Category Archives: Debate

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.

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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.

Marta Relats at the conference ‘The City and Alternative Polities’

San SebastianSan Sebastian2

This Thursday 10 Oct. Design as Politics’ Marta Relats will speak at the conference ‘ The City and Alternative Polities – Inheritance, Territory and Commons construction’ in the International Contemporary Culture Centre, Tabakalera in San Sebastian, Spain.

The 8-days long event is organized on the occasion of the Architecture Week. Tabakalera presents an activity that aims to reflect on the new concept of the city, to cross speeches, share theoretical and practical experiences, manifest rescue and create opportunities for critical thinking and production.

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Lecture: Follow the Money

FollowtheMoneybFollowtheMoney1Click to see the lecture

Last Monday, Wouter Vanstiphout gave a lecture at the TU Delft architecture faculty as part of the master education in urbanism. Just as our current graduation studio, the lecture was titled ‘Follow the Money,’ and was focused on the complex correlation between economy and architecture or urban planning. Wouter started his lecture with an explanation of the current financial crisis and its effects on architecture. From foreclosures in Las Vegas, through ghost towns in Spain and China, to the risky politics of ground development in the Netherlands, he ended his lecture with a more positive note by describing various projects in which architects take an active role in financing ‘their’ projects.

Except for motivating the students to make the component of money –just as the technical structure and the electrical installations- an integral part of the design, we also hope that Wouter inspired our special quest of the morning; Melanie Schultz van Haegen, minister of infrastructure and the environment, who came to visit the lecture out of special interest for our chair.

Residential Francisco Hernando, Seseña, Spain

Paco El Pocero16Sesena_Housing_areal

Last week we kicked-off our new graduation studio ‘Follow the money – Finance, Architecture and the City.’ In order to illustrate the complex entanglement between money and architecture, we showed our students a selection of case studies, amongst which the case of Residential Francisco Hernando in Seseña, a municipality in the Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha, just 40 km south of Madrid.

Until the late ninety nineties, the area of Seseña was mainly used by its residents for coaxing grain and corn out of the dry earth. However, in the midst of the Spanish real estate boom, when the first new housing developments popped-up in the area, Seseña, for the first time, aspired to become a working-class dormitory town, targeting (young) professionals who could not afford Madrid’s housing prices.

13_Sesena_Housing_inner block

The idea for the development came from real estate tycoon Francisco Hernando also known as ‘Paco El Pocero’ (the Sewer man) – a self made millionaire, born into extreme poverty, who started his career by unblocking sewers, and likes to tell journalists that he didn’t have a proper shower until he was 22. (here a fascinating documentary by Cuatro). Hernando presented a plan to construct a small city, consisting of more than thirteen thousand affordable, but spacious apartments, in an area called El Quiñón, a five hundred acres piece of land just off the highway that runs from Madrid to Andalucía. He named the complex after himself – Residencial Francisco Hernando – and dedicated it to his family by constructing a giant bronze statue of his parents in the middle of the town and naming the main park after his wife “Maria Audena”.

02Francisco Hernando in tront of parents Statue

Development of the first apartments started in 2004, for which Hernando’s company Onde 2000 borrowed various billions from banks, amongst which the international bank Santander, and the local saving banks (in Spanish Caja): Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM) and Caja Castilla-La Mancha. Both cajas were, not entirely coincidental,  rescued by the Spanish central bank, a few years later. During the years that followed several dozen new apartment blocks, each eight or ten stories high, rose from the dust, and in September 2007, the less than half built complex was opened with a large party including a rock concert for around 5000 guests. A few months later, the Spanish economy started to crumble…


When the Spanish real estate bubble burst, as a result of increasing interest rates, only half of the complex was constructed and less than 2000 houses were actually sold. Due to insufficient funds of Onde 2000, the construction at Seseña was stopped and the banks seized various apartment blocks as a return on their investment.

Today the whole complex looks more or less deserted, planned shops and supermarkets are shuttered, the promised swimming pools are dry and the sporting fields browned over in the baking 40-degree summer heat. The apartments, which were selling for 221.000 euros in 2008, are now being sold by bank Sandander for below construction costs and are currently on the market for 65,000 euros.


This project is symbolic for many real estate developments in Spain during the period 1996-2008, when housing prices grew astonishingly, leading to extreme optimism, large urban developments and speculation. In this period, Spain constructed more houses than the UK, France and Germany together, while the construction sector accounted for a fifth of all jobs created. When the housing bubble popped in 2008, Spain became one of the worst affected countries. Across the country there are a million vacant dwellings like those at Seseña making it the core cause of the country’s economical crisis. In Seseña only few apartments were sold, most of them now uninhabited. The Spaniards that bought them with 100 percent mortgages, or as investments for their retirement, are in the impossible position to compete with banks to offload them for huge losses. As for Francisco Hernando, he tried to move his business to Equatorial Guinea a former Spanish colony in West Africa, and is now trying to hit ground in Saoedi-Arabië.

