Escape from cavity wall
Kees Kaan in conversation with Siebe Bakker on ‘ Escaping the Cavity Wall’. A discussion related to the 5th Concrete Design Competition on ENERGY 2011-2012.
Kees Kaan in conversation with Siebe Bakker on ‘ Escaping the Cavity Wall’. A discussion related to the 5th Concrete Design Competition on ENERGY 2011-2012.
“I always insist on quality, quality with deep-rooted respect and appreciation for the craft.” claims Scipio in her interview for the Manifest – a special edition made by de Architect magazine addressing the major issues designers are facing today.
An advocate of quality, Scipio emphasizes the importance of excellent command of the profession. She claim that the basis of every lasting design should be in knowledge and expertise about how an object, or a building, is made and used, both now and in the future.
Caroline Ludwig interviews Dikkie Scipio for De Manifest
Quality, expertise and skill. This is the foundation of every design, according to Professor Dikkie Scipio, founding partner of KAAN Architecten. She calls on architects to reclaim their traditional role and calls on the government to set out a vision for the future of spatial planning.
Which projects or experiences have shaped you?
“My father and I debated endlessly. He was a cultural anthropologist and an academic thinker. Discussions often began by negotiating the definitions of the concepts that were central to the subject under discussion. Things got pretty heated. Sometimes I would have to put the discussion on hold until I had read a book to better support my arguments. My father had an unshakeable belief in the future and science. Whenever I went out to protest and stand up against some injustice, he invariably reminded me of the cyclical nature of social movements and how things always stabilized over the course of time. Now that I’m older, I can understand better what he meant. My mother, who was a seamstress, imprinted on me a love of craftsmanship and the importance of materials and the creative process.
These are two totally different backgrounds: being analytical and inquisitive, gathering knowledge and also thinking conceptually, handed down by my father, versus the diligence of mastering hand-crafted work, understanding the material, and pursuing technical skill for creativity, learned from my mother. I am always looking to fuse the intellectual process with execution skills. It is this totality that creates quality. That doesn’t mean I’m a conservative thinker with a penchant for the past; in fact, I’m truly fascinated by new ideas and techniques.”
You believe that quality should always be the primary mind-set for any architect or designer. Why is that?
“I always stress the importance of quality – quality with a deeply rooted respect for and appreciation of craftsmanship. Two aspects are key in this regard: skill and education. Craftsmanship simply means competence in the execution of a craft. Yet it isn’t just about the execution, it’s mastering the profession. It doesn’t matter whether the product is made by hand, by industrial processes or digitally. What’s important is to think through every aspect of its making and its use – its usability in the present and the future. If something is beautiful and well-crafted, it is inviting, even when it has lost its original purpose. This is equally true for a building or an object. You should create something in such a way that you fall in love with it and will want to ensure its continued use. The design should allow for this kind of scope. Unfortunately, we live in a world of short-term projects and high turnovers. There is little to no patience or appreciation for letting something ripen and grow, and I find that a real shame. It only leads to a loss of quality.
In addition to skill, I really value education, sharing expertise and telling stories. If we surround ourselves with quality, then we get used to it in the sense that we expect or demand it. Sadly, the opposite is also true – hence my heartfelt plea. Every time I undertake research I am so impressed, again and again, by the amount of knowledge we humans have accumulated. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s easy to find quality in the immense quantity. So the transfer of an integral form of knowledge is incredibly important, and the vehicle for this is a good story because it motivates us and speaks to the imagination. I believe the primary themes for the future are all about sharing expertise and skill. If we no longer know how and by whom something is made and we can no longer assess what quality is, then we’ve lost our foundations. The world in 2020 has pressed the re-set button, not on the basis of a vision, but out of panic. It’s essential now to make a plan, as soon as possible, to find a new balance.”
How would you define sustainability?
“The idea of circularity as the base principle of sustainability is a sympathetic one, and yet I am somewhat pessimistic about this kind of re-use as the solution to our environmental problems. Human beings are too complacent. Moreover, it may just be a side-step that serves as an excuse to maintain the high turnover rate of products. The same goes for buildings. I see sustainability as building for the long term, designing with vision, using solid materials and applying them with skill and craftsmanship.”
You lament that planning is no longer a government task and that urban area development is mostly left to the market. What do you think is a better way to drive innovation?
