from the inside out, resembling an impossibly raw concrete mess in mid-collapse, was mesmerizing. It condensed the strange infrastructural anti-logic of Rotterdam in a single building, which itself became part of the infrastructural network. At that stage it looked like a building project going surreally, Buster Keaton-esquely, wrong.

Rotterdam Kunsthal 2-OMA_1992_Courtesy OMA link to website Rotterdam Kunsthal by OMA,1992: Photo courtesy OMA

The contractor who caught us (but then showed us around) was exhausted with having to explain that this was not a mistake, nor temporary but the real thing, that this was indeed how the architect had drawn it: the public ramp running through the building and connecting the park to the seadyke, and the dark street that ran underneath, revealing the offices. Then there was the counterintuitive asphalt cladding on top of marble, on top of glass; the slanting columns in the auditorium, the picturesque tree-clad columns in the main exhibition hall and the harsh steel grids that functioned as walkways. Continue reading

Excursion Madrid


As part of our Follow the Money graduation studio, we asked our students to organise an excursion to Madrid and its surrounding area. To the (brief) disappointment of some, we told them we would not go there to see the capital’s great architecture and its vibrant city life (of course we couldn’t leave without experiencing some of it), but that we would mainly spend our time at the outskirts looking at the effects of the Spanish property bubble and explore the (sometimes) harsh consequences of political games and real estate speculation on the built environment.

We selected Madrid as the destination of this study trip because it is one of the places throughout Spain where the results of the country’s property bubble are most visible. It all started in the mid eighties -when Spain joined the European Union in 1986- resulting in historically low interest rates leading to cheap loans. During the subsequent period from 1985 until 1991 the housing prices nearly tripled and also in the late 1990s and 2000s again an enormous amount of building projects were commissioned. Banks invested strongly in the real estate sector leading to a construction industry which accounted for 12% of Spain’s GDP. Local governments made millions by reclassifying land from rural to urban, and corruption made millionaires out of politicians and developers. The bubble kept growing until the late 2000’s global economic crisis, when construction virtually came to a halt; developers went bankrupt, families couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore, neither sell their homes, and some of the banks who provided the loans, had to be rescued by the central bank. As a result, all around the country, but particularly around Madrid, you can now find unfinished or never used building projects. From complete towns as Ciudad Valdeluz , to kilometres long never-used highways and white elephant building projects, such as the Ciudad Real airport, which opened in 2008 but closed in April 2012 and is now left abandoned.

Some of the people we met during our intense three-day programme were Marcos Vaquer Caballeria who gave an very clear lecture about the causes of the real estate bubble, Jesus Leal and Almudena Martinez who took us to the megalomaniac housing project Sesena, the EuroVegas NO organization about their resistance against Sheldon Adelson’s plans to build a sprawling gambling resort known as Eurovegas and Sebastian Severino about the culture behind land development. We also brought a visit to the office of Ecosistema Urbano, explored the Vallecas neighbourhood, saw the bottom-up initiatives at El Campo de Cebada, walked around Madrid Rio and had an an intriguing  talk with Luis Fernández-Galiano (Editor in chief of arquitectura viva) about his view on architects and their responsibility towards society.

Click here for more info

Wouter Vanstiphout’s office ‘Crimson’ @ X São Paulo Architecture Biennale

Track Changes CCSP1

While political unrest and even riots reverberate through the streets of Brazil’s major cities, in São Paulo the 10th Architecture Biennial was opened on 12 October 2013. Wouter Vanstiphout’s office Crimson Architectural Historians in collaboration with The New Institute will organize the Dutch contribution, titled Track Changes.

Track changes will contain conversations, presentations and encounters about the drastic changes that a society undergoes during periods of economic, political or social crises, as well as the role that architects and urban planners can play in this regard.

An international group of architects, city planners, economists, architectural historians and critics will discuss whether a small-scale, participation-oriented way of working can offer relevant answers to current economic, political and social questions, or that they on the contrary should be designing large scale infrastructure, masterplans and services. Through publicly comparing and discussing concrete projects from five different continents the participants will try to find common ground and in that way try to make design socially significant and politically relevant again.

“In three days of open discussions, we’ll explore what we have in common, but not without first precisely defining our differences,” say the Crimson historians. “Perhaps our most important ambition is to bring architecture and city planning out of the academic ghettos and the black boxes of politics and the market and return them to the centre of public debate.”

The participating professionals will discuss specific projects as they relate to issues raised by Crimson. Three discussions will take place: We the People, on the democratic value of master plans, particularly the new one formulated for São Paulo; What’s Your Crisis?, on how a sudden lack of financial resources, political crises and dramatic social changes are forcing architects to reevaluate their way of working; and Bottom-Up Is Not Enough, on how bottom-up projects can exceed their small scale and become integrated into top-down plans.

Track Changes takes place from November 4-7 at Centro Cultural São Paulo (CCSP). Amongst the invited guests are Fernando Botton, Elma van Boxel, José Armênio de Brito Cruz, Fernando de Mello Franco, Rupali Gupte & Prassad Shetty, Charles Holland, Luís Pompeo, Damon Rich, Nanne de Ru, and Carlos Teixeira.