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.
Dikkie Scipio continues her quarterly columns for ‘de Architect’ magazine. Read the full essay below, focusing on the relationship between the architect and the client.
available in Dutch here
Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869 – 1944) was a British architect who built an impressive oeuvre of country houses, urban villas, public buildings and WWI memorials. One of his projects was a Neo-Classical villa (1908) for John Thomas Hemingway. A well-known anecdote is that during a site-visit with the client, Lutyens tells Hemingway that he wants to create a monumental black marble staircase. Hemingway replies that he doesn’t want a black marble staircase but an oak staircase, to which Lutyens responds: “What a pity”. At completion Hemingway beholds the monumental staircase and says with surprise: “I told you I didn’t want a black marble staircase”. And Lutyens apparently responded: “I know, and I said, ‘What a pity’, didn’t I?”.
As architects we hand these stories down with a sense of nostalgia. Those who have stood so firmly in their fight for quality, we feel, deserve their Starchitect status. We can now hardly fathom a world in which we could get away with such stubbornness. These are stories from a different era, long before the time of bulging-binder contracts, insurance claims, and lawyers. But even more so, these are stories from a time when the architect’s standing as a master builder and primary advisor to the client justified such eccentricities.
Today architects are selected primarily on the basis of compliance to detailed briefs outlining the technical, functional and spatial programme. A job is now so specified that it is immediately clear whether the client expects the architect to execute the programme as communicated, almost identically to the model in the brief, or whether the client seeks a ‘kindred spirit’ who will confirm the ideas presented and develop them further. While in Lutyens’ time architects were called upon for their experience, spatial and technical creativity, and ability to come up with an unexpected design that could surprise, amaze, and challenge, nowadays these aspects might lead to legal complications. It’s no wonder that only the most experienced firms know how to deal with this.
If we were to graft another Lutyens quote – “There will never be great architects or great architecture without great patrons” – onto our own times, then we see that our current reality is entirely different. Clients are very rarely a person. Most often they are complex organisations of investors, developers and users, represented by consultants and project managers, each with diverse political, economic and strategic interests. They do still exist, these independent individual clients with a vision and the means, land, and potential to realise a project in full freedom with an architect of their choice – but they are scarce. And I doubt whether these individuals today would accept a surprise like Lutyens’ staircase.
Perhaps it’s time to broaden the definition of who or what exactly a client is. Because: for whom do we actually build? As citizens, is it not ultimately for ourselves? Do we not have a duty as architects to build beyond the brief, or the programme as expressed legally. Just consider the quality of our public space, the quality of buildings that will be around longer than an expired depreciation period, the quality of our landscape. Or how about the benefits of developing of a long-term vision for housing and the environment we live in, or of new typologies and strategies to respond to social shifts?
There is a choice. Our profession is accustomed to having to be persuasive. Delivering more quality than requested does not require any permission or confirmation. We can continue to do this independently of our contractual obligations to the client. Even without them explicitly asking for it, without it costing them more in terms of investment and time, we are bound by our professional honour to add extra levels of quality. If great architecture can only be achieved by great patronage, then it is we as architects, urban planners and landscape architects who must step up and fulfil this role that has historically been allocated to patrons.
If it can be only one of Lutyens’ quotes that has stood the test of time, then I would choose this:
“I don’t build in order to have clients, I have clients in order to build .”
Prof. Dikkie Scipio
for De Architect
2nd quarter 2021
Translated from Dutch by Dianna Beaufort (Words On The Run)
Featured above: Hall of the Heathcote Villa in Ilkley by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens
On Friday, 26 February, Kees Kaan and Vincent Panhuysen of KAAN Architecten will participate in a webinar organized as part of the collaboration between both TU Delft and Lebanese Amercan University. This webinar will address the topics of reconstruction, urban planning, and heritage, connecting the Rotterdam experience with the current situation in Beirut.
Within the framework of Complex Projects at TU Delft, and in collaboration with the Institute of Environmental Studies and Research at LAU, the master’s level studio will address Beirut’s multiple acute challenges, notably its protracted socio-economic crisis, the reconstruction of Beirut and the restoration of its heritage.
Join here for the webinar on Friday, 26 February, at 16.00h (17.00 EET).
The book has been published as a part of the elective course City of Innovations Project which is organized around speculating and forecasting on future scenarios for the city of Rotterdam.
The main premise of the course is that the city’s stations are simply no longer spaces to access mobility networks, but urban places of sociality and encounter – extended public spaces beyond mobility itself. It questions which relationships and cross-fertilizations can be significant for the design of the future living stations in the Municipality of Rotterdam?