“At the moment we have complex, decentralized decision-making, insufficient financial and policy support, and a lack of market confidence. The market is urgently appealing to politicians for more direction, interference and structure from the national government. The market is completely capable of operating within clear boundaries, but if there are no rules or they contradict each other, then everything comes to a halt. Too much of urban or regional area developments have been left to the market. If you want to drive innovation in planning, sustainability and quality, we need intelligent frameworks and a competitive setting in which innovation is rewarded. The government could create these frameworks and make regulations consistent – regulations that not only control, but also stimulate. Then an implementation schedule can be chosen in cooperation with the market. The lack of an integrated planning vision is one of the reasons why public housing is becoming deadlocked. Right now only one job has been defined: volume – build as many new houses as possible. What’s needed is a bird’s eye view in which all the different aspects are seen: agriculture, infrastructure, housing, water management, nature conservation, etc. I believe in integrated area development, so I’m very happy with the recent parliamentary decision to establish a new planning institute, like the former Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. That’s a good start for a centralized and integrated vision.”
You mention the deadlocked housing market. How do you see housing and working in the near future?
“The pandemic may well change how we live in the future, with more people working from home and in homes that are elsewhere. The whole system of where we live and work is currently based on the model of a nuclear family: two life partners with children and adults that work (full-time or part-time) outside the home. You strategically choose your place of residence based on where you work. This notion has been in the process of tipping for some time. A job for life is no longer on the cards. People have shorter relationships, shorter employment contracts, and faster mobility. All this impacts the existing infrastructure, the mobility sector and food production. It’s really interesting to think about these things. I teach at the FH Münster University of Applied Sciences and in collaboration with KAAN we carried out a survey recently called ‘Your home is your shelter’. A lot of young people from 55 different countries participated, young people confined to their homes. We are still processing the results, but we can already see that flexibility is a major issue, the ability to use a space in more than one way. Consequently, there is a need for more diversity in housing typologies, ones that respond better to what society looks like now. For example: more attuned to single people, couples without children, friends living together in separate smaller units, a desire for luxury and social cohesion. At the same time, we see that working from home means that the need to live in the conurbation of the Randstad or other big cities will diminish. And yet, young families considering moving out to the countryside face a lack of schools because centralized facilities are mostly still located in the cities. The funny thing is – remembering the ‘cyclical nature’ of things noted by my father – when I was a young girl no one wanted to live in Amsterdam. That city was the epitome of unsafe and unhygienic living; there were a lot of empty buildings. If you had said back then that the Grachtengordel [the main ring canals] offered great investment opportunities, not many people would have believed you.”
Your plea is to rehabilitate the profession of architect. What’s wrong with the current situation?
“As a profession we have allowed an increasing number of our core competencies – work traditionally undertaken by architects – to be outsourced to a whole army of consultants and managers. As a result, the architect is no longer expected to master some fundamental skills. The architect’s role is slowly being reduced to a merely aesthetic one in which aesthetics is simply a projected image. In such a case, architecture is baseless. We need to ensure that research, concept development, execution, finances and aesthetics are not further disconnected. An important part of our work is developing a vision and moulding this into viable architecture. The process, the design, the construction – foreseeing and monitoring how something is built – are essential elements of this. This is what delivers quality. The astonishing thing is that this sort of quality is not even demanded anymore, it’s often not even expected. Yet architects are trained to guide a design into full integration, to oversee and supervise this. Our profession is an enormous fount of expertise, experience and inspiration that can safeguard the long-term quality of our built environment. With only an aesthetic stamp of approval, the role of architects and their value to society is obliterated. It’s paramount to resist this. We must take responsibility and claim our place.”
Which creators and/or thinkers do you relate to?
“It’s difficult to name one great influence, so I’ll stick to people who share the characteristic of being fiercely independent in spirit. I am fascinated by people who have a great sense of wonder about the world and have made it their life’s mission to share knowledge with others, knowing they can never be totally comprehensive. Researchers and writers like Bill Bryson, who had the courage to relay a vast wealth of knowledge, put it into a timeline and produce an accessible book with A Short History of Nearly Everything. Edward Rutherfurd, who writes about the birth and life of great cities like London, Paris and New York. Francesco Carotta, who analysed the similarities between Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ. Or Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, who wrote about cases in his field as though they were novels. And artists and musicians too, those who express wonder through their art, like Miriam Makeba in her music. In her autobiography she describes how she sees herself as an ant, endowed by nature with supernatural power. I feel fortunate to be able to draw on the knowledge of a colourful and ever-expanding group of people who keep me inspired and full of wonder.”