Planning for Protest

Planning for ProtestPlanning for Protest_

If you are planning to visit the Lisbon Architecture Triennale this autumn, make sure you don’t miss the exhibition Planning for Protest – exploring both the social and the architectural definitions of protest by taking a closer look at how public spaces shape both the physical and psychological backdrop of these public events.

Organised by Ben Allen, James Bae, Ricardo Gomes, Shannon Harvey and Adam Michaels, 12 architectural offices in 12 cities across the globe have examined the role of architecture in shaping, defining, or limiting the flow of protest within their respective cities. Each contributor rendered eight drawings exploring a proposal for their city, focused on a specific intervention or urban planning scale. Varying from historical studies to proposals for a radical reshaping of space for public discourse, Planning for Protest is an ongoing documentation of how the physical world around us both limits and can be transcended by the people at any given time.

Contributors: Antonas Office (Athens); Studio Miessen (Berlin); studioBasar (Bucharest); Cluster (Cairo); Culturstruction (Dublin); Superpool (Istanbul); ateliermob (Lisbon); public works with Isaac Marrero-Guillamón (London); Ecosistema Urbano (Madrid); Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss / NAO (New York); PioveneFabi with 2A+P/A (Rome); and Vapor 324 (São Paulo).

The exhibition will open September 12th, 2013 in the Praça da Figueira in Lisbon, and will remain open daily through the duration of the Triennale, closing December 15, 2013.  Support a crowd-funded publication of planning for protest here  


Wouter Vanstiphout at the 9th World in Denmark conference


Wouter Vanstiphout will be a keynote speaker at the ‘9th World in Denmark conference – HERE COMES THE SUN…’, coming Friday 21/06 at the Copenhagen University.

The 9th World in Denmark conference sets out to explore possible futures of the post-war city’s open spaces as an essential constituent element of urban development for the welfare state as experienced in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. However, the ideological foundations of the welfare state – in terms of conceptions of democracy, health and equality – are ever changing.

From the 1920s onwards, open spaces became the goal and the means of a dream on a sunlit, healthy city inhabited by open-air mankind. Despite the radical 1945-shift in attitude towards nature from being an ideal to something unreliable – provoked by the war experiences – the dreams of a collective society associated with the open spaces were partly realized in the post-war massive urban expansions; in their infrastructural networks, institutions, suburban housing complexes and residential neighbourhoods including all their open spaces. They also mirrored the social democratic ideal of the society as a provider of universal, recreational goods in bringing together planning, architecture and social policy.

Today, our belief in universal common goods is replaced by a discussion of the possible future relationships between the society and the individual and the possibilities and probabilities for negotiation of various traditions, needs and resources available. The conference invites designers and planners of open space to recapture and perhaps reinvent the idea of ‘the collective’ … to think of how this good can be reflected in the open spaces that we share. How can we imagine their function, use and designation, their ethics and aesthetics? What are our architectural and theoretical visions for the development of future collective open spaces in the post war city?

Erdoğan’s Crash Course in Direct Democracy

Ekim IstanbulTurkey, rising star of Europe and democratic model of the Islamic Middle East, has been in the news in recent years for its steady economic growth. Now the world is watching thousands of its citizens’ humorous and friendly protests from Taksim-Istanbul and other Turkish cities. Seventy percent of these people do not support any political movement and 67 percent are under 30*. The so-called ‘Y’ generation is asking for the right to direct democracy. The conflict seems likely to last longer, as the old system’s gadgets – the police, parliament, and political parties – will need time to learn open negotiation.

01_FRIENDLYDEMONSTRATORSource: the protesters’ crowd-sourced webblog

To be honest, no one saw this coming. Some of us were expecting an economic crash that might disturb the seeming political equilibrium in Turkey; ‘Just as Spain’s economy was fundamentally based on the construction industry, the Turkish economy won’t sustain its capitalism through such crazy urbanization projects,’ David Harvey warned us. Harvey typically reads western economic growth and crisis through the urbanization and suburbanization policies put in place after World War II. Before Istanbul’s saturated real estate market could burst, however, well educated white-collar workers poured into the public parks, squares and streets of Taksim. They were neither victims of a banking crisis, nor had they lost their jobs.

President Gul’s comments, building an analogy to the western occupy movement, did not explain the Turkish resistance. It may have been an attempt to protect the image of Turkish democracy in the eyes of the West. Likewise, Prime Minister Erdoğan could not understand precisely why this was happening during his rule. He first implied marginal ideological influences, then blamed the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as well as foreign agitators for causing the public turmoil. Socialists, Kemalists (followers of the ideology of Atatürk), liberals, nationalists, anti-capitalist Muslims, feminists, environmentalists, homosexual activists and other groups were filling the city’s streets. They were ‘de-politicized’ internet youth, workers, urban creatives, doctors and lawyers, as well as fans of Istanbul’s rival football teams: Beşiktaş, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe. They were Alevis, Kurds, Armenians, Turks and the whole range of Anatolian mixes. It is hard to believe that foreign agitators could ever achieve such an unseen, and unforeseen, union in Turkey. It is even harder to believe that the CHP could do it – protesters have regularly expressed their anger with the CHP for its ineffective opposition over the last decade.