The students were tasked with developing ambitious proposals for selected locations under the guidance of tutors from the Municipality of Rotterdam and Complex Projects which continues their collaboration on design research of urban transport nodes.
The research-through-design process conducted in the City of Innovations project – Living Stations consists of documenting and analyzing the present urban conditions of selected station locations in the City of Rotterdam and proposing design solutions and visualizations of the predicted development of these locations.
Following the foreword by Kees Kaan, and critical essays on the strategic role of the infrastructural project for city development interventions, the ‘10 Visions X 5 Locations’ chapter is a systematization of the work of 35 master’s students with input from designers of the City of Rotterdam and experts and academic from the University of Gustave Eiffel in Paris.
Browse the book here!
Dikkie Scipio continues her quarterly columns for ‘de Architect’ magazine. The latest column is dedicated to Harm Tilman on the occasion of his departure from the editor position in the magazine. Read the full essay below!
available in Dutch here
Long ago I walked into the great cube – the lecture hall of the predecessor to the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture. The academy was housed in Het Blaakse Bos, the ‘forest’ of cubes designed by Piet Blom (1934-1999) spanning the Blaak boulevard. The plan also included the stubby residential tower known locally as The Pencil and the Spanish Quay, which was the element that prevented, so Piet proudly claimed later, the extension and conversion of the Mariniersweg into a ‘motorway’ straight over the Wilhelmsbridge to Rotterdam Zuid. The project was completed in 1977. Piet Blom was a committed advocate of Structuralism, a movement that turned away from the stark functionalism of CIAM after its last congress in 1959. Structuralists fiercely opposed industrialized prefab building systems and urban planning that focused on facilitating automobiles without considering urban identity, which they accused the CIAM functionalism of doing. As an alternative approach, the movement sought to assemble structures composed of smaller units that respect the human scale.
By the 1980s the once popular Social Housing department of the government was gone. And enthusiasm for both Rationalism and Structuralism extinguished. The architectural quality of prefab building systems had been reduced to naught and architectural quality within the context of civic engagement or self-build had been cast aside. In retrospect, the polarity gave us nothing in return.
Although I studied architecture and not urban planning, I rarely missed the lectures given by Harm T. His favourite subject at the time was Hilberseimer. The irony of the location is not lost.
Ludwig Karl Hilberseimer (1885-1967) studied architecture at the Karlsruhe Technical University, and though he did not complete his studies, he replaced the degree with a short apprenticeship at the firm of Peter Behrens in Berlin. After this he developed into a critical thinker and writer covering topics like art, architecture and urban planning. He is exemplary of a generation of socially engaged architects and planners who were in search of better housing and a better city, to solve the urban problems that had resulted from the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. It was 1924 – so four years before CIAM was founded – when he published his High-Rise City design, an organizational model based on the contemporary social, technological and economic context. It was presented as a vertical city in which the increasingly important automobile is separated from the pedestrian. While it was an urban planning paradigm, it was meant to serve first and foremost as a model for the architecture of a new world.
In 1929 Hilberseimer was invited to teach at the renowned Bauhaus. Here he met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who then left for Chicago in 1936, having been invited to head the school of architecture there: the Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology). When the Nazis labelled Hilberseimer problematic and extreme left, he decided to follow his friend to Chicago. It was 1938 and Hilberseimer was already 53.
In Chicago he developed the model for the Decentralized City. In contrast to the High-Rise City, this was a horizontal model. The biggest difference between the two was that the Vertical City was based on a concentration of production and housing, separated from the countryside which meant infinite potential expansion, while the Horizontal City was based on a closer relationship between city and countryside. Agriculture, industry and housing are satellites in the landscape and growth can occur by way of multiplication rather than spread. This model, too, was intended for the development of an architecture that suited the new conditions of urban living.
Hilberseimer’s ideas are still worth studying, certainly now that we are rethinking the city-countryside balance and revisiting social housing needs. The calls for faster and greater housing production has resulted in a renewed fascination with, on the one hand, mass industrialized prefab production, and on the other, the human scale and its translation into self-build projects. This is happening despite the fact that social housing would benefit most from architecture built on the basis of long-term quality goals. This kind of quality involves more than form or function and serves our everyday environment as a whole.
Hilberseimer’s theories strive to harmonize structure and form. What is interesting about his work, is that he always saw architecture as grounded in the sociological and technological possibilities on offer. In this he did not take a position between either form or function. Without function, without the rationale behind the architecture, a building is no more than an assembly of shapes. Without reasoned principles, architecture would merely be technical construction. Ultimately, Hilberseimer considered architecture the most sublime form of art.
I am so very grateful to Harm. Until we meet again in the next adventure!
Prof. Dikkie Scipio
for De Architect
1st quarter 2021
“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)