International Design Seminar, widely known as INDESEM is kicking off their 2021 edition with a Pre-Event scheduled for 9 Decemeber. Kees Kaan will take on the role of moderator during the panel discussion.
One of the speakers participating in the panel discussion is Professor Jantien Stoter, who will talk about the application and potential of spatial data in design. Besides Stoter and Kaan, more speakers participating in the lecture and panel will be announced soon.
INDESEM 2021 explores Big Data within the built environment which is quickly becoming a hybrid of the physical environment and the digital world, where every action, feeling and step of those using the buildings we design can be quantified. What opportunities does this data load present?
In the run up to the seminar in 2021, INDESEM will host a series of online lectures, starting with the Pre-Event on 9 December 18.30 (EU time). Attend here!
KAAN Architecten will be participating at the Perspective Virtual Winter Forum organised by The Plan magazine from 1-3 December. The event is a virtual think tank on architecture and design.
Senior architect and lead design manager at KAAN Architecten, Marco Lanna will partictipate in a panel discussion titled ‘Bringing New Life’ set for Tuesday, 1 December 2020 at 12.30 – 13.30 h (EU Time). He will be joined by Paul White , founding director of Buckley Gray Yeoman, and Michael Woodford, partner at White Arkitekter. Their panel will deal with topics such as revamping strategies that drive economic growth and urban tissue restoration, as well as providing new community facilities and resources.
Register for the event here!
On October 15, 2020, Kees Kaan will participate in a BK Talks panel discussion titled ‘What’s next in design education?’ with a group of professors of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the TU Delft, moderated by the Dean Dick van Gameren.
University education in general, and design education in particular, are at a critical moment. Education and research must confront a multitude of challenges: from the conflict between academy and the profession to the relation to society. Does design education properly address the contemporary cultural, economic and political issues? Does the curriculum of design schools tackle the current environmental and social realities? How radical or visionary is current design pedagogy when compared to previous experimental and collaborative forms of design pedagogy?
Moreover, the current pandemic has deeply impacted the way we learn, research, exchange ideas or encounter others. Faced with immense uncertainty, academic institutions must plan alternative scenarios. What are the consequences for the ways we imagine the future built environment of this full move towards virtual means of representation? Will academic institutions implement a hybrid model of teaching, combining digital and physical learning? What are the opportunities derived from this new situation?
The panel comprising Rients Dijkstra, Carola Hein, Kees Kaan, Winy Maas, Ana Pereira Roders and Sevil Sariyildiz will raise and, hopefully, answer many of these questions.
Tune into the discussion on Thursday, October 15 at 18.30, live on YouTube via the link here.
Organized by the magazine ‘de Architect’, another edition of the ARC Awards is gearing up towards the ceremony on 12 November 2020. The Awards aim to highlight the very best work in the categories of architecture, urban design, interior, furniture, detail, innovation, young talent and overall oeuvre.
Dikkie Scipio will preside over the jury in the ‘Arhitecture’ category, consisting of Bastiaan Kalmeyer, co-founder of design and architecture studio IWT; Steven Manhave of Manhave Vastgoed and Frederik Pöll, owner of Frederik Pöll Bureau for Architecture.
Read more about the awards and projects here.
Dikkie Scipio continues her quarterly columns for ‘de Architect’ with the newest one recently published in the June issue. Read the full essay below!
“Quality, deeply rooted in respect and appreciation for skill and craftsmanship”. This is my answer to the question what typically drives my work as an architect. I’ve been asked this question quite a lot lately, and my answer often disappoints the interviewer. They go on to comment: “Well, yes, we can assume this given the type of architecture you and your firm produce” and then they try to find a different, more interesting topic to pursue.
This has given me pause for thought. Why the dismissal? Why do we no longer recognize and, as a matter of course, value quality? Might there be something awry with the connotations of the word?
The origins of the word quality lie in the Latin qualitas, which refers to unity or capacity, or possessing a certain character. Around 1573, according to Van Dalen’s Etymological Dictionary, the meaning shifted to having a degree of soundness, the extent to which something is considered suitable for a particular purpose. Therefore, to appreciate the word quality, we must know when something is sound and when it is suited for its purpose. This is precisely the sticking point. For a very long time, architecture stood in direct relation to understanding this very thing. An end product or building needed to stand erect, serve the purpose for which it was built, and do so for as long as possible. Comfort, beauty and ornamentation were an inextricable part of the equation. No builder would entertain the idea of using materials or techniques that were merely useful in the short term unless scarcity or poverty necessitated it.
We see things differently now. Our products – and so also our buildings – are consciously made to serve a short lifespan, after which they will be replaced. The whole notion of soundness, and therefore quality, has acquired a different connotation. Durability, in the sense of being robust enough to withstand the effects of time, has ceased to be of any value. Once there is no need for making sound, quality products, craftsmanship loses its status and respect, and artisanal skill slowly vanishes. What inevitably follows is that quality is no longer a natural part of our daily environment, and then there comes a time when we no longer recognize it, other than from a picture.
Of the human senses, our eyes are the most used and most valued – and strongly connected to the culture of imagery all around the world. Dezeen and Instagram show us the most beautiful images but omit two essential aspects: materiality and context. This may seem trivial, and to some extent it is if you are used to coupling images with your memory bank of experiences. In doing this, you know that the pattern you see on the floor is called parquet; you can hear the sound of your footsteps over the floor; you can recall the smell of the wax rubbed into the wood, and you can feel the uneven patches where the floor has worn out. This tells a story, one with a history, a present and a future. Without these experiences, the picture is just a picture: it won’t help you learn to distinguish between solid parquet, laminate or even a vinyl print. Something similar happens when an image is presented in isolation and without scale. The real value in the picture is elusive without the context.
Our frame of reference evaporates when soundness and wholeness do not form an inherent part of our daily environment and when craftsmanship is not visible because it is taught and practised by fewer and fewer people. So it isn’t surprising that a word like quality is in danger of becoming meaningless. This would be a great pity because there is unbelievably more depth to the concept of quality than that found in images alone.
Let’s continue to promote sustainability as building for the long term, as an endeavour that employs solid materials, sound design and execution, skills and craftsmanship. That is not to say that we will always succeed, but let’s keep trying at least. Quality as an attitude, so to speak.
Prof. Dikkie Scipio
for De Architect
2nd Quarter, 2020
Translated from Dutch by Dianna Beaufort (Words On The Run)
In anticipation of the LifeCycles festival in Ghent this September, a three day live-streamed series of panel discussions will be held from May 26-28 in partnership with ArchDaily, featuring architects from around the world who will be sharing their ideas and experiences for how we can build a better future.
Dikkie Scipio of KAAN Architecten will participate in the round table discussion on 28 May. Along with Eran Chen (ODA) and Kim H. Nielsen (3XN) she will discuss the future of cities and its crossover with construction.
Watch the conversation on YouTube.
Here you can find more information about the panels organized by Archdaily in collaboration with LifeCycles.
Architectenweb has launched its annual Architect of the Year contest. Based on public entries, an independent jury will select five nominations at the beginning of the summer.
Dikkie Scipio has joined this year’s jury consisting of architect Ninke Happel (Happel Cornelisse Verhoeven Architecten), developer Edwin Oostmeijer (Edwin Oostmeijer Projectontwikkeling) and business director/architect Annemiek Bleumink (Paul de Ruiter Architects).
Read more on how to suggest nominees here.
LifeCycles festival of inspiration and innovation, focused on architecture, project and city development is taking place from 23-25 September in Ghent. Dikkie Scipio joins a selection of forward-thinking innovators and experts who will be presenting their experience and insights, with the aim of setting the agenda for the future.
The curated program is built around 6 topics connected to meeting future challenges of our cities, architecture, building industry, technology, environment and communities.
In her own words, Scipio reflects: “In our urge to save the planet we are tempted to think about buildings like puzzles with little pieces that can be constructed and deconstructed as quickly and easily as it sounds. Little pieces that can be reused in their original state or decomposed to basic commodities in a process that doesn’t increase waste or pollution. However sympathetic this may sound, it also implies an expected devaluation and acceptance of the building’s short-term lifespan. This surrender to a fast consumer economy contrasts the intrinsic quality of architecture: the quality of shaped space, guided light, well-chosen and placed materials. It is this quality that outlives trends and even function. Quality that lasts is always preferable over destruction, even when that destruction is called sustainable.”
Find out more and register to attend the event here.
As a professor of Architectural Design at the Münster School of Architecture, and in collaboration with KAAN Architecten, Dikkie Scipio launched a survey, focused on how current living conditions accommodate people’s activities during forced isolation.
In light of recent demands in contemporary living, our homes need to facilitate a far more different lifestyle than the one they were initially designed for. Aptly titled ‘Your home is your shelter’, the research aims to provide insight on how people use their homes, as well as how to adjust or design better ones in the future.
You are invited to participate by filling out a simple questionnaire here.