Rooilijn Jg. 42 / Nr. 4 / 2009 clever, it becomes possible to trade functions. In the end, the building stays alive much longer. Far too often a building has just one function and we cannot change it when the context has changed.” How do you interpret the existing place of the REC? “To keep this building at the REC and to reinvent it, was a very good decision. In that sense, it is almost the opposite of the general danger of conservation. The danger of all our good intentions (by rules about aesthetics – red.) lies in the fact that it becomes too difficult to regenerate historical cities for all kinds of people. The consequence is that we build places outside of the city for the workers and all the rich people live in the middle of Amsterdam. Although this is my London experience, I think it is a general danger. To freeze a city, for example by saying 1972 is the end of all changes, then inevitably that part becomes more and more valuable. It becomes more and more expensive. In the end, anyone who works in Amsterdam and makes the city happen, ends up living outside. I am not against preservation, but I think it can kill the city.” So your design is the opposite of preservation? “Physically the REC has a powerful impression. But the building is tired now. When I was walking around this building I remembered the 1960s. I could see the ambition of the past times. Nowadays, this ambition has been lost because of all the changes inside and outside the complex. For me the strengths and weaknesses are very clear. I have called it an ‘elegant banality’.” “If you start a project, very often it looks fantastic at the beginning. The danger is you are either losing your eye or repeating something you already know which is comfortable, lazy even. I like it more to work in a project that may at times appear dubious. It creates nice challenges. Architects need buildings that are difficult at times because it means you are asking difficult questions.” What is the most difficult question for restructuring the REC? “This building at the Nieuwe Achtergracht has a super large scale. It is a modernist building in the middle of “The challenge is to make the Roeterseiland part of the city” P. 250 historic Amsterdam. As one of the few major physical interventions it stands out: because of it’s remarkably different scale to the surrounding city. Amsterdam is particular because it is quite well-preserved. The more well-preserved a city is, the more likely the danger of conservation becomes. But cities need functions like a hospital, a school, a university. So they have to fit them in. Otherwise the energy of a city disappears. Cities are built in layers. The different layers cover different pieces of history. Each layer is another piece of history on which you have to react differently. Nowadays, people tend to say that what was built in the 1960s is wrong and it has to be removed. I think it is not wrong at all, it is just another piece of history. So to reinvent a building like the REC is smart to do because you do not throw away everything.” What is your strategy to react on this piece of history? “The REC is part of the grain of the city. It is not a cloister or a courtyard building. But at the moment the connections are bad. There are no reasons to walk into it. The only people who go there are students and staff. It is such a particular world. Therefore potentially it becomes a dead end. The danger is that it becomes a monoculture dislocated urbanity: the opposite of what people like if they are in a city: a rich mix and multiculture. The challenge is to make the REC part of the city and to employ different forms of use. Otherwise why build it in a city?” Which interventions are necessary for the connection of the REC to the city? “The building over the water is a dead end. Visually it says ‘do not come in’. People do not go from there to the zoo, so it functions as a barrier. Whatever you put behind it. To get more movement you need a multilayered programme. The first intervention is to cut a big hole in that part of the building crossing the water so suddenly people enter a new world. Our job is to remake the connection in the buildings, the entrance and the crossing of the water as well as to make the connection to the Sarphatistraat and Artis. “The second intervention has to do with the assignment. It is not especially a university building. We
Rooilijn Jg. 42 / Nr. 4 / 2009 don’t concentrate on making a university building in particular. It could be any public office building. We want to design a legible building that communicates, that is open to the public and for university members. In a sense it is about organizing public programmes within and throughout the building. Cities have a public and a private world so it does not mean that the building should be open always and at every entrance. But it is important that the general public, not just one type of person, will naturally filter through the area. If we get that right, architecture can flow.” “The third intervention is playing with the levels of the building. What was wrong about the REC was the idea of upper level access, because people live on the street. A building begins to engage when people like it and has the possibility for easy entry. If people enjoy the building that comes across on every level. Maybe they do not like the furniture, but that does not matter because furniture comes and goes. To make people like the building in the future is one of your key challenges. Our focus lies on the redesign of the entrances, the atrium and the connection of the different departments.” A new atrium? “One of our key ideas for making the connection is to create an open view on the outside as well as the inside of the building. This is done by creating a few mini-atria. The mini-atria are made as vertical connections so that they become little buildings in themselves. University and the use of the different departments will always change, but the lift and stairs will not change. Whenever you come out of the lift in one of the atria you will see the city. That gives the building an identity and in addition there is an orientation what makes the building visible and intelligible internally. The atria combine flexibility with a kind of personality and specific views: flexibility because the basis of the building is suitable for different functions, personality because the atria create social engagement. The different atria are one of the opportunities the users can respond to. Finally, the idea of the mini-atria is an idea that can be applied to other projects as well.” “The challenge is to make the Roeterseiland part of the city” P. 251 What advice would you give to students in their career? “My advice to students would be live your life, look and learn, and see what comes out. Invention is not for the sake of invention. From life experience you notice that things can be done differently and always better. Do not just drop visions on the city, but try to understand what is going on. Then what comes out might be extraordinary.” How do you deal with the complex contracting body of the University of Amsterdam? “We work with a strategy and not with a vision as a starting point. The danger of working with a vision is that when you have 25 university stakeholders, the vision gets picked apart in an instant. With a set of strategic ideas that are robust and intelligent, architecture can slowly develop. Ideas that were unpopular in the beginning slowly get more and more interesting. It is about going on a journey together that allows everyone to do more risky things. In this way it is possible to be more responsive to key ideas. It is about creating architecture instead of fighting for sketches of visions.” “You could compare building architecture with playing music. It is inevitable that we are playing for different audiences at different times. If you chase the audience I think you’re lost as a band and as a band of architects. In addition to that, it is not about fashion. Of course, you do not want to be not of your time, but you also do not want to be just an instant reflection of your time. We have to make uneasy, tough, challenging music. Not a soft easy melody, not a mainstream production. Furthermore, we should not be obsessed with one thing because then you loose the vision on other things. If you are obsessed with one thing you cannot really make the right choices.” Sabine Meier (firstname.lastname@example.org) is als promovenda verbonden aan de onderzoeksgroep Urban Geographies bij het Amsterdam Institute for Metropolitan and International Development Studies, Universiteit van Amsterdam. Samantha Volgers (email@example.com) is als adviseur en onderzoeker werkzaam bij Bureau Middelkoop. Beiden zijn redacteur bij Rooilijn.