Not a marginal ideology, but a secretive urban masterplan for the center of Istanbul – Taksim – has managed to unite fragmented communities. No one really knew the exact plans to be carried out on the park adjacent to the main Taksim square. It could potentially become a shopping mall, a cultural center, or businesses with luxurious housing built according to a formerly demolished Ottoman military barrack. ‘My prime minister wants the Taksim project, so it will happen.’ was Istanbuli Mayor Kadir Topbas’s answer to those who attempted dialogue. ‘Yes, we will also build a mosque. I do not need permission for this; neither from the head of the CHP nor from a few çapulcu (looters). I took permission from the fifty percent of the citizens who elected us as the governing party.’ was Erdoğan’s explanation.

This last statement snowballed the protests. A small group of environmentalists protesting in the park became thousands, then tens of thousands. Declarations from the Istanbul Mayor and the Prime Minister must have sounded pretty marginal to the new generations born in the 70s, 80s and 90s, who spend their time exchanging and developing ideas on the internet, traveling the world, and acting in international networks. The 21st century’s young Turks do not tolerate authoritative ‘Sultans’ who reject any form of interaction with citizens. Performing suppressive governance and arrogant bureaucracy combined with opaque and unintelligent urban engineering simply does not function in Istanbul today. This clash is fundamentally neither economic nor ideological in nature, it is cultural. The representative democratic culture of the older generations clashes with the will for direct democracy of Turkey’s new generations. Young Turks require transparent projects, space for open debate and recognition of their collective intelligence for creating their cities, environments and communities.

David Harvey generally looks at urban space as a collection of symptoms of an economic crisis. I argue that urban space is a great indicator of a democratic crisis. The government sees urban space as the stage for visualizing its power over crowds. However, the ‘crazy grand urban plans’ that helped Erdoğan win the national elections are turning into a social bomb, as well informed citizens of the internet society protest their exclusion from the urban process. The capitalistic surplus of such large projects becomes an automatic excuse for people to revolt.

02_ProtestorsontheFATIHSUTLTANMEHMETBridgeSource: the protesters’ crowd-sourced webblog

Using large urban projects to show power has been on Istanbul’s agenda for some time. Hundreds protested regularly over the negative impacts of the 3rd bridge over the Bosporus, a project which would spur development on land integral to the natural water reserves that Istanbul depends on. To add insult to injury, after pushing through this ecological disaster, Erdoğan has chosen to name the bridge after Yavuz Sultan Selim, the Ottoman sultan nicknamed Selim the Grim, famous for his massacres of the Alevi minority as part of his war against Shia Iran in the early 16th century. Once more, people felt betrayed by their own democratically elected representative.

03_Bezmi Alem Mosque as Temporary HospitalSource: the protesters’ crowd-sourced webblog

The events surrounding Gezi show how the ridiculous failures of an authoritative government can trigger the taking of decision-making power into the citizen’s own hands by both trusting other individuals and acting collectively. Brutal police behavior can only act as a catalyst to awaken more passive individuals to come out and perform the new citizenship. Protesters have thus far cleaned and re-planted Gezi park after taking it over from the police. They have taken over adjacent vacant land, cleaned it and added it as a new park. Protesting doctors negotiatedthe conversion of the Beşiktaş mosque into a temporary hospital. Secular groups protest hand in hand with Islamists, while rival football fans united by the protests propose to be seated together in their future matches. In a bizarre twist, one could argue that Erdoğan is helping to improve Turkish democracy – he is giving a crash course in the need for direct democracy.

This is beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

04_Yogis in Taksim SquareSource: the protesters’ crowd-sourced webblog

Ekim Tan is founder of the Amsterdam and Istanbul based city design and research network ‘Play the City‘. She was a guest teacher at our 2012/2013 graduation studio ‘We the people – Democracy, architecture and the city’, and is currently finalizing her doctoral thesis at the Delft University of Technology.

*Bilgi University held a survey amongst 3000 protestors with the aim of detecting their purpose. Please find the detailed research here.



Successes of failure421308_10151954658948574_1647287203_n

Can we benefit from failure? Can dystopia be productive? Is there a future for architecture criticism? These and other questions will be asked during the event ‘Failed Architecture#10: Beyond Failure’ on Thursday 13 June, in Trouw/De Verdieping, Amsterdam.

The event is organized by the research platform Failed Architecture who have been exploring the dark sides of architecture and urbanism, from long neglected industrial ruins and abandoned new towns to Britain’s riot-torn neighbourhoods and the corporate takeover in sell-out-cities. For Thursday they invited speakers as Ole Bouman, Matthias Böttger and Darryl Chen to explore a wide range of perspectives on the possible successes of failure, the resilience of architecture and the architect’s responsibility in a ravaged world.

Integral part of the evening will also be a discussion on the role of architectural magazines, based on former Design as Politics student Jan Loerakker’s article The Day Architects Stopped Reading Newspapers, on how  presenting and scrutinizing architecture influences the way we think about cities.

The night will end with drinks and failed architecture music.