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Rebellious New Dutch

It was almost full house at the Museum of Finnish Architecture on Monday 5 May for Indira van ‘t Klooster to lecture about the updated ideals of new Dutch architecture. Ms. Klooster is the editor-in-chief of A10, an architectural magazine dedicated to disseminate knowledge about contemporary architecture from the pan-European perspective. Her visit to Finland was initiated and facilitated by A10’s Finnish correspondent, architect SAFA Tarja Nurmi with the kind support of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and the Netherlands Embassy in Helsinki. On the basis of Klooster’s comments, we live in interesting times and young Finnish architecture is doing pretty well from the European vantage point.

Klooster derived her presentation from social concern. For her, architecture is not just images but a response to the existing reality. Even though we can speak of European architecture at large, the national context for architectural production varies drastically in different parts of Europe. The Finnish situation is completely different from the Dutch, Klooster argued. Architects seem to have plenty of work in the Scandinavian countries, whereas in countries such as Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Bulgaria or Lithuania the financial and political crisis has forced young offices to find alternative ways to keep their practices going and redefine the essence of architecture. When in crisis, the question is: how do architects deal with the situation?

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The crisis hit the Netherlands around 2008 and the building industry almost halted. The reaction has been to reposition architecture as a form of social activism and to search for new themes to enable architectural production. Young architects are currently not able to build at all, said Klooster, so the Dutch situation is about reinventing the ways of being an architect. Klooster’s examples stemmed from her recent book Reactivate! Responsive Innovators of Dutch Architecture (2013) which presents c. 40 young Dutch practices and their individual strategies to renew the conditions of working.

The new strategies involve temporary building, pop-up activities in vacant buildings, community projects and urban politics. One of her examples dealt with crowd-funded citymaking: the Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge project in Rotterdam was realised with crowd-funding which was organised by the designers ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles). The bridge was completed in 2012.

Klooster reminded that the economic downturn has only accelerated the more fundamental changes both in the society and the general atmosphere. She referred to the previous decade of critical cultural theory discussed by e.g. Francis Fukuyama, Richard Florida, Richard Sennett or Peter Sloterdijk. People are tired of fast money; the new setting for value creation is within the local community. In addition, the affects of new digital tools, social media, new ways of living and increased focus on urban issues have influenced our thinking about quality and meaning. This has resulted in the metamorphosis of the new professional: the anthropologist, the product designer, the promoter and the facilitator – in short, the new, pragmatic, innovative and committed architect. Innovation takes place on all levels from methods to professional policies.

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The audience consisting delightfully abundantly of young Finnish architects appeared to listen carefully to Klooster’s insightful analysis of the prospects of architectural practice in Europe. Although the political situation is not as culminated here as in many other European countries, our big picture has its warped angles as well. As the comments from the audience rightfully prompted, there is not work for every office; the admired Finnish tradition of architectural competitions is not necessarily as glorious as believed; it is hard for young architects to gain recognition; and not all architecture can be temporary or for pop-up purposes. A10 will publish a feature article of young Finnish architecture later this year, so we’ll wait and see how the Finnish scene will be presented on the pages of Indira van ‘t Klooster’s compelling magazine.